Grammy-winning Angelino quartet La Santa Cecilia have wowed audiences on both sides of the border with the breadth, depth, and emotional integrity of their music. They've covered classic cumbias and boleros on the streets of Mexico City and while busking at home; they've played romantic mariachis in rock clubs, Beatles songs in cantinas, and corridos at the Hollywood Bowl. They've written protest songs and singalong pop tunes and have worked with Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, and John Paul Jones. Over the course of their career, they've delighted listeners with their limitless potential and abundant sense of humor. 2019's self-titled mini-album is the band's first effort sung entirely in English. Produced by honorary fifth member Sebastian Krys, this set is unlike anything else in the band's catalog yet firmly reflects their established persona. In the year prior to the album's recording, three of the quartet's members lost their fathers. Since 2016, they've witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on immigrants. What does a band do when confronted with grief, loss, and racism? Celebrate the pleasures and tragedies of life, of course.
Opener "Always Together" is airy, blissful disco complete with funky clavinets and synths, sweeping strings (à la the Love Unlimited Orchestra), bumping bass, pulsing tom-toms and, above it all, La Marisol's glorious alto delivering lyrics that celebrate romantic commitment and an exhortation to indulge small pleasures together as a way of cementing it. Hip-hop-meets-cumbia in "Dream," with Jose "Pepe" Carlos' accordion and requinto guitar adorning the beat. Alex Bendaña's bass and Miquel "Oso" Ramirez's drums and percussion steady La Marisol's soulful paean of desperate desire. "A Thousand Times" weds country music to norteño and pop in a heartbreaking ballad with accordion and organ breakdowns that signal a rhythmic shift to big-beat drum and bass grooves. "I've Been Thinking" is framed in classic girl group pop and swooning bachata with a rock backbeat, swirling organs, and breezy guitars. The closer and first single is a fantastic read of Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" backed by ragtime and swing revivalists the California Feetwarmers with their brass, reeds, and winds. In La Marisol's throaty, passionate growl, we hear the ghosts from 1920s speakeasies and gin joints meeting the plight of the 21st century's oppressed hoping for a break and knowing they won’t get one. In typical fashion, La Santa Cecilia offers a wealth of musical style and attitude. The band can expand their Anglo listening audience with their English lyrics and not alienate core fans due to their strong tunes and canny amalgam of Latin folk styles and rhythms wed to El Norte-style pop.