Ghetto Brothers

Power Fuerza

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If you were asked to imagine what an album cut in 1972 by the leaders of a Puerto Rican street gang from the South Bronx would sound like, you probably wouldn't expect anything like the sole album from Ghetto Brothers, even though those are indeed the facts behind this record's remarkable history. Benjy Melendez, the lead singer with Ghetto Brothers, was also the founder of the Bronx gang of the same name (the extensive liner notes recount his remarkable story, and how the Ghetto Brothers led an effort to stamp out violence among New York's youth), and he founded the band with his brothers Robert Melendez on rhythm guitar and Victor Melendez on bass. But while the Latin rhythms and tough electric guitars on these songs certainly fit the place and time, the songs are full of pop hooks and melodies that speak of the Melendez Brothers' great love for the Beatles; on the opening track, "Girl from the Mountain," lead guitarist David Silva unleashes a solo that upends the Fab Four as gloriously as anything Alex Chilton pulled from his guitar on Radio City. Santana's early work is a fairly clear reference point on this album, given Silva's understated but genuinely impressive guitar heroics and the pulsing rhythms of trap drummer Luis Bristo and percussionists Angelo Garcia, Chiqui Concepcion, and Franky Valentin, but there's a deeper hard rock undertow in these songs (especially when Silva cranks up the distortion), and an effervescent pop energy that lifts up this music and takes it someplace marvelously unexpected, especially as the multiple influences dart around one another. And "I Saw a Tear" is as good and heart-tugging as Latin soul gets. Power Fuerza was recorded in a single session and often sounds like it; Silva's guitar leads frequently get lost in the mix, and this music sounds like it was caught on the fly without much polish. Despite this, the performances are tight, heartfelt, and reveal these musicians had solid chops to go with their great ideas, and the energy suggests they must have been a blast on-stage. Power Fuerza is less than 31 minutes long, and what's here suggests it's just short of tragic that this act wasn't better documented; it may sound more like a demo tape than a proper album, but it's a demo from a band that clearly had some magic in them, and this qualifies as one of the most pleasant surprises a reissue label has uncovered in some time.

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