This collection of symphonically inflated south-of-the-border pops is an American tourist's idea of Latin music -- and there's a place for that; it all depends upon the execution and the freshness of the arrangements. The execution is there; Erich Kunzel & the Cincinnati Pops display an undeniable zest and affection for the material here. But oh, those charts. Every twitchy Tropicana cliché in the book from the middle of the 20th century is seemingly invoked in these deliberately kitschy treatments of the usual chestnuts. And you can guess what the tunes are: "Brazil," "Cielito Lindo," "Granada," "Tico Tico," "Carioca," "Besame Mucho," "Mexican Hat Dance," "The Girl From Ipanema," Barry Manilow's infernal "Copacabana," and more. The music conjures images of ladies with baskets of fruit on their heads or loud, affluent, middle-aged American males in shorts and hats with cameras dangling, trying to do the mambo. Guest trumpeter/toreador Doc Severinsen does his best bullfight fanfare in "La Virgen de la Macarena" and fellow Tonight Show veterans Tommy Newsom and John Bambridge help out with some of the arrangements (catch the latter's clever Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" reference in the middle of "El Cumbanchero"). One longs in vain for a taste of the real thing -- say, a roaring symphonic showpiece by a Latin classical composer. But, of course, that's not the premise of this CD -- a look at how American commercial pop integrated Latin influences -- and all a listener can do is go with it or not. For another view, try Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops' The Latin Album, which mixes incendiary pieces by Ginastera, Moncayo, Guarneri, and others with the tourista material, thus creating a better balance -- and a far better program -- than the Kunzel disc.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell