Although banda has dominated most of Jenni Rivera's studio albums, those who have seen her live know that La Diva de la Banda is also an excellent mariachi singer. In fact, many of Rivera's longtime fans have been hoping that she would record a mariachi album, and the Los Angeles native does exactly that with La Gran Señora. There isn't a trace of banda to be found on this studio recording from 2009; Rivera is joined by a mariachi band throughout the 45-minute CD. Some tracks include a little norteño accordion along with the mariachi horns and strings, but mariachi is the dominant instrumentation -- and Rivera soars as a mariachi vocalist on ranchera gems such as "Ya Lo Se," "Por Que No le Calas," "No Llega el Olvido," and "La Escalera." However, the fact that La Gran Señora favors a mariachi/ranchera orientation doesn't mean that Rivera is afraid to try different things. One of the album's most intriguing tracks is a remake of the late Mexican-American country-pop singer Freddy Fender's 1975 hit "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," which finds Rivera combining country-pop and ranchera. For years, those who are fans of both country and regional Mexican music have been noting the parallels between the two; prominent honky tonk themes (heartbreak, betrayal, unrequited love, drinking to ease the pain) are also prominent ranchera themes, and outlaw country (Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings) is quite comparable to outlaw corridos. Those regional Mexican/country parallels weren't lost on Fender, and the combination of steel guitar and mariachi guitar on Rivera's version of "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" indicates that they aren't lost on Rivera either. But the fact that Rivera makes a detour into country-pop doesn't mean that La Gran Señora has strong crossover motives; this is a regional Mexican album first and foremost, and La Diva de la Banda has no problem excelling in a mariachi-oriented environment.
Alex Henderson, Rovi