90-year-old sonero Maximo Francisco Repilado Munoz Compay Segundo, nicknamed "Pancho," is known for his many years of singing with his own group, Los Compadres, and Miguel Matamoros (also working as a clarinetist). Here he is titled strictly a "backing" vocalist, but he is much more than that, flexibly blending in higher and lower tones with various "lead" singers as Hugo Garzon, Pio Leyva, Felix Valoy, Silvio Rodriguez, Martirio, Omara Portuondo, son Basilio Repilado, and a host of percussionists, acoustic bassists and small percussionists. Segundo also plays a combination guitar/tres called the Armonico, a stringed instrument of his own invention, which is frequently heard atonally strumming as minor spice to the improvisations of others. The vocal-guitar-bass-conga (or bongo) format is exploited in midtempo rhythms throughout these 14 tracks, several of them romance songs. "Tu querias jugar" is the newest "son" song, written by Segundo, a tale of love in vain for a wicked woman, with Garzon's deep lead and the great Elpidio Chappotin's plaintive muted trumpet. The most regret-filled are a lament for one far away with Martirio and Valoy on the weepy bolero "Es mejor vivir asi" and a pining for (beautiful) "Linda Graciela" with young Repilado and trombonist Enrique Bergery. Dour turns to happy on the slow-to-fast Beny More evergreen "Desdichado" ("Unlucky"), with more guitar interplay entering into this tune than the others. "Pepa's Dress," a 1927 son, expresses the colorful nature of Cuban clothing, fawning over said female in her accoutrements. Leyva and Segundo depict a binge of drinking during "La juna del ayer" (with two others), fill "La Ternera/The Calf" with double entendres, and trade lines on the '20s pregon "Frutas del Caney," which talks of hawking fruit at the marketplace. There's also Ernesto Lecuona's invitation to dance on "Para Vigo me voy," the married frustration with "Fidelidad" from Rodriguez, Segundo and Salvador Repilado, and Martirio's stern flamenco-drenched warning ("envy can become a sickness") regarding a departed lover's flight for "Juliancito" with a splendid descarga bridge, the best of the date. Two songs speak of country and home away from home: "Son de negros" is a tribute to Santiago, Cuba inspired by Federico Garcia Lorca, while "Cuba y Espana" relates the two countries' interconnection with a vocal segment, then a full stop, then instruments joining and stopping throughout the piece. Barbarito Torres is included on this one playing the lute as only he can, brilliantly. There's also "La pluma," written as a jingle in 1947 for Paper Mate ("you are the paper, I am the pen"), with Portuondo and Segundo meshing beautifully. If you are looking for a contemporary recording that puts the last hundred years of Cuban folkloric tradition into focus and perspective, this is the must-buy item that goes beyond the recent Latin-jazz and Afro-Cuban, instrumentally oriented offerings. It parallels the very heartbeat and true soul of Cuban tradition.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos