On first glance, it might seem odd that Los Angeles-based Ozomatli chose Tony Berg as its producer for Fire Away. Berg is usually associated with more laid-back artists from Ted Hawkins, and Aimee Mann to Bruce Hornsby and Animal Logic. Closer examination, however, also reveals he’s helmed sessions by X, Public Image, and Squeeze. Ozomatli chose Berg for one important reason: they’ve never been able to capture their live sound in a studio, and he's great at it. Berg and Ozomatli have teamed with Downtown Music/Mercer Street Records for Fire Away, and if ever there were a title that summed up a recording, this is it. Ozomatli play the most unique meld of rock, salsa, soul, hip-hop, merengue, son, rhumba, cumbia, and funk in the business. Now a septet, Ozomatli are tighter than ever. Berg manages to keep the grit and dirt in the band’s live sound while adding just enough studio ambience to make the album jump hard. The opener, “Are You Ready” is a galloping norteño-cum-mariachi meld of rock and funk in overdrive. Horns bleat, basslines pop, drums double-time, and pianos and keyboards push and shove the mix forward. That nasty, distorted bassline is the only thing that keeps it on the ground. The set shifts to the uptempo Latin soul groover “45,” with double-time rhythms, breaks by drummer Mario Calire, and some tasty Curtis Mayfield-styled guitar by Raul Pacheco. “Elysian Fields” is a mad, funky hip-hop jam with chant-and-response vocals and a chorus that’s as infectious as smallpox. “Gay Vatos in Love” marries old-school Latin soul, street corner doo wop, and early rock & roll with punchy horns, cracking snares, and five-part harmony to make a social statement that sounds like a party anthem. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” gets the whole band into the vocal mix in a stomping Latin boogaloo jumper with plenty of early Motown chorus breaks. “Nadas por Free” marries boogaloo to hip-hop à la De La Soul, with big organic beats and killer vocals. “Cabalito” is a popping polka to close the set with a salsa-cum-cha-cha horn section. This team worked beautifully together here; let’s hope they do it again soon.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek