Rabbits & Carrots – Soul Latino (1969)

Rabbits & Carrots
“Soul Latino” 1969
Reissue on Vampisoul 2007 with extra tracks (Vampi CD 088)

1. Pais Tropical
2. Hip City
3. Romeo Y Julieta
4. Funky Chicken
5. Jarabe
6. Las 4 Culturas
7. Everyday People
8. Oh Calcuta!
9. Los Pelos Tiesos
10. Workin’ On A Groovy Thing
11. Spill The Wine
12. We Got More Soul
13. Sex Machine
14. Express Yourself

The first time I heard this all-instrumental record I was skeptical. Why bother, I asked myself, covering James Brown and Sly Stone in the late 60s when those artists were still putting out great music at incredible levels of productivity? The second time I listened to this, I asked myself, “Why the hell not?” This record is a lot of fun, even if the hype from Vampisoul about the hip DJ’s who spin it doesn’t do anything to excite me (in fact its more likely to make me ignore it..)

How can I *not* like a record that opens up with a soul-jazz take on País Tropical with a slightly-overdriven pseudo-Wes Montgomery guitar lead playing the vocal melody? If you can’t find that catchy then you’re hopeless. On first hearing this record I had thought that maybe these guys were Nuyorican because of the emphasis on black American music. Imagine my surprise to find out they were a bunch of Mexicans. Rabbits & Carrots were basically a nightclub / bar band in Mexico City, founded by Salvador Aguero with his brothers, that included mostly a lot of anglophone contemporary hits in their repertoire. But whereas there were tons of Mexican rock bands at the time with fuzzed-out guitars playing psychedelic or progressive rock with long wanky guitar solos, English lyrics, and beards, these guys were enamored with soul and funk music. Jorge Ben, Rufus Thomas, Kool & The Gang… Neil Sedaka.. Oddly enough the liner notes mention that the song “Las Quatras Culturas” is the one original composition on the album, somehow “about” the May 1968 massacre of students in Mexico City, when really the song is a blatant James Brown rip-off. But no matter, it’s still pretty cool albeit a little too upbeat for a song ostensibly about state repression. My favorite tune on here is an arrangement of a traditional tune, “Jarabe” that shows off just how well this band could cut loose in a style that really did blend a Latin rhythmic sense with soul from its northern brothers. On the whole this record has a lounge lizard, rather cheesy quality that must be what the ironic hipsters are enamored with, but the band approaches their material with enough inspiration (and some serious jazz chops from saxophonist Ramón Negrete) to make them stand apart from just a generic bar band.

 

The last four tracks on this disc come from an EP released years later by their label Musart. The band rather tragically abandons the exclusively instrumental approach they had adhered to in favor of incorporating a singer, identified only as “Max” in the typically ramshackle liner notes provided by Vampisoul. Although I can appreciate the effort of attempting to translate “Sex Machine” into Spanish, this guy is no James Brown. The results are kind of hilarious, but still doesn’t qualify as “so bad it’s good.” In fact I would have to say that these four tracks are just fucking godawful. Repeated listens only confirm how awful they are. The version of “Spill The Wine” just makes me want to pull out my Eric Burdon & War LP from my dusty archives. These songs require a vocal swagger and charisma that the singer just lacks, and I must say the results of the translation are questionable. They fall flat, and are rather embarrassing, and I think Vampisoul would have done these guys a service by leaving them off the album. But they are kind of a sketchy label anyway, seemingly consulting with nobody on these reissues (they have even been sued by Fania, for example), but they have been unearthing some nice treasures from the musicial seen of D.F., Mexico, for the rest of the world.

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Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75 (2006)

From ‘Dusted’ online magazine
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One might guess that Panama’s strategic geographic location between continents, cultures, oceans and seas would contribute to a local music flowing with varied streams of influence. Proof of such a supposition can be found on this engaging collection. Focusing on the fecund 1960s and ’70s, Panama! reveals an effusion of hot and cool grooves that draw from various blends of indigenous styles and rhythms, Afro-Latin jazz, and funky American soul.

The collection begins in high style with strong descarga-style blowing by sax-man Jose “Chomba” Silva on Los Exagerados’s “Panama Esta Bueno Y Ma.” With a big-but-gentle Sonny Rollins tone, Silva lays down lines that dance with the rhythmic facility of Antillean Beguine. Rafael Labasta adds searing, stratospheric Cuban-style trumpet to the dialed-in montuno laid down by piano, upright bass and percussion. It’s Latin jazz with a few surprising – and very appealing – twists. (The Afro-Cuban/Puerto Rican/Salsa continuum was obviously beloved in Panama during those decades, and related approaches show up on many of the tracks collected here.)

There are other directions represented, too, including the sort of soul-funk workouts exemplified by the likes of The Exciters, Los Fabulosos Festivals, and Los Mozambiques. Here we are treated to some ripping, heavily-effected guitars to go along with a distinctively Latin/Caribbean poly-rhythmic spin on funk and rock, and, perhaps best of all, some compelling and soulful Spanish-inflected vocals that are quite unlike anything else in the Afro-Latin Diaspora. There’s a certain accent and timbral warmth in these vocal tones that seems unique to the region.

Papi Brandau Y Sus Ejecutivos’s “Viva Panama” offers up a taste of the accordion-driven cumbia that is the music of the nation’s interior, and it also features some fine vocals, in this case a mix of male and female voices with a definite country tinge.

The collection also opens up what might be a whole new direction worthy of exploration: Panamanian calypso and mento. Los Silvertones’s “Old Buzzard” is a smooth mento with sweet, skipping high-life horns, elegant vocals, and a little taste of charanga flute. And sung in a rasping, story-telling style over rippling string band accompaniment, Lord Cobra’s reading of the Calypso classic “Rocombey” is an attention-getting tale of love and Voodoo .

As musically engaging as Panama! is, its overall appeal is enhanced by excellent liner notes. Roberto Ernesto Gyemant does a fine job of setting up the cultural and musical contexts of the records he and label honcho Miles Cleret selected. Even better, he tells some good stories about his own connections and how his quest turned up some interesting sources, conveying with passion and honesty the way his own heart led him to the heart of this not-so-well-known music. For those seeking “new” sounds in vintage Afro-Latin music, Panama! might well be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

 

This is an exceptional compilation from my favorite traffickers in rare grooves, Soundway Records. This one has inspired a second volume (which I don’t have), that’s how good it is! It’s hard for me to say much more than the Dusted review above, in all truth.

I swear the tune “The Exciters Theme” by The Exciters here made it onto a soundtrack somewhere, $5 to anyone who can clear that up for me.. Two of my favorite tracks on this are from The Exciters actually. Aside from the tunes, the liner notes are really something special. As mentioned in the review above, they are both personal and informative. Written by Roberto Ernesto Gyemont, they contextualize the music historically and culturally and in a very flowing and readable style. I *highly* encourage everyone who grabs this to take the time to read them, as it’s not everyday you come across this amazing combination of words, music, and also rare photos in a compilation like this. The sound is also excellent, surpassing much of the rare African material on other Soundway compilations. (This is not a criticism — a great deal of Soundway’s material is extremely rare and sourced from the best vinyl available, which often is not in perfect shape….). I have yet to come across a Soundways comp that isn’t worth getting hold of, and this is one of the best they’ve done.

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