Classic Ranchera Hits From Mercedes Castro

The ranchera hits compiled on Mercedes Castro’s Anhelo (Longing) ride the ups and (mostly) downs of romance, populated by a roll call of rogues who the Mexican diva alternately adores and derides. A classic torch singer with pop appeal, Castro accents her sweet-tempered vocals with both sobs and talk-singing disses, to the spare acoustic mariachi accompaniment of guitar, the bass guitarrón, trumpet and accordion of longstanding Mariachi Oro y Plata led by José Chavez.

Castro’s songs play like two or three-minute soap operas, seducing listeners with dramatic monologues in which the word “ingrato” (which can be translated here most politely as “creep”), features almost as frequently as “love.” On the album’s title track she uses both in the same sentence, declaring “Ay amorcito, ingrato ingrato” to the swaying rhythm as she prays for an “angel” to come and console her.

Listen to Mercedes Castro’s Anhelo now.

Born in Mexico, Castro grew up in Indio, California, where she moved with her family at age 10. As a teen, she spurned the idea of joining a rock band, remaining faithful to Mexican music, particularly mariachi. The start of her professional singing career came after she met Cornelio Reyna of the popular group Los Relámpagos de Norte at a local talent contest. She recorded her first songs in a Los Angeles studio, and soon returned to Mexico, where Reyna’s introductions quickly led to a deal with Musart, the label on which, by her own count, she went on to record some 90 singles and LPs. She married Reyna, and their relationship apparently gave her fuel to sing songs about love gone wrong.

“I wanted to keep on singing and Cornelio didn’t want me to sing,” Castro recalled in a 2022 article published on the Mexican website Milenio. “He was jealous, and what’s more, he was a major womanizer.” The two divorced, and Castro went on to become a star.

Among the ten tracks on Anhelo is the slow-burning “Amor y Lágrimas” (“Love and Tears”), whose title could serve to sum up the essence of Castro’s repertoire over her career. Her songs beg for listeners to stage histrionic performances at boozy karaoke sessions or standing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush microphone (as Castro herself did as a girl). But even when she’s crying for effect, she doesn’t play the victim, a reminder that rancheras are by nature as vengeful as they are romantic. The phrase “it’s your fault” is another signature of Castro’s song lyrics.

On “Vengo a Verte” she goes to see an unfaithful lover to let him know he did her wrong, although she still loves him, suggesting there may still be a possibility of a fiery rekindling of the relationship. The song was Castro’s first single to go gold, paving the way for her massive popularity after its release in 1978. She later said that she had first heard the song in a version recorded by Norteño group Los Alegres de Terán on the only jukebox in the small town near Culiacán where she was born: it was in a bar where her “very in love” uncle drowned his sorrows while he listened to it over and over again.

Castro gets off the rollercoaster of love to express a moment of pure infatuated joy on the jaunty “Me Haces Falta Tú” (“I Need You). And on “Ya Vete” (“Go Now”) she’s just as clear about her feelings. Accompanied by frisky accordion and horns, she chuckles, yips and even goes to far as to tell her spurned lover that she’ll take the blame for the relationship’s failure, as long as he gets out of town, shouting after him “and don’t come back!” It’s the record’s most jubilant moment.

Listen to Mercedes Castro’s Anhelo now.

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