Various Artists

Lamento Borincano (Puerto Rican Lament): Early Puerto Rican Music 1916-1939

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Lamento Borincano features 50 songs, performed by 20 groups, on two CDs of Puerto Rican music recorded prior to World War II. In fact, most of the songs were recorded in New York, and all but one were done from 1927 onward, which doesn't affect the quality of the music. Sung entirely in Spanish, it's a valuable document of a sound that is as interesting as the music being made and recorded by Mexican and Cuban outfits of the same era, though it's not as well known as sounds produced in those regions. The Puerto Rican music contained in this anthology has some general similarities to music of Mexico, Cuba, and some other Caribbean and Central American regions: acoustic guitars are the prominent instruments, lilting Latin rhythms are frequent, and sad, piquant melodies and harmony vocals strong elements. Yet Puerto Rican groups, at least those presented here, had a more low-key, perhaps even sadder air, which actually makes them more appealing. The influence of jazz and classical music can be felt both in some of the more orchestral arrangements, and in some of the instruments that augment the guitars, including trumpet, accordion, mandolin, and violin. Although lyrics (in both Spanish and English) are included for only some of the selections in the booklet, based on the translations that are included, the songs often delved into quite serious and topical subjects. Among them are Puerto Rican Nationalist politics, political upheaval, migration to New York City, and living on welfare. As such anthologies (on both Arhoolie and other labels) of early world music go, this is above average, both for its musical quality and audio fidelity.

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