En Otra Onda
WEA Caribe 88141-2 Salsa
We took some pleasure it noticing that the latest
addition to the much-hyped "Latin Explosion", Ricky Martin's
album, Sound Loaded, sank without much of a trace. Over -produced,
over-promoted and under-funded in regards to real talent, this big
corporate mess represented so much of what is wrong with music today.
Unfortunately, bad "kiddie pop", as author Will Friedwald
calls it, will always be with us and clever marketers who made such
a mess out of things in the first place, might now declare that
the "Latin Explosion" is over.
Salsa (along with Country & Western, as a matter
of fact) is a genre in a very sorry state. The powers that be have
decided to take the interesting parts out, homogenize what's left,
and then market the product to mentally unbalanced teenagers, trying
to get some of their non-Backstreet Boys dollars. Is this what's
left of the legacy of Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Pee Wee King and
Bob Wills? Of course there's more, but you wouldn't know it from
the state of things on the radio or MTV. Part of the problem is
that Rock and R&B have gone so far off the mainstream map that
anything with a pretty melody or an actual rhythm is going to be
homeless unless it's performed for Country or Latin audiences. And
in order for the labels to recoup their incredible losses (from
merging and selling each other, by the way, not from lack of consumer
dollars or the Internet), each hit has to be a mega hit, not just
And now along comes Tito Nieves' En Otra Onda.
It's very pop-oriented, full of pre-programmed synthesizers and
has an exhausting, manic atmosphere. So why do we like it? Instead
of "Latin-izing" bland Pop-Rock songs that sound as if
they've been written by a committee and an army of marketers (as
opposed to a composer), Nieves and producer/arranger Sergio George
take Latin songs and modernize them with elements of pop, soul and
hip hop. It's not as great as classic Salsa but it's really good,
very danceable and it sounds like Nieves is making music he likes
rather than just chasing an elusive hit. He doesn't hit it 100%
of the time, but he's close, and it's a glimpse of what the "Latin
Explosion" could have been. Or what we had foolishly hoped
it would be.
Tito Nieves has been around for years. He started
out as lead vocalist with the Puerto Rican group Conjunto Classico
and has enjoyed success as a solo artist under Ralph Mercado's RMM
Records dynasty that went belly up recently. He has always sounded
"modern" but he's been solid as a vocalist, even when
the music went a little off track. We've publicly complained about
RMM's ability to take a line of percussionists and make them sound
like computers, but Nieves had more savvy than most on the label
and understood how to update the sound. His biggest hit was probably
his cover of Pete Rodriguez' old Boogaloo Classic I Like It Like
That, heard first in a film with the same name and later as
part of a Burger King commercial.
Tito Nieves isn't being given the big push because
of his weight. Frankly, he's huge and seems to be getting huger.
In our heart, we really believe that most music buyers don't care
but given the success of Mr. Martin, Britney Spears and even a lot
of rappers, it really seems that people, especially very young ones,
are more interested in a total image package rather than the music.
It's nothing new, but it seems to be getting worse.
We don't want to suggest that Tito Nieves' En
Otra Onda is a masterpiece or that we're about to toss out our
old Willie Colon, Celia Cruz or Tito Puente recordings, but it's
very good and sometimes great. We're not making comparisons with
the more roots-oriented Buena Vista Social Club recordings or Latin
Jazz. It's Latin Pop, updated and ready for dancing.
The opener, Un Amor Asi, is very typical
Tito Nieves. The first sounds are a wild synthesizer and drum machine
but before you know what's going on, the percussion adds a traditional
clave beat (slow-slow-slow-quick-quick). Nieves' creamy smooth voice
humanizes the sound and by the chorus the hips are swaying.
Como Llego a Tu Amor is a sizzling duet
with Rueben Blades who sounds better than ever. The album's bolero
is a very beautiful Como Antes. Also solid are Amarte
Asi and En El Desierro.
It's not all bueno, however. The second track,
Shut Up, feels like pandering to the kids with its silliness
and Spanglish nonsense. Matame de Amor suffers from a very
contrived melody, almost a pseudo-Flamenco mess that would be more
appropriate for a Boy Band pursuing Latin Pop.
Que Mas Daria features the famous arranger
Sergio George on vocals along with Nieves. George is responsible
for some of the best and much of the worst of Latin music over the
last few years. We understand and sympathize with his need to update
his favorite genre, but at times he's made a computerized, synthetic
mess of things. As we've said, he's struck a nice balance between
the traditional and the modern on this album, but it's really fascinating
to hear him sing on this track. He has a very sweet, high voice
that is at odds with his "street creed" image. He should
keep his day job as he's not particularly effective as a singer,
but he's not bad.
We've asked ourselves why we've been so taken with
this recording or given it so much thought. It might be that we
felt a little hope when Ricky Martin burst on to that Grammy stage
and showed the world what some of us have known for years, that
the marriage of European melody and African rhythms has produced
one of the most infectious styles of music. It could be the disappointment
when we saw Ricky Martin shake his "bon bon" with no variation
one too many times, to music that wasn't worthy of shaking a finger,
let alone a "bon bon". Our hunch that we like this album
so much is that as a content-starved media declares this the age
of the "Latin Explosion", the music we've loved is ending
and En Otra Onda is possibly a small ray of hope.
Let's Talk About Love
Collectors Choice CCM208-2
It turns out that if ever there was a candidate
for reissue on compact disc, Joanie Sommers' Let's Talk About
Love is it. We've owned a scratchy old record for years and
never given it much thought. The opening title song, a very contrived
piece of nothing with a mock Rock beat, teamed with Ms Sommers romping
around the cover in a very weird Peter Pan outfit, never inspired
us to go beyond all the scratches and discover the rest of the album.
Now this pristine reissue from Collectors Choice
rights a horrible wrong. Let's Talk About Love is great!
In 1962, young Joanie Sommers teamed with young Tommy Oliver to
produce a collection of mostly standards and oldies. Predating Joni
Mitchell's pretentious, but pretty Both Sides Now album of
standards, also held together by the story of a love affaire,
there is a vague story line that you would miss if it weren't spelled
out for you on the jacket. More important is Joanie Sommers way
with a song. One gets the idea that she studied the melodies inside
and out before presenting a real tour de force performance.
We don't know of better versions of Spring Is Here, Something's
Coming, Make the Man Love Me or Till There Was You and
that's saying a lot. The latter, in particular, gets the real Sommers
treatment. It's a big bold flag-waver with mixed tempos and a lot
Joanie's version of Al Hibbler's signature piece,
After the Lights Go Down Low, is a real drag, but other than
that, this disc is solid. So solid, in fact, it makes you wonder
why there isn't more press about such a great release. Madonna gets
lots of press, in case you haven't noticed. But amazingly, her voice
sounds exactly the same as it did almost 20 years ago. This is not
a good thing. At all. Her tastes may have matured but her delivery
and the quality of voice are closer to that of an adolescent girl
singing along with the radio instead of a woman who's loved a little
life. The miracle of Joanie Sommers is that in her early 20s, she
sounded like a mature, fully developed person- a feat Madonna has
yet to achieve.
The notes to Let's Talk About Love
hint that the rest of the Joanie Sommers catalogue form this era
is soon to be released. That's fine news, but even better would
be an announcement that Sommers was back in the studio recording
again. Her last recordings have been great, but small labels with
poor distribution aren't going to make much of an impact.