Joaquin Diaz

Merengue Alegre

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Diaz sings and plays accordion on a mixture of traditional songs and original compositions on this lively merengue album, accompanied by the sort of rhythm section found in the traditional style of perico ripiao: guiro (a scraped metallophone) and tambora. Although this music has some resemblance to Tex-Mex conjunto music in the instrumentation (particularly the accordion and vocals), to North Americans who might be wearying of the wealth of similar-sounding conjunto combos, this is considerably more interesting. The tempos are so fast that it can initially be disorienting, as if these are Tex-Mex conjunto records playing at the wrong speed. But it's not just speed for speed's sake: The rhythms are cleverly syncopated and varied, and there's a cheerful urgency to the vocals and playing not always in found in other, similar forms of Latin American folk-based music. The original Spanish lyrics and their English translations are printed for about half the songs, and these are much in keeping with the energy of the record: exhortations to dance and celebrate and expressions of regional pride.

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