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Once again Descarga's own Connoisseur of Salsa gets down to the real nitty gritty and distills the recorded history of salsa into its essential parts. As usual, Abel's arrow sometimes smarts, and we should add that his views are not necessarily those of Descarga. Consider this a disclaimer. Abel is simply exercising his first amendment rights. You gotta problem with that?

related articles: Abel's Picks Part I and Abel's Picks Part II

Abel's Picks: Classic Salsa, Part III

by Abel Delgado (

Bobby Rodriguez Y La Compañía
Lead me to that Beautiful Band
CD (Vaya 43) Released 1975; Re-Issued 1995

Like the category says, this is classic salsa. Bobby's band had a distinctive sound and approach you hear on this album. "Pa' Borinquen Voy" is a simple tune that talks about a guy who's worked in New York and is going back to Puerto Rico to live on his beautiful islita, a story that many people have lived and will continue to live (like my friend Norberto, who's now chillin' with some tropical breezes while I freeze in lovely old Philadelphia, but that's another story), which gives the song an element of social commentary and resonance, despite the fact it was recorded a quarter of a century ago. This tune also has an interesting little piano guajeo counterpointed by some brass and flute riffs in the middle of the tune, not at all like the typical salsa guajeo you hear so often. Then it breaks into the hard-edged New York sound of the time.
Another standout tune is Rubén Blades' Número seis, the classic about the number 6 subway train people still catch to get to El Barrio in the City. Again, an interesting arrangement where the horns imitate a train's horn punctuated by Bobby's own swirling flute. The fellows dip into an English tune for a bit with the ballad "Don't Misunderstand Me", where Eddie Hernández lays down a convincing vocal with a nice arrangement. A lot of time salseros would really misfire by trying to do English tunes, but Eddie and Bobby had a feel for this sort of thing (see "Latin from Manhattan", the title track from the album of the same name) and it comes off.
The soneros on this album are Junior Cordova and José Acosta, who, while they aren't the kind of soneros who blow you away, perform strongly on "Trátame como soy", an old Beny Moré tune, "La moral" and "El mensaje". All of these are swinging, catchy tunes with that old-school New York sound guys like Jimmy Bosch are trying to keep alive today. Almost forgot my favorite tune-"Recuerdos de Arcaño", dedicated to flutist and bandleader Antonio Arcaño, a funky chachachá with superb flute work by Bobby. Overall, this is a great add to the collection.

Tito Rodríguez
Carnaval of the Americas
CD (WS Latino 4188)

Just check out the first track, "Avísale a mi contrario", where Tito lays down the smoothest diana ever recorded, and you'll know this pickup was worth it. This album is meant to cover famous tunes from Latin America, restyling them in the Afro-Cuban vibe as only the master and his crew can. You'll hear Tito's usually superb stylings on boleros like "Un cigarillo, la lluvia y tú" and "¿Qué sabes tú de Mí?", plus popping sones like "El bigotón de Danilo" and "Ay, mulata coqueta". My favorite tune off this album is "Fue en Santiago", where the horns sound a teeny bit like those Nelson-Riddle arranged horns for Sinatra tunes. But the delivery is pure Tito-smooth phrasing, sure delivery-nobody can or will do it better. The only flaw I can see with the album is that it's a bit short compared to contemporary releases. But they never recorded long tunes back in those days, and as I've said before about other great artists like Machito, Tito packs and stacks the sabor in three minutes with no problem. Bottom line: classic Latin American tunes done by Tito, and if any axiom is true, it's that you can't have enough Tito Rodríguez records.

Gene Hernández
El Sabor de Gene
CD (Alegre 6025) Released 1981; Re-Issued 1999

This is an album I bought from my music mentor salsa Chino a few years back. The record had this cheap, corny illustration of Gene dancing around with some maracas, so I thought it sucked. But Chino was right, he told me to ignore the corny cover and listen to it. This is a great little charanga-style album, the violins and cellos being revved up by a trumpet and three trombones. Gene even adds some tres and piccolo to top things off. The swing has to be credited to the sidemen like Willie Rodríguez on piano, Leo Pineda on trombone and Hector Nieves' particularly outstanding work on flute, among others. But don't forget the great arrangements by Joe Mannozzi, the ex-trumpet player for Típica '73 and Luis "Perico" Ortiz. Looking back over my old albums, I've developed a healthy respect for Perico's arranging abilities. The guy was everywhere and responsible for dozens of classic charts, including Tommy Olivencia's "Planté bandera".
But I digress. "El viejo barbero" is a sentimental tune about an old barber who know gets no customers, supercharged by the changing, energetic choruses and Héctor Nieves' amazing flute. I can't believe that guy wasn't on more records, he was excellent. "Canción de amor" is what it is, a love song, given a nice treatment by the strings doing an insistent, catchy guajeo and the overall swing of the band. Gene himself is a strong sonero on this album, using a deep, old-school style and coming up with creative soneos. "Viva Colombia" is a tribute to that beautiful but troubled country, again, that edged New York swing slightly sweetened by the strings. "La santería" is Gene's tribute to that Afro-Cuban religion, with well-written lyrics and the shifty chorus which goes from deep-voiced Aragónesque stylings to the "voz de viejo" nasal style often used in conjuntos like Pacheco's and in the Sonora Matancera. "La cama rota" is solid number about a guy who finds out his wife is cheating on him. But that doesn't bother him; instead, he gets mad when his wife's lover breaks his bed. Still haven't figured out what's going there after all these years, but it has a catchy chorus and is fun to listen to. "Así fue que nació el son" dips more into a countrified sound (by this I mean Cuban son montuno, not no Hee Haw Hank Williams mechanical bull kind of crap) and Gene does some intriguing vocal improv.
Finally, it finishes off with "Beny Moré medley", where Gene is smart. He doesn't try to outsing Beny (as if anybody could), but rather stays with his own style, paying homage to him sincerely by covering his old tunes like "Soy campesino". Wow, it took a lot of words to say this (I think I felt I had to compensate for the cover art and the fact that Gene isn't exactly a household name), but the point of all this is simple: this is a great album to add to your CD stacks.

Cortijo Y Su Combo
Llaves de la tradición
CD (Tico 1419) Released 1977; Re-Issued 1993

This is a greatest hits type of album compiled by Al Santiago, the legendary producer and Descarga contributor. He basically went to a few of the old 78s Cortijo and Maelo put out and combined them with tunes released on other albums. Whether you buy this depends on how many Cortijo and Maelo records you have. If you have a lot, a look at the tunes may suggest you don't need it. Personally, I have quite a few of their records and haven't seen some of the tunes on original albums, like "Soy buena gente." So for me it's worth it. And if you don't have any of their stuff, it's a must. It really shows off the sound in that band, why they made the impact they did when they came on the scene. I mean, just check out "Soy del campo". I don't know what rhythm it is, but I definitely hear that Puerto Rican folkloric flavor in there, but with a dance energy drive that few bands then (and much less today) could match. These guys were just raw and funky, straight from the black barrios of Santurce and Carolina, and they put Puerto Rican music on the map. Sure, they didn't play bomba with barriles, they used Cuban congas, but they became symbols of Puerto Rican sabor, changing people's perception of Puerto Rican folkloric music from "hicky" to "hip". It's because of them I love bomba. Listen to "Bomba ae". Instead of the rocking, slow-tempoed bomba you usually hear, this has speed and fire, not to mention Maelo's cool stuttering entry and tongue-twisting vocals. Plus, these guys were also masters of Cuban music, adding their own original take. Check the vocal harmony that opens the tune "Soy buena gente" and how the saxes swing.
Everything on this album is fantastic, I could write till your eyeballs hurt from reading this onscreen. But just some quick last points. "Déjala" shows off Maelo's unique ability to phrase, especially with the open. "Borinquen" shows more of the same, not to mention his songwriting ability; that is one well-written number. "Cúcala": don't know what it means, but damn is it catchy, and NOT in the noxious, frightening way that "Livin la Vida Loca" is. (An aside: Ricky Martin must be stopped! But how??? He's like a pop music Count Dracula, I don't think he can be killed, even with a stake.) "La soledad" shows off the street side of Maelo, the grittiness, the phrasing that soneros unknowingly copy to this day. Almost forgot about Cortijo. You can't hear his conga much, but he's there, steady as a rock, anchoring the sound and leading one of the greatest bands in Latin music history. And this is a sampler of their greatness, no crap, no greasy kid stuff. Just the real. Like Felipe Luciano said, pure P.R. barbecue. Somebody save me a pata off that lechón!

Ricardo Ray
Se Soltó
CD (Alegre 8500) Released 1966; Re-Issued 1993

As a collector I like to buy these 60s albums to round out my collection, but I'm a little leery of the boogaloo era. I'm sorry, hate me if you must, but I think a lot of those boogaloo tunes from back then were corny pieces of crap, pure commercial junk to bring in the American audience. I'm happy to report that no way, this is the good stuff, the classic sabor plus some interesting twists. Danzón boogaloo doesn't sound to me like a blend between those two genres, but more like a danzón that segues into a son montuno and strangely, reminds me a bit of Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder". Still, a nicely done instrumental to warm things up. El señor embajador" is that classic Richie Ray sound. It's simply about being the ambassador of Latin music, which in many ways Richie was; from what I understand, his group was key in establishing the popularity of salsa across Latin America, especially in Colombia. It has a tight, powerful sound. The rhythm section kind of reminds me of Puente, but the trumpets are unusually voiced in this tune and throughout the album on the salsa tunes; at time they seem to have a Mexican flavor. No me dejes sounds like an old cowboy song in the intro, then segues into a bolero with a deep-voiced, uncredited singer. (For this album, Chivirico Dávila is the lead singer on most tracks but Bobby Cruz, who would later become synonymous with Richie Ray, does some work although it's mostly coro.) This bolero is not Cómo fue but it's cool. I enjoyed both the muted trumpet solo and Richie's solo. I haven't heard him name mentioned much among the Latin piano greats, but I'm starting to think it really should be there.
I really dug Suite Noro Morales. Not a lot of Latin here, it seems to me to be a jazz number. Again, I enjoyed Richie's piano work. He seems just as comfortable with jazz as he is with salsa. Also, kudos to the trumpet man, whoever he was, for some midrange, articulate work.
Guaguancó en jazz doesn't seem to have much jazz as the title promises, it justs seems to have that brassy, ballsy Richie Ray approach with the locked-down rhythm section and Chivirico's excellent vocals. As I said earlier, you hear that touch of Mexican flavor in the brass, very distinctive. However, this ain't the cucaracha. You CAN and will groove to this number. It's simple, straightforward and meant to make you move. Mission accomplished.
Sé que te vas continues the movement, a Bobby Cruz uptempo number that has that salsa groove so many band would try to duplicate in the 70s, a marked departure from the dance music of the Palladium era. Azucaré y bongó is a slinky son montuno that curiously sounds a lot like Quimbombó by pianist Luis Martínez Griñán. Not accusing anybody of anything, relax, there just seems to be a similarity. Loved the way Chivirico uses repetition to ride roughshod over the montuno while creating new melodies. And again Richie comes in with the piano, giving us some blues flavor. At least that's what my admittedly tin ear picked up. Lookie Lookie was kind of corny to me, that cheesy boogaloo I lambasted earlier. Musically energetic but falls short. But the next tune was very strong. Swedish Schnapps is a jazz number that seems to be ahead of its time in the way it integrates Latin and jazz form. Haven't heard enough of Machito and Puente's more progressive stuff to be certain of this, but most of the time, when people said Latin jazz back then they meant jazzy horns over the same old mambo or chachachá. That is, the rhythm section wasn't really integrated into the scheme of things. To this day you hear a lot of tunes like that where the jazz only reaches the horns y allí se queda. Check the trumpet work, very inventive and fresh.
Richie finishes things off with two strong dance numbers, Echando candela and Yáre Changó. The groove on both is irresitible. The only problem is that they're too short. Check the bass on Yáre Changó, plus what may be some abakuá patterns tucked in there.
The only thing about this album I'd warn you about is the shift in genres. It's not a dancer's delight from front to back because of all the jazz and boogaloo tunes. But if you're willing to check out different styles and you enjoy jazz, then you should like this album.

Héctor Lavoe
CD (Fania 634) Released 1985

Usually we salsa lovers expect pretty banging stuff from Héctor, but this album was different. To be sure, there are some strong numbers for stepping. But there are also some tunes that are more melodic, where Hector tries to show off his chops as a singer. De qué tamaño brings salsified son together with bomba breaks and plena-type harmonies for a satisfying little sofrito. It's a love song, so hear you check out more of Hector's melody work as opposed to his famed sonero skills. La vida es bonita is a cheery song with some Brazilian percussion and a vocal style on the chorus which may also be from tico tico land. I just don't know enough about Brazilian music to tell you for sure. What I can tell you is that it's a fun listen, all peppy but not annoyingly so, much different from the grittier music Héctor is famous for, like Calle Luna, calle Sol. Don Fulano de tal is a bolero with tasty vibes work by Ricardo Marrero. It tackles that shopworn theme of love lost but in a lyrical way that makes the song seem fresh. Héctor was an accomplished bolerista, not like Cheo, of course, but effective, adding his own little comments and ironic laughter.
La fama is up next, written by Hector, a provocative piece about the price of fame. But when the montuno kicks in he shifts to bragging about himself. Since it's Héctor, it's witty and engaging, but it would have been cool to keep the ideas in the head of the song going. And the band rocks the whole time, especially on this number. The band's talents are especially apparent on the next number, Déjala que siga, a charanga-style tune that uses a scatty intro to segue into a strong swing in the montuno section, where Héctor alternately detonates or swings along with the main melody with ease like the daring young man on the flying trapeze. Check how he quotes old songs like La mujer de Antonio: as always, he's well-versed in his musical history and a smart sonero. Then he melodically introduces Johnny Pacheco for a sabroso like maduros flute solo.
Cáncer has the potential to be a downer, after all, it's about a terrifying disease with no cure. But Héctor somehow makes it funny, talking about how everything seems to be reported as giving you cancer. Richie Ray is on piano, and like Héctor says as Richie jumps in, tierra va'temblá. He kills it, what more can I say with a bunch of type? This leads into a jet-propelled montuno-mambo section (the trombones lead the charge like freakin Gunga Din) where Héctor does he what does best-sonear. His only anticancer plan doesn't seem to involve more fiber or antioxidant vitamins like C or E. "Lo único que voy a soltar mi amigo es poco a poco, si puedo, el cigarillo". But he does say he's going to keep eating his arroz con habichuelas; interestingly, beans, although he probably didn't know this, have cancer-fighting compounds in them.
¿Por qué no puedo ser feliz? finishes things off, a sad tune about (what else?) unhappiness set to one of the most joyous rhythms around, merengue. It's an unusual counterpoint, the sadness and the hot rhythm. Considering Héctor's life, this may have been done intentionally as it reflects his life: powerful music muted by personal tragedy. And, like or not, this counterpoint made for a compelling musical legacy. This album is part of that legacy.

Louie Ramirez
CD (Cotique 1104) Released 1980; Re-Issued 1995

If you buy this one, make sure your corns are trimmed back, you're taking your ginseng and your shoes are fairly comfortable. It's all about incendio musical, New York style. Ahora es el tiempo is a call to Latinos to get it together, as relevant in 1980 as it is now. Normally message music is kind of a drag, but the catchy chorus, fiery brass and Adalberto Santiago's vocals will make you internalize the message even as you groove. Tortura china has some nice music buy lyrically is a misogynistic, nasty tune about wife beating. A horrible misuse of a nice arrangement. I always skip this one when listening to this album.
Fortunately the next tune is much more positive. Barrio is a nostalgic tune about a desire to revisit the old neighborhood, done in a peppy charanga style with a deep-voiced chorus crossbred with some kickass brass and flute work. The flute is credited to Nestor Sánchez on my album, but I know Nestor as a singer, not a flute player. So either he's showing off some hidden talent or it's Nestor Torres working the flute. I suspect the latter, but whoever it was, he sounded good. Yo soy del llano continues the charanga meets brass vibe with more picante flute and Adalberto again rocking the mike. It celebrates country life with poetic soneos and a banging little arrangement. Now there may be the possibility that this tune doesn't move you at all. If not, I can't help you and neither can medical science-taste transplants are as yet unavailable.
Quisiera ser seems like a precursor of salsa romántica with its lovey dovey lyrics. But the similarities end there. Unlike today's blow-dried freeze-dried momias maquilladas people pass off as singers (and even as soneros!), Adalberto understands both bolero and son montuno, in addition to the other genres that make up salsa. This gives his performance a nice combination of romanticismo and fuego. And don't forget the agua of the violins counterpointed by some leather-lunged brass work over a crackling sofrito of a rhythm. Kudos as well to José Madera for yet another strong chart from his powerful pen. I for one miss arrangers like him and Louie Ramírez today.
Las parábolas seems to be about Jesus' parables and their simple messages about morality. But it mixes this in with Spanish sayings like "No hay mal que dure cien años ni cuerpo que lo resista" so the lyrics don't make the most sense in the world. I mostly just grooved to the sound, especially Louie's tough timbal solo. Juan González is a Rubén Blades tune about a guerrilla fighter but I don't know the historical specifics. I love Rubén, but with this brother sometimes you wish his songs had accompanying Cliff's Notes. Still, it's a nice combo of sociopolitical commentary and dance music, a nice change from the all too common messages even in classic salsa and Cuban music: 1.Dance till you drop, then dance some more; 2. My woman left me, good riddance or she left me and I want her back; 3. I am one hell of a rumbero; 4. This is some party we're having; 5. I am also a great santero and palero to boot.
Latin jazz finishes things off, a laid back number in contrast to the other burners on this album. It's instrumental with delicate violins and a mellow Fender Rhodes solo by Louie. Kind of cool to play with the lights off after a long day without having to resort to Yanni. Overall, this one's a keeper.

Bobby Valentin
Rey Del Bajo
CD (Fania 457) Released 1974; Re-Issued 1993

This one is another of the seventies smokers, an era when salsa bands took no prisoners. Now most of them sound like they're into bondage. It opens up with Hay cráneo, a tune which is simply a guy telling a girl that she's horny for him, he's horny for her, and they should do something about it. Of course, you have to be hip to the slang to get this, which is part of the charm of even vulgar sounds back in the day: the use of slang and double entendre. What also helps you get into the groove is the big brass section swinging along like updated Machito or Puente, as well as Marvin Santiago's rough soneos. I'm not sure if this guy has gotten the credit he deserved as a sonero. He had swing, power and cheqendeque plus timba before it became a catchall phrase for modern Cuban music. Arenas del desierto is a bolero with classic horn lines updated by Oscar Hernández' traps work plus a fine, bluesy piano solo by Edwin Rodríguez. Frankie Hernández is not Tito Rodríguez, but he comes off and the tune is very listenable.
Guaraguao is a song about some chicken-killing animal, mixing in some danzón with charanga riffs and other interesting little rhythmic accents to create an unusual hybrid. Marvin again puts some stink on his vocals, adding to the fun of this catchy number.
Mi ritmo es bueno is the next tune, and an understatement. This rhythm es excelente, driven by William Thompson's tough tumbao and incendiary brass. Frankie sounds much more at home on the vocals on this one, soneando like he just had a can of spinach. And this tune is strong to the finish-Edwin blazes the keys in another impressive piano solo, then the mambo comes in to blow the house down. Frankie jumps back on the montuno and rides it like a broncobuster into the coda. If you're not moving on this one, get an X-ray. You may have osteoporosis.
Next, Codazos just doesn't let up, it's a roof-is-one-fire-we-don't-need-no-water-let-the-mf'er-burn instrumental with an articulate, uncredited trumpet solo, scintillating saxes and bass going as low as it can go. Cuando te vea shows the Puente influence on this band, as this tune was written by El Rey. It's pretty much a guy asking for forgiveness and the lyrics aren't especially deep. But the band's sound sure is-keep a fire extinguisher handy in case your speakers combust. Compare this to modern salsa and you'll agree with the old saying about them not making them like they used to.
Espérame en el cielo is a classic bolero based on a true story of a man whose wife died. Fine, sentimental lyrics delivered nicely by Marvin Santiago augmented by another Edwin piano solo with some nice jazzy touches, not to mention an uncredited flute to boot. Probably not the best version of the song given Marvin's bolero limitations, but still a nice interlude. La víbora is sped-up son montuno, an old Cuban tune spiced up with Puerto Rican salsa. Frankie steps up to the mike again, showing some vocal skills and the horns and percussion microwave things up.
Aquí no me quedo is about a Puerto Rican jíbaro who desires to live in the mountains, celebrating a rustic lifestyle with a very urban rhythm. A curious mix that makes for another fast-stepping, spinning and twirling kind of dance number. Again, that brass section leads the charge and William again shows off his hard hands, slamming the skins with authority.
Finally, the album finishes off with Coco seco, mixing some funk with salsa. Normally these kind of tunes sound contrived or corny, but Bobby figured out how to do a nice blend for this one. Elliot Randall's guitar and Oscar Colón's trap drive the tune while the percussion pops nonstop. The chorus and piano keep the Latin flavor and there's an informative dialogue between the flute and the guitar. An eclectic and funky finish to a classic that belongs in the CD rack.

Ismael Rivera
De Todas Maneras Rosas
CD (Tico 1415) Released 1977

I remember the title track from ten years ago. My brother Tony Rumba had a copy of this album, and that was one of my favorite cuts. Kind of romantic, nice lyrics, but with swing, especially with that alto sax floreando all the way through. And I liked this girl back then, so I sent her a dozen roses and the song on a tape. Did it work? Of course not. Not long after that I made my vow not to give women a dozen roses until the year 2014. Too much money and effort. But, my weird romantic antics aside, it's still a great tune. Fine lyrics, Maelo works the vocals, especially the montuno, with his usual slick style, using repetition and unique phrasing, plus the band kicks. Now, at this point in his career Maelo had lost a step or two on the vocals. He wasn't the young belter of the Cortijo days who would just vocally truck you like Bo Jackson did Brian Bosworth in that Monday Night Football game 10 years ago. Instead, he goes for a more subtle approach, even using a bit of vibrato to get over. Since the guy wasn't all fire and had an instinctive feel for phrasing, this worked quite well. You especially hear this on the fourth track, "Hola". There's a real world-weariness, a sad approach that give this song a real poignancy. "Si te cojo" was the one song I really hated. It's about a guy threatening to beat his wife. It's a distasteful piece of crap, a sorry, aberrant stain on the tradition of great songwriting in this music and, unfortunately, reflects the attitude of some people in Maelo's generation. I'd hit the skip button on that one.
Lucky for us, "Mi son sabrosón" is a rocking tune that helps wash out the taste of that last odious number. It's pure swing; the tres and alto sax are an impressive combination. "El Mesias" is about Jesus, but not overly preachy and rather heartfelt in certain spots; Maelo even refers to a statue of a black Christ in Panamá, adding an interesting racial subtext to the song. "Mi música" is pretty straightforward and not a lyrical prizewinner. But this music is often not about recording a bunch of deep songs, it often comes down to being able to sell the songs. No one does this better than Maelo. Between him and the still-swinging band, you get into it. "Profesión esperanza" is about Puerto Rican unity. Like many of the songs in this music, it does a lot of alluding but doesn't come right out and say anything too shocking. But you get the point, and then it goes into a chorus of "Puerto Rico sigue lindo, sigue bonito, lindo, lindo". It doesn't match the head or the title of the song very well, and that's a big flaw. But again, it's catchy enough so that Maelo and the boys manage to sell the song. Not by much, but enough. He then finishes off the album in a big way with "La oportunidad", which features tres and alto solos plus some stellar improvisations from Maelo when the chorus first kicks in. And check the way he starts singing over the mambo. True, you can tell his voice isn't what it was, but he still comes off with pure sonero soul. Overall, not a fireworks type of album, but here it's more about phrasing and groove. And what a groove it is, definitely worth the price of admission.

Tipica '73
Rumba Caliente
CD (Inca 1051) Released 1976

I shouldn't even have to review this. Típica 73 is pretty much an automatic for anyone serious about this music. Now, if you like Frankie Negrón, you probably won't dig this. But if you like old Frankie, I don't know why you listen to salsa in the first place. You might as well eliminate the middleman and get deeply into Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand and show tunes. But if you know enough to know Frankie sucks, then you should love this album.
Típica was one of the great bands of the 70s. They just never put out bad albums. Everything they did was inventive, powerful, danceable, just great music. Now this is an album to pump in your car. In fact, I suggest you go through the barrio doing this. After all, I can't be the only one trying to counteract the merengue and hip hop crap coming from the other cars. Anyway, this is what I'm so excited about:
"Rumba caliente" starts off with a guaguancó riff and some meditative piano work by Sonny Bravo, then dips into a powerhouse 70s salsa tune, with the great underrated sonero Tito Allen leading the charge. Then Típica figures they should cool off your stereo to avoid overload with "Guajira típica", which to me sounded more like a crisp, bumping chachachá than a guajira. Love the flute work, that's Don Gonzalo Fernández, a great flute player whose career was prematurely ended, a damn shame. Then Típica gets even mellower with "Si me pudieras querer", a bolero where Tito Allen shows off his romantic versatility. Then comes the stuff hardcore salsa addicts live for, the barnburners. "Sonaremos el Tambo" is a standard tune, but Típica's take, which features a solid José Grajales solo, has their unique "Cubanuyorican" fire with the brass kicking ass like always. "Pare cochero" is another standard. Here the boys slip in some danzón, some hyped-up charanga and one of my favorite all time mambos-check how the flute drives the marcha and the horns come in big and bad to make sure you're dancing at this point. And listen close. Tito doesn't say the usual "ahí na'má" stuff a lot of soneros get away with. He quotes old boleros, plays with the phrasing, like I said, very slick and very underrated. He does some more bolero quoting in "Gandinga", saying "Solamente una vez... comí gandinga contigo", fitting in the Pedro Vargas bolero lyrically and melodically within the tune. Te digo, people that can do stuff like that no están en la calle. "Los sitios llaman" starts off as an old-school danzón, very Cuban, old Gonzalo takes us back to El Malecón at sunset for a bit, then it jumps into a mean little chachachá that seems to quote "Chanchullo", the famous Cachao tune, for a couple of bars. Plus it has a fine Sonny Bravo solo. He never got the acclaim a lot of salsa pianists did, but I always liked his solos, very typical, lots of feeling. (I'm pretty unschooled musically, the nuns made music class pretty boring, so I can't make a deeper comment than what I just said, sorry.) Then the guys finish off with "Guaguancó de los violentos", puro sabor and swing, what else can I say? It was made for pumping in the spring and summer time. After all this, if you buy the album and like Frankie Negrón better, call me. I'm coming over with a case of Coronas and a stack of records to perform a musical exorcism. Get the behind me, Frankie Negrón! In the name of Beny Moré, I command you!

Bobby Valentin
CD (Bronco 104)

This one's another automatic for the shopping cart. That's the short review. Here's the long one: "El jíbaro y la naturaleza" documents the price of "progress" in Puerto Rico, lamenting the loss of nature and the country way of life. "La cosquilla" offers a nice change of pace, a son montuno-cha with double entendre lyrics provided by the pen of Tito Rodríguez. I don't know what "Son son chararí" is all about, I suspect it means nothing, but boy, does Bobby and his crew get a lot of mileage out of it. Baritone and alto saxes plus trumpets make a potent combination of salsa y sabor with lots of pimienta, not to mention Marvin Santiago's impressive vocals. Now this guy was a sonero. The voice, the attitude, the phrasing. He sounds very influenced by Maelo, but had a fiery style all his own. He tackles "Hola", the next track, but this wasn't really his thing. The subtlety required for this tune seems a bit beyond him, but that doesn't scratch the tune completely. Bobby does it as a quintofest of a bomba and phrases the horns like a samba, a very unusual, daring combo. But that's what 70s salsa was all about, pushing the envelope, updating the folklore. Contrast this to the 80s where everybody kind of was repeating themselves.
Back to the review. "Júrame" is a love song, sort of a salsa romántica precursor, but not sappy. It has a well-harmonized coro and an energetic vocal by Johnny Vásquez with some smart bursts of phrasing. "Dame la oportunidad" continues the romantic vein, but with vim and vigor provided by René Hernandez's chart and Marvin's rough voice. "Ven Bernabé" was an unusual choice for a Puerto Rican band. It's sort of an Afro-Cuban lament, talking about the black-on-black violence common among many Afro-Cubans and the suffering slavery brought. Celia does this song best, but Johnny still manages to come off and it's a nice reminder of the tradition behind the music, another hallmark of 70s salsa that made it great. "Otro querer" may be the only clinker on this album. It's the same old story about a guy leaving a girl, a touch misogynistic, and not inspired in terms of the arrangement. But they more than make up for it on "Jacobo Basura". Yeah, the lyrics are kind of dumb, but you have to be made of stone (or a 98° fan) to not be sucked in by that great chorus followed by Alfredo Falu's big bad baritone work. So this brings us back to the short review again: This one's another automatic for the shopping cart.

Tipica '73
Tipica '73
CD (Inca I 1038) Released 1974

This is Típica's second album, and I've never known the actual title. The record cover says Típica 73 and that's it, just like their first album. The only way to tell them apart is the cover for this one, which shows a stock certificate showing Johnny Rodríguez and Joe Mannozzi as shareholders. Weird. But regardless, you'll be okay buying either one of these albums. In fact, you're guaranteed a fine album with just about any Típica release. Why? The same reasons this album is great-arrangements, song selection, performances, the whole empanada with maduros and yuca on the side. They start off with Así no se quiere a nadie, an old Marcelino Guerra tune they cover with their usual swing and, in this recording, a conjunto sound augmented by Nelson Gonzalez's tres. Olvida el pasado is a nice bolero, nothing that lyrically or melodically will knock your socks off, but Adalberto Santiago on vocals sells the song and gets you into it. A mí qué is an old Cuban tune; the earliest version I have of it is by Conjunto Casino in the 1940s. While I've never understood the lyrics, something about Tripita in La Habana, whoever that was, the conjunto here sort of goes charanga. Orestes Vilató's timbal drives the rhythm and it almost sounds like the mambo is phrased like a charanga band's would be, with the trombone seeming to imitate a strings guajeo. Then the guys rework a chorus Orquesta Aragón used to do where they basically said the name of the band, changing it to Típica '73, another aspect of the song that reinforces the charanga feel.
"Where is the Love" is a Ralph McDonald R&B tune. No vocal credits are listed on my copy, but it's not Adalberto; I suspect it was the trumpeter René López, who I heard do English vocals during a videotaped Típica performance I have. He does a nice job and this little ballad works, a nice change of pace with some Brazilian touches. "Amalia Batista" is really something different, an old son recast with some doo-wop vocals that segues into an English chorus and René imitating Al Jolson. Very entertaining and shows the sense of humor musicians used to have when recording music, something quite absent today; you can tell these guys had fun with it; you can also tell by reading this that I'm addicted to using semicolons; oh well.
"Rumba y guaguancó" open up the next side and ironically, is a son montuno. Very tasty, deep old-school Cuban chorus and very well done. "Carahuico" is another just for fun tune. The guys sing about a bird and include some Woody Woodpecker references, using his Spanish name "Pájaro Loco." Besides being fun, this tune shows you the way a great band can make a so-so tune work and have you hitting the rewind button. "Se te tuviera" is another dip into the bolero bag. While Adalberto is good and the guys know how to play a bolero, this is a lot tougher to sell than a fast tune where you hear the musicians riff and groove and different choruses keep your attention. For boleros you need a great melody and great lyrics, otherwise you're kind of out there. So this tune didn't do it for me. But "Watergate" made up for it, a wide open descarga where Vilató hits the paila like it owes him money. Overall, check Leo Pineda's trombone work, Adalberto's classic vocal style and Sonny Bravo's underrated piano. This one's a Mercedes Benz of a salsa album, so I recommend you go along for the ride.

Tipica '73
The Two Sides Of Típica '73
CD (Inca I 1053) Released 1977

This one is another automatic add. Here the band has a different look. They added Alfredo de la fe on violin, the great Nicky Marrero on timbal and another underrated sonero, Azuquita, on vocals. The band also has a different sound, mixing in dance tunes with longer concert pieces. The result is yet another extraordinary album. Bongó Fiesta is about that tight Latin New York sound tinged with jazz. Alfredo spins his usual musical web on violin and Johnny lays down a "dandy" bongó solo. "Salsa suite" is the next track, a wonderful voyage through the different rhythms of Latin music, ranging from guaguancó to chachachá. Dick Mesa, aka Taco, shines on flute and José Grajales rocks the house on quinto and later bongó. I'm not saying he's Giovanni, but he had a real nice style on conga, always interesting phrasing when he soled and was rock-solid on tumbao. I had to dig "Yo bailo de todo", a Típica take on an old Ritmo Oriental tune, adding in Alfredo's waa-waa pedaled violin for some funky sounds, batá to rock the rhythm (thanks to the great Cachete), some Nicky Marrero drum work plus Harry Viggiano's guitar. Very advanced for the time, but that was Típica. On the one hand, they gave you a classic sound when necessary, but then at the same time would offer up some very progressive music.
The next tune is more charanga-style, "La botija de abuelito", and check how that mambo howls when the flute rides Leo Pineda's 'bone (by that I meant trombone, don't get any weird ideas) and the trumpets. Again, a great ensemble performance by a great ensemble. "Tumba tumbador" is an old Beny Moré tune, not one of his signature songs so it's a smart cover. (I still don't get how people dare do "Santa Isabel de las Lajas" or "Cómo Fue". Why compete with the king? You'll just look like a jerk.) Here you get more of the conjunto sound with a strong René López solo plus one by Taco on flute. "Prelude to Hoy/Hoy" is weird because it's a bolero introduced with some classical touches by Sonny Bravo's piano. So maybe that's what the prelude thing refers to. ¿Quién sabe? It's still a nice mellow tune with Azuquita dripping melao. It's cool but not what I would spring if I had a honey over. Finally, the guys finish off with "It's a Gay World", a Latin jazz descarga where Little Nicky burns up the paila and traps. I also enjoyed René López's scat singing and high-flying trumpet work. But back to Little Nicky for a second. Check him out good with the rewind button. The man is not flash in spite of his speed. He's about phrasing and putting together his shots like Sugar Ray Robinson putting together combinations with timing and precision. Then they go into a little 6/8 that ends in another fiery finish for a classic album.

Celia Cruz & Sonora Poñena
La Ceiba
CD (Vaya V 84) Released 1979

This album reminds me of American cars: they just don't make them like they used to. The Queen teams up with one of if not the best band in Puerto Rico for eight great numbers, no filler. "Soy antillana" is a triumph because of the way Celia explodes over the montuno, then caresses certain notes, especially when singing about her native Cuba. And don't forget that white-hot mambo they came up with, plus Papo Lucca's usual great touch on his piano solo. "Sonaremos el tambo" is a kick the door down let's drink smoke and do other unhealthy things kind of jam. Check how Celia puts in the roots with her chants to santos. The woman makes hairs stand up on the back of your neck. So as not to overload you, the next two tunes are more relaxed. "Ábreme la puerta" is a snappy little merengue, lively, funny and full of little slick surprises, nothing like the maddening merengue so unbelievably popular today. (Can't people realize it's all the same song, just looped? I mean, how often can you listen to the same saxophone riff in dozens of songs and not get tired of it? Plus, with the exception of Juan Luis Guerra, why do contemporary merengue lyrics all sound like they were written by the same hyperactive third grader?)
"Y volveré" is yet more proof that Celia is a fine bolerista. Lots of blockheads have wanted to say she can only sing up-tempo numbers. They should listen to this and then shut up. Fine arrangment, excellent, haunting phrasing by Celia-you'll be hard-pressed to find better boleros out there. "A la buena sí" is a popping plena where the woman says she'll take good treatment from her man, but he better watch out if he abuses her, a simple but very necessary message. The best part is the song gets across the meaning to you without hitting you on the head, which is rare in "meaningful" songwriting. Hats off to T. Curet Alonso, another great number by that prolific composer. (Will somebody PLEASE bring him out of retirement? We need his songs badly nowadays.) Fina estampa is a short tune, no montuno, just a bridge, about a little tropical pathway coming to life. Rich melodies delivered by that powerful voice over sharp accompaniment. This tune will be in your head for days, a nice analgesic to whatever noxious little invader may pop in from the radio. And check the lyrics, very inventive and poetic with nice imagery. Nowadays most songwriters wouldn't know a metaphor if it came up to them, hit them over the head with a pipe, took their wallet and spit on them.
Raíces was one of my favorite tunes, a song about black pride that Celia interjects with some points about unity between all people. Listen close to her first soneo and the way she comes in, holding just the right note to give that oomph, that authority. I hear people nowadays talking about how some of these kids today can sonear just because they can toss off a few lines that rhyme. It's a lot more complicated-it's rhythm, it's creating new melodies, not missing the clave AND making sense, in addition to dominating all the genres this music have to offer. Listen to Celia and your standards will automatically jump up 300 percent. And if they don't and you're not impressed, then go ahead and listen to Brenda K. Starr all you want. Just don't come to my house to listen to music. Even if you bring me a case of Coronas and a box of Cohibas I have to turn you away.
Anyway, back to the tune-I loved those rocking breaks that Jessie Colón on timbal throws down, plus Papo's always funky piano poderío. And I can't forget Celia's singing over the mambo, just riffing. Yeah, she may have rehearsed it before the session, but who among today's singers with their reed-thin voices could pull this off? I'll give you a hint: no one, and especially not Brenda K. Starr. The only thing I didn't get was the back end choruses about a niche con su suerte virá. First it celebrates black roots, then almost seems to make fun of black people. Weird...
La ceiba y la siguaraya is the the finisher, celebrating the Cuban/PR simpático which is definitely there in spite of efforts of people on both sides of the fence to deny it. Miguelito Ortiz opens up the vocals, sort of alley-ooping to Celia so she can bang it down. Which, she does, like Dr. J in his ABA days, rhyming, slickly hitting you with the power of her voice (like a George Foreman 1973 edition right hand), then falling smooth like Clyde Frazier over the montuno. (Boy, I'm 1970s sports figures as metaphorical devices-happy today, aren't I? Gotta stop watching ESPN classics.) This tune wraps up with some uncredited rocking batá, punctuating the ending percussively. (Try saying that 3 times real fast.) And that's it. What more do you want from me? Just buy the freaking thing and enjoy yourself.

Joe Cuba
Recuerdos De Mi Querido Barrio
CD (Tico 1226) Released 1970; Re-Issued 1993

This classic opens up with El tabacón, a tune that showcases the high-energy Joe Cuba tune, rocking percussion with those sweet yet spicy vibes on top. It's ostensibly about a guy smoking a cigar, but who knows? With the penchant for double entendre most Latin groups had back then, the cigar could have meant a lot of things, just like La tortilla, which is supposed to be about an omelet-like dish made by Caribbean Latinos but also can be slang for lesbians. So "me comí tremenda tortilla" can have an interesting meaning that extends beyond a nice breakfast. Regardless, both tunes have that deceptively simple sabor that Joe Cuba's band brought to the bandstand.
There are also two great boleros sandwiched between these two numbers: the classics "Contigo en la distancia" and Contigo aprendí. The chorus arrangement on the first tune was excellent, an imaginative and romantic intro to Willie Torres' belting. Now, while he gets a little carried away with the vocals, getting perhaps a touch too dramatic, Willie still has a fine romantic sense and knows how to caress a lyric. I'm not much for boleros, but these are two I've broken out with some women and they actually have come off. I wouldn't try this with the Cristina Aguilera generation (first and foremost because it would probably be illegal in most states), but if you get that late 20s, early 30s demographic on up, Joe Cuba and Willie may help you get over.
Okay, now comes the tongue twister: Pataqubiriquambambaram. Trying to sing along to the chorus on this one may send you to speech class, so be careful. This is a great descarga where Willie scats a bit, followed by a strong Joe Cuba conga solo. He's not highly regarded by a lot of people, but I like his style, I always thought he had a nice touch and flavor. And you hear both in this solo. And check the rhythmic background laid down by Jimmie Sabater, Slim Cordero and Alfredo Rodríguez on piano, very nice. Later on Jimmie steps up to the plate and again we have an underrated player-check out his rolls and diddles and phrasing.
Ritmo de Joe Cuba is a fun tune, a tight little number full of screaming and laughing, a human touch missing in these days of technotronic spockets salsa. The band is obviously having a blast and so will you. Oye cómo va is of course the Puente tune, jump-started tempo-wise to deliver some serious dancing, así que feel free to echar on pie, or apretar ese pollo ahora, as the song urges.
Nostalgia habanera is a sweet Bobby Collazo bolero about missing Havana, so wonderfully rendered by Willie Torres you forget he's a Puerto Rican brother from Spanish Harlem. I'm telling you, we need a Buena Vista Social Club with the cats from New York. They may not have the caché of forbidden Cuba or a Ry Cooder to sell to the NPR crowd, but these cats deserve recognition and could make a great album. Somebody write a congressman or World Circuit Records or something.
Whisper the Word Love is a fifties-style bolero with a serious doo-wop flavor, very cool to listen to. Loved the blues-inflected Alfredo piano solo. Guaguancó de los barrios is an old Cuban tune, hence the reference to Belén, a tough rumbero neighborhood in Havana. Check out the spontaneity as the band shouts out Alfredo's name as he lays down another sinuous and too short solo before the band takes off again like a 747. The finisher-surprisingly for this popping record-is the mellow Dulce como la miel, a guajira. But it still pops, just in a more relaxed vibe. More for listening than for dancing, I suggest using it as a stress buster. So what do we got overall? Another great album by one of the great New York bands.

Joe Cuba
We Must Be Doing Something Right
CD (Tico 1133)

This is another one of those can't-miss picks. It's a great example of that innovative Joe Cuba sound that made them the top group in New York for much of the 1960s. Pruébalo seems to be about peanuts but given the history of food as a sexual metaphor in Latin music, don't be surprised if it's about trying something other that peanuts. I love the swing and energetic chorus that shifts into English with some R&B flavor. And of course, Cheo lights up the vocals like the proverbial Christmas tree. I wonder how people could even move to this with conventional salsa dancing, it's lightning. Perfect for a long car trip. If this can't keep you alert late at night, let it be your litmus test for tiredness and check into a motel. My Wonderful You is a ballad with the velvet voice of Jimmy Sabater. But no lounge stuff or Bobby Vinton mewlings here: it integrates old-fashioned bolero with doo-wop, including a nice vibe solo. It's a bit dated because of it's at the hop approach but still a fun listen.
Y tu abuela is about a guy who wants to pass for white but in fact is black so the chorus keeps asking him where his grandmother is. Since she'll more than likely be black, this will screw up his plans. It may be based on Luis Pales Matos' poem which I believe has the same name or it may come from Latino culture in general. Despite what people may pretend, racism was (and is) very prevalent in Latino culture and this little number, although humorous, reveals a lot about Latinos' perception of blackness as undesirable. Don't believe me? Watch Spanish TV. No black faces there at all. What is up with that 1950s U.S. TV whitewashed approach? We don't even have a Black Latino version of the Jeffersons, nothing, a total blank!
Bochinchosa has a groove and approach that foreshadowed what we would hear in salsa in the 70s-mid tempo, funky but locked into the groove tightly. Perfect for dancing. Yeah, it's the same old song about the gossipy woman we've probably heard a million times before, but the music, especially the way the vibes lock into the percussion, carry the day and make this one perfect for pumping in your ride. Almost forget Cheo's smoking vocals, even then he was bad. The man doesn't just ride the montuno, he grabs it and says "Who's Your Daddy?!!!"
El Pito is of course the big hit off this album. Based off some whistling and some riffs, it's a tune where the fellows cut loose, screaming, laughing, carrying on and generally having a great time. Another one to pump up, have fun.
Si te dicen starts off in 2 part harmony as a bolero, later splits off as both Cheo and Jimmy Sabater get solo lines. Interesting to hear because of their different styles. Despite Cheo's obvious skills as a bolerista, Jimmy doesn't get trucked. Se defiende de lo más bien. The classic approach holds up well over time and makes for a good listen and change of pace in the CD.
Incomparable is by Nick Jiménez, another bandmember, delivered wonderfully by Cheo. Listen to how he emphasizes some notes and downplays others, "talking" the bolero in his inimitable style. Very poetic lyrics and I'm surprised this hasn't been covered.
Arecibo is a tune about a town in Puerto Rico, in fact, the hometown of my music mentor Salsa Chino. It's about young people dancing the pachanga there. Not going to win a Nobel Prize for lyrics (or whatever prize they give out for lyrics), but the irresistible rhythm make it a great dance tune or an excellent tune to get you through your cardio workout at the gym.
Lo bueno ya viene lets you catch your breath after Arecibo, using a danzón-son montuno rhythm to encourage people a bit, saying the good stuff is on its way. I sure hope so. If world peace can't make it, can they at least send a ban on techno? Anyway, a very catchy and hummable tune, good to have in your skull as you face another mind-numbing day of work.
My personal problems aside, the crew finishes things off with Clave mambo, an instrumental Joe Cuba rocking rollercoaster of a tune with the usual vibrant vibes, percolating percussion and other alliterative things I'm too fried to make up. So hold on and keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times.

La Sonora Ponceña
El Gigante del Sur
CD (Inca I 1054) Released 1977

Besides wonderful things like myself, the not so humble reviewer, the Godfather I and II (you have to answer for Santino, Carlo) and Chico and the Man (looking good!!), the 70s also gave us some kickass salsa albums. So I forgive the decade for the double knits and that infernally unkillable Gloria Gaynor I Will Survive tune.
Boranda is a tune about a drought, with a nicely harmonized chorus, an interesting synth solo by pianist and bandleader Papo Lucca with a nice scat improv and wicked Ponceña breaks. And of course, the mighty Luigi Texidor on vocals, one of the best and most underrated soneros around. Check out how he says Dime quién tú eres y te diré con quién tú andas, a sharp twist on the old Spanish saying Dime con quién tú andas y te diré quién tú eres.
Yeyey is about some kind of food that apparently you eat with mondongo or intestines. MMM, good! I guess... But I never heard of it. If anyone knows, please pull my coat so I don't eat it by mistake. Despite this, the tune rocks, especially with the energetic chorus and Papo's sometimes classical, sometimes jazzy piano tickling, not to mention Luis Castro's old-school trumpet solo.
Soy tan feliz is a bolero featuring the nasal voice of Yolandita Rivera, who comes off, turning some nice phrases. The trumpets have that classic Conjunto Casino vibe counterpointed by some samba breaks and synth interludes.
Si no me meto is a peppy merengue about a brawl, funny lyrics and very danceable. Worlds removed from today's merengue, which sounds like the soundtrack to a Latino schizophrenic's thought patterns. What I don't get is how people can like that stuff. But then again I don't understand how Puff Daddy got Jennifer López. Kids, the world is a deep and mysterious place, apparently.
La gotera is about an emotional leak on your soul getting plugged up, basically this means getting over a failed relationship. Very well-done with catchy lyrics and banging rhythmic accents courtesy of Little Johnny on congas. I also enjoyed the witty soneos by Miguelito Ortiz. So if your man or woman done you wrong, now you have something to drink to. Cheers!
Rumba en el patio is all overdrive, with Yolanda much more in her element, soneando with sandunga. Also grooved to the towering trumpet solo, unfortunately uncredited. Crank this one up, believe me this is better for depression than that St. John's wort stuff. Noche como boca'lobo is a goodbye song, about a woman that leaves you using the darkness of night as a metaphor for loneliness. Sounds like a story we've heard before but Ponceña gives it new life as the trumpets blare, the drums thunder and Luigi lays down his usual powerful, witty soneos. Plus piano players should check Papo's slick wrinkles in the guajeo; lots of chakachakacheqendeque in this one.
Cuando estemos viejos is a bolero son. Miguelito Ortiz turns in a classic-style performance, very nice. Omelé, the nickname for the itotelé or mid-sized batá drum, is next. No batá in this tune but what a thunderous solo by Little Johnny! And Luigi tears up the montuno like Mike Tyson tore up Marvis Frazier in 30 seconds back in 1986. And the mambo? Fuhgeddaboutit. This for me is the best tune on the album, it smokes from start to finish. If you can't into this I suggest you give into your instincts and buy those Backstreet Boyz tickets. Come on, it's okay. I won't make fun of you...much.
The only clinker is the late tune, Nocturnal, an ill-advised disco foray. This did not shake my groove thing. But the rest smokes enough to make up for it. So this one gets the stamp of approval. If you back it and don't like it, don't worry, Tower has a complete selection of Backstreet Boyz just waiting for you.

La Sonora Ponceña
On the Right Track
CD (Inca I 1084) Released 1988
A fine outing by this great PR conjunto. I'm tired and it's late so I'll make this quick. Sigo pensando en ti is a Pablo Milanés tune. Very poignant and well-written, never sinking into the bland vampirism of modern salsa. Abaneque is one of those old Cuban tunes Ponceña likes to do, mid tempo groove but banging, nice groove to latch on to. Tengo is fine bolero from Marta Valdés: nice lyrics and melody, good arrangement, good delievery; it's just good, okay? I've exhausted my adjective supply.
Capuccino is a Latin jazz track, smooth, not John Tesh cerebral hemorrhage smooth but smooth like, not surprisingly, capuccino. It has some slinky Papo Lucca piano runs, perfect for when you want to put your brain on pause and just relax. A Cali is a tribute to that salsero Colombian town, very lively and fun, full of shoutouts to top Colombian bands. La Ponceña won an award down in their music festival not long before this tune came out, hence their desire to say thanks. Franqueza Cruel is a standout, a bolero redone with a charanga vibe with some doo-wop kind of harmonies attached. I bought this album 12 years ago and still burn out this tune, written by the great C. Curet Alonso. Another great song when you break up with whoever for doing whatever whenever. Un jíbaro en Nueva York is strong bomba; Roberto Roena plays quinto. This is a funny tune about acculturation of a country guy in New York, playing with language while subtly emphasizing the importance of maintaining Puerto Rican roots with the bomba rhythm as a backdrop. Toñito Ledee is a tribute to the longtime Ponceña singer who died tragically in a car crash. A bit of a downer, but a very moving and heartfelt tribute to a good sonero.
The fellows finish off with La Rumba Soy Yo, which Adalberto Álvarez did with his band. Adalberto's version was nice, but Ponceña's really pops with percussion, piano and a clever arrangement of the coros. Pichy Pérez is on vocals showing off his sonero abilities. Yup, this one is a keeper, one I always drag out and listen to and have yet to get tired of. And of course those are the best kind of albums to have.

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