Ever since I heard the Bob Dylan lyric “He not busy being born is busy dying,” from “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” I felt haunted by it: Which one was I doing at any given time? And is there a point in your years where you switch permanently from one to another? Is it a specific age? A moment? As I grew older, I realized there was no easy answer to this question. Timing of life and death is often completely trivial at best, falling in our laps when we least expect it, and the best we can do is keep being reborn, over and over again, until that hourglass runs out of sand — or just shatters.
The Mavericks know a thing or two about rebirth: Together since 1991, they’ve fought fiercely for their independence in a country climate often looking for conformity. Brand New Day is the first on their own label — Mono Mundo Recordings — and it proves that, nine albums in, the genre-blending quartet knows how to keep the cocoon spinning. But life can be long and cruel, and they know a thing or two about death, as well. Bandleader Raul Malo’s father passed away while they recording the LP, and “I Wish You Well,” a gorgeous meeting place between Tejano serenade and Roy Orbison croon, is the tribute to the legacy he left behind and the uncertainly ahead. “This is where the road divides,” sings Malo. His voice is unlike most in country or Americana — smooth, mournful, full of sunbaked soul. After two decades making music, old can be new again, even as we embrace the passage of time. Maybe the best way to keep busy being born is just to be a maverick.