Willie Colón & Rubén Blades – Siembra
1978 Fania Records (original)
2021 Craft Recordings / Concord (reissue)
If you are only going to have one salsa album in your collection, you could do much worse than a copy of Siembra. For fans of the music, I’ve heard many stories about the opening track, Plástico, that are typically along the lines of “I remember when I first heard that song and it blew my mind. Singer and lyricist Rubén Blades had only broken out of working in Fania’s mail room a few years prior — his first recording, if I’m not mistaken, was on Ray Barretto’s 1975 album, Barretto. And he seemed determined to do what activist Felipe Luciano, then of the Young Lords,was entreating young salsa musicians to do in this cool documentary of the period: create music that moved away from commercialism (and by the late 70’s Fania had perfect a “formula” for hit records, and was sticking to it…) and instead spoke to the lived experience of the struggling communities who embraced the music, both in New York and throughout Latin America.
So don’t be taken aback by the opening bars of disco that great your ears in the opening bars of Plástico: it’s not an experiment in musical hyrbids (which, if you frequent this blog, you know I’ll defend ’till the end of time), since it doesn’t recur anywhere else throughout the albums 43 minutes. Instead it is a musical meta-commentary on the lyrics about materialism and conformity, lyrics which conclude with a hopeful and exultant call to resist the crushing sameness. And the best news is:the rest of the album is equally good as this opening cut.
On this last day of this 12 Days of Christmas series, I’m trying to do my small part to take back January 6 for what it has traditionally been throughout Latin America (and not just the Spanish-speaking parts of it) — Three Kings’ Day – instead of the shitshow that date currently symbolizes in the U.S.
The Alegre All Stars – s/t
Vinyl transfer in 24-bit/192 kHz | FLAC | 300 dpi scans | Latin, Descarga, Salsa
1961 Alegre Records LPA-810 || Repress, 1960s/70s || Mono
This is the first of several albums made by The Alegre All Stars and the only one with Johnny Pacheco on flute, who left the label to form Fania soon after. It features Charlie Palmieri on piano and Barry Rogers on trombone. It a big way, it set the template for one component of what would become known as “salsa”: in particular, the loose jamming that would become a trademark of the Fania All-Stars live performances (at least through the mid-1970s). The vocalists are no slouches either: Dioris Valladares, Yayo “El Indio” Paquero, and Rudy Calzado were all well-known in their day and deserve more renown. The album features lots of studio banter and even the sound of drinks being poured: the informal atmosphere was deliberate, with aim to capturing the kind of vibe that Israel ‘Cahcao’ Lopez had on his famous Cuban “descarga” sessions. Continue reading
Celia Cruz y Willie Colón – Celia y Willie
Vinyl rip in 24-bit/192 kHz | FLAC & mp3| 300 dpi scans | Latin, Salsa
2021 Craft Recordings CR00375 || RSD, limited to 2000 copies ||
Original release 1981 Vaya
The cover may seem to invoke the glory days of the Palladium (or perhaps even the Cotton Club), but the music on this album fits mostly comfortably with any ‘salsa dura’ recorded during the 1970’s peak of that style, albeit with a bit less jamming and more focus on fitting a lot of vocals into 47 minutes. Continue reading
Mambos, cha chas, son montunos, pachangas, Latin jazz… Tito Puente played all of those, and he apparently never liked the catch-all term “salsa” (and he stayed out of Fania Records’ orbit, for the most part). And he has a point – each of the sub-genres and rhythms (and there are many more than those listed here) have their own backstory and sensibility….
Joe Cuba Sextet – Wanted Dead or Alive (Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push)
1975 Fania/Tico Repress SLP-1146, Mono mix ||| 1966 (Original release)
You can’t really talk about the Latin boogaloo without mentioning the song “Bang! Bang!”. The Joe Cuba Sextet had been around the flourishing New York scene for a while by this time, and had a bunch of records under their collective belts, so you can’t exactly call this a ‘breakthrough album.’ But the song – allegedly written on the spot during a live gig – catapulted them to newfound heights of popularity. But it’s definitely not all boogaloo either on this record, and the closing tune here, Cocinando, jams for 9 minutes in what is a prescient template of the genre that would soon become known as “salsa” around the world. This is just fun music in every way, and a great way to get your summer started if you are in the Northern Hemisphere! Continue reading
Ray Barretto – Barretto Power (1970)
Original release, Fania Records
This reissue, 2020 Craft Recordings CR003300
Have I mentioned how fantastic it is that the Fania catalog is finally being curated with the respect and attention to quality and detail that the music deserves? After decades of crap CD remasterings, brick-walled for iTunes, Concord records has acquired the rights along with the family of labels Fania acquired when they bought out their competition (e.g. Alegre, Tico) and has been contracting the very skilled mastering engineer Kevin Gray of CoHearant Audio to do the honors. Continue reading