Merengue, like its sister rhythm bachata, started in the Dominican Republic and has been dominated by Dominicans. But just as Puerto Rican legends such as Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, and Eddie Palmieri successfully adopted son, cha-cha, guaguancó, and other rhythms that originated in Cuba (the rhythms that came to be called salsa), some Puerto Ricans have enjoyed tremendous success with merengue. Olga Tañon, for example, is widely regarded as the finest female merengue star of the '90s and 2000s, and Grupo Mania is a Puerto Rican outfit that anyone who is seriously into neo-merengue needs to hear. What is neo-merengue? While Johnny Ventura and Wilfrido Vargas went down in history as masters of classic old-school merengue, La Hora de la Verdad (The Hour of Truth) epitomizes a post-'80s take on merengue -- a hard-driving, rhythmically insistent approach that incorporates elements of hip-hop, funk, or dance music. Some older Dominicans -- those who prefer to stick to classic Ventura and Vargas recordings -- don't care for the sort of neo-merengue approach that Mania epitomizes. But for those who do appreciate this more modern take on merengue, exuberant tracks like "Escucha el Mio," "Sandunga," and "Grupomania Es Grupomania" offer considerable rewards. La Hora de la Verdad isn't without variety; while the abovementioned tunes are on the aggressive side, "Siento" and "No Puedo Olvidar" offer a softer, more romantic style of neo-merengue -- it's the neo-merengue equivalent of salsa romantica, arguably. And adding to the CD's diversity is the reggaeton-minded "Ya Yo No Vuelvo a Querer." Meanwhile, "Ay, Papá" is the closest this 2005 release comes to an old-school merengue vibe. Grupo Mania has been popular since the '90s, and on this 2005 release, the Puerto Rican unit continues to make excellent contributions to a Dominican-dominated art form.
La Hora de la Verdad Review
by Alex Henderson