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Never Too Much

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Lancelot Layne : Yo Tink It Sorf?
Biosis Now : Independent Bahamas
both taken from the compilation Calypsoul 70 on Strut (2008)

Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou : Iya Me Dji Ki Bi Ni
& Mi Homlan Dadale
taken from the compilation The Vodoun Effect on Analog Africa (2008)

Here’s a few picks from recent compilations that I’ve had in heavy rotation. I figure we must be approaching the tipping point where nearly all the good forgotten 70’s funky stuff from around the world has been unearthed and re-issued and then what will be left but to turn to the 80’s! I’m picturing comps of drum machine & casio weirdness from Syria- wait a minute, someone’s already released that record (and it’s actualy pretty good)! But perhaps I’m wrong and more bounty like this will continue surfacing for as long as my hearing is good.

The Lancelot Layne is a track that I already had in my collection from the great Jeff Recordings compilation that came out a few years ago (is this recycling the sign that we’re nearing the end?), but I’m glad that I was reminded of it again on this new comp from Strut. What a certified banger! Still will kill a dancefloor to be sure- and I’m scheming a remix. The rest of this compilation maintains a similar level of caribbean heat with plenty of disco, funk and reggae in the mix. The track from Biosis Now is something I heard when my good friend Busquelo picked this LP out of a Brooklyn thrift store.

And big shout Samy at Analog Africa for putting together this latest collection of lo-fi, syncopated (and sometimes perfectly out-of-tune) Beninese rarities. When he lacks frequent updates to his website, it must be because he’s busy putting out another solid and legit release like this one.

Sad update: on my way to host my weekly radio show, I absent-mindedly left my bag full of all my latest and greatest CDs on the subway (to be fair, I was perhaps awestruck by the beautiful young lady sitting accross from me, but still, I’m stupid). So I’ve now lost both of these albums as well as about 50 others- most I hadn’t even ripped to digital yet. Thanks to the almighty that it wasn’t my VINYL!!!



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1944 – 2008

Sad news: rocksteady great (and one of the finest crafters of reggae soul) Alton Ellis passed away recently. I was a late-comer to his magic but I’ve been beguiled by it ever since. His catalog is massive but I’ve always had an ear for his stuff from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Here’s three of my favorite. Jah bless.

Alton Ellis: I’m Still In Love With You
From I’m Still In Love With You (Trojan, 196?)

Alton Ellis: What Does It Take To Win Your Love
Alton Ellis: It’s Gonna Take a Miracle
From Sunday Coming (Trojan, 1970)



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Someone recently wrote to ask: “You’ve eluded[sic] to a few of your [Latin music] favourites a couple of times, I was hoping you’d share more of your all time best with us.”

That seemed like a perfectly fair request so I set out to think how I’d approach answering it. For one thing, I’ve actually posted up a few of them over the years and I went back to a few old posts and reattached missing sound files. That will get you these three basic – but essential – Latin dance tunes:

•Joe Cuba: Bang Bang
•Ray Barretto: Acid
•Willie Colon: La Murga

As noted – these are basic insofar as they’re well-known but not having them in your crate is like professing a love for funk and having no James Brown.

I had also written about these next two songs in the past but by past, I mean as far back as four, even five years ago and I thought it was worth coming back to them here, just to refresh people’s memories.

Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound: Que Se Sepa
From 5 (Fania, 1975)

Quite possibly my favorite Latin track ever. It’s such an amazing mix of styles here, opening with that fantastically funky rhythm before shifting into a stripped down rumba which then turns into an incredible guaguanco section. This is as pure a dancefloor track as you could wish for. Not surprisingly, of all of Roena’s many songs (and he has a ton), this is probably his best known by far.

Mauricio Smith: Viva Guajira
From Bitter Acid (Mainstream, 1967)

I’d put this up as one of the best produced Latin albums Joe Cain ever laid hands on (and that’s saying a lot given Cain’s track record). It’s not often you see a saxophonist heading up a Latin album but Mauricio Smith does excellent work here, especially on “Viva Guajira” which is one of the more upbeat and joyful guajiras you’re likely to lay ears on. The way this song opens – with the piano progression and antiphonal chicken-scratch guitars – never grows old for me.

Ok, onward to songs not previously spoken about…

Monguito Santamaria: Groovetime
From Hey Sister (Fania, 1968)

I’m genuinely amazed I never put this on Soul Sides before; must have been my oversight in thinking I already had. This was probably the song that got me interested in boogaloo and hence, Latin music writ large. It’s that bassline – it’d catch your attention in any genre – and the the swing and swagger of Monguito on here sells how deliciously groovy and funky the whole affair is. Monguito was Mongo’s son though he never came close to enjoying the same popularity. He could, at least, lay claim to being one of Fania’s best boogaloo artists during the era and the way he pulls “Groovetime” together suggests why.

One more boogaloo banger:

Orchestra Harlow: Freak Off
From El Exigente (Fania, 1967)

Larry Harlow has to be one of the most interesting players in the New York Latin scene. He was hardly the only Jewish player in the mix but he was the most visible bandleader and overall talent. Heck, his nickname was “El Judio Maravilloso,” (the marvelous Jew). Harlow’s catalog in the ’60s/’70s era runs deep but despite an impressive catalog of songs, you’d be hard pressed to find one more incredible than “Freak Off.” I was trying to think of boogaloo songs with this level of energy and outside of some of Ray Barretto’s material, I’m not sure there is one.

Fruko Y Sus Tesos: Confundido
From El Grande (Fuentes, 1975). Also on Grandes Exitos de Salsa Vol. 2

My fondness for Fruko’s Colombian take on salsa is well-known and there’s no way I could come up with a list of my favorite Latin tracks and not have him on here at least once. I cycle through which song of his I’m into the most at any given time and this isn’t necessarily the best song in terms of the vocals but for musical content, “Confundido” kills with that powerful, rolling piano riff that opens the song (that and the brass section which lights up the track too).

Pedro Miguel y sus Maracaibos: Descarga Maracaibo
From La Paila (Lider, 196?)

The last track I’ll include here is from one of the bigger names in Peruvian Latin music and while this more of a “listening” cut than something to blow up the dancefloor, I’m feeling how it begins with its folksy vocals that then give into this nimble guitar treatment that’s brisk without being overpowering. These days, this is the kind of Latin that I’ve found most appealing. Hope you do too.


New New Wave

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Michna : Triple Chrome Dipped
taken from the album Magic Monday on Ghostly International (2008)

Brazilian Girls : Good Time & Losing Myself
taken from the album New York City on Verve (2008)

Sebastien Tellier : Kilometer (link removed by request)
taken from the album Sexuality on lLucky Number (2008)

I realize this may look like I’m jumping on a blog bandwagon by endorsing these albums, but these song are getting me really excited about the possible return to an era of sound where Talking Heads-inspired vocal ingenuity and Devo-esque synth tweakery finds a comfortable home in the ears of current pop consciousness.

BIG PROPS to the kid Egg Foo Young aka MICHNA, a familiar face from behind the counter at Turntable Lab, who shocked me with his trombone skills on this record. Deep and danceable at the same time is a difficult feat, but he pulls it off with panache on this never boring collection of gumbo-style instrumentals.

Are the Brazilian Girls considered mainstream now? I hope so. They deserve it. I remember when I would see them at their weekly Wednesday night residency at the tiny sweatbox that is still Nublu. And yes, Sabina is one of the sexier frontladies of our time.

Finally, I’m sharing another highly trendy and overly-blogged record, but it’s so addictive! If you didn’t know already, now you do. Lovemaking has just been given another great gift in the form of this seduction soundtrack. Hearing such perfectly broken English from a Frenchman makes me want to stop making sense so much when I speak. Who cares if the CD is available at American Apparel stores? Sebastian gets the pass for being greater the cloud of hipster hype which surrounds him.



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I’ve been reading Jerry Wexler’s excellent, engrossing – but alas, out of print – autobiography, Rhythm and the Blues since I wanted to learn more about his life (catalyzed to do so by his death). Wexler talks about one of his protegés, Bert Berns, the songwriter and producer best known for his work with the Drifters, Van Morrison, Solomon Burke and a slew of others. One of the sources of Bern’s inspiration was Latin music and Wexler shares how some of Bern’s greatest hits, including the Isley Bros. “Twist and Shout” and “My Girl Sloopy” (better known as “Hang On Sloopy”) were all based on the chord progression Bern learned from the best known Cuban guajira of all time: “Guantanamera.”

Here’s the thing about guajiras: they’re a distinctly Cuban style, the term itself refers to a girl from the country and the sound of it is meant to invoke a kind of folksy, romantic and nostalgic mood. It can be a bit confusing though since guajira can refer to either a girl or the song style, therefore when some artists entitle their song, “Mi Guajira,” it’s not always obvious if they’re talking about “my girl” or talking about “my song.”

In any case, when I first started to research the boogaloo and its evolution out of the Afro-Cuban tradition, my mentors like Vinnie Esparza and Chris Veltri tried to explain that a boogaloo rhythm was, in essence, a variation on both cha-cha-chá and guajira and that’s absolutely true. If you listen to either cha-cha-chás or guajiras from earlier in the 1960s, it’s very easy to hear within them the basic structure of boogaloo rhythms as well. As a result, I’ve been a big fan of guajiras because they have that appealing sound I associate with boogaloo, primarily a strong, central montuno riff, often on piano.

What I couldn’t quite figure out though is what exactly separated cha-cha-chás from guajiras and as it was, I was recently hanging out with Joe Bataan and he broke it down (I’m paraphrasing): “the cha cha is upbeat and its usually played in a major key which makes them sound happy. Guajiras, on the other hand, tend to be a little slower but more importantly, the montuno is usually in a minor key, giving it a sadder sound. It’s like blues for Latin.” And suddenly, that totally made sense to me though, given my musicological ignorance, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think about it in that way.

Back to “Guantanamera.” The basic chord progression here is a I-IV-V; an incredibly common progression that, once you pick up on it, you’ll begin to hear in countless songs, across many different genres. Mathematically, I’m sure there’s an explanation to why the I-IV-V is so pleasing to the ear (at least in a Western context) but it most certainly is part of what gives “Guantanamera” its distinctive melody.

The best known version of the song to most Americans is probably one of Celia Cruz’s versions, especially given her and Wyclef’s collabo from the ’90s. However, the song is attributed to Cuban songwriter Joseíto Fernández (who would have turned 100 this year), who supposedly originally wrote it back in the late ’20s.

Joseito Fernandez: Guajira Guantanamera
From 75 Years of Cuban Music (Pimienta, 2003)

In terms of evidence of how “Guantanamera” has returned through popular music, the examples are legion.

Richie Valens: La Bamba
From 7″ (Del-Fi, 1958). Also on The Very Best Of.

I can’t say this for certain but “La Bamba” was likely one of the earliest examples of a pop song interpolating the “Guantanamera” chord progression and with this massive hit by the young Richie Valens, songwriters were off to the races…

The Drifters: Sweets For My Sweet
From 7″ (Atlantic, 1961). Also on The Very Best Of.

The Isley Brothers: Twist and Shout
From 7″ (Wand, 1962). Also on The Definitive Collection.

The Vibrations: My Girl Sloopy
From 7″ (Atlantic, 1964). Also The Very Best Of.

This trio suggests how powerfully resonant that progression would become, sticking itself into some of the big pop hits of the time. “Sweets For My Sweet” wasn’t a huge song compared to some of the Drifters later material but “Twist and Shout” (originally recorded by the Top Notes in a version that few would likely recognize) would become gold in the hands of first the Isley Brothers and then, of course, The Beatles. (The song is credited to “Bert Russell” which was a nom de plume of Bert Berns).

As for “My Girl Sloopy,” the world knows it better as “Hang On Sloopy” by the McCoys but Berns brought the “Guantanamera” chords back again when he originally recorded the song for the Vibrations.

The Righteous Brothers: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
From 7″ (Philies, 1964). Also on Very Best Of

And hell, for good measure, Phil Spector built it into the bridge for one of the biggest pop hits of the 20th century, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”

Bonus: Jack Costanzo: Guantanamera
From Viva Tirado (GNP, 1971)

The actual song itself has gone through countless versions – this one’s a personal favorite, off of Jack Costanzo’s excellent Viva Tirado album (feat. singer Gerri Woo). Costanzo, aka Mr. Bongo, gives the song a funkier feel but it’s still true to its Cuban roots all the same.


Psyching Myself Up.

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The Bee Gees: Holiday
Taken from the LP Bee Gee’s 1st on Atco (1968)

Count Five: She’s Fine
Taken from the LP Psychotic Reaction on Double Shot (1968)

The Zombies: Leave Me Be
Taken from the 7″ on Decca (1964)

Arthur Brown: I Put A Spell On You
Taken from the LP Crazy World Of Arthur Brown on Atlantic (1968)


The Id: Short Circuit and Butterfly Kiss
Taken from the LP The Inner Sound Of The Id on World In Sound (1967)

I was shocked when I realized recently–somewhere in between my not writing entries for this blog and wishing that I was writing entries for this blog–that for several weeks now, I have possessed exactly zero desire to listen to music. Sure, I would muster the goods for my weekly DJ throwdown, and occasionally I’d put something on, albeit noncommitally, while I made my breakfast or cleaned my house… but the sad, simple truth is that I just wasn’t feeling it.

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