Various Artists

Rough Guide to Salsa de Puerto Rico

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A distinctive blend of country and city, Puerto Rican salsa balances the sound of the rural West Indies familiar to fans of Cuban music (plaintive vocal choruses, trilling flutes) with the hard groove learned by a generation of Nuyorican immigrants whose parents traded San Juan for the Bronx during the '30s and '40s. The Rough Guide to Salsa de Puerto Rico compiles a baker's dozen of Puerto Rican classics, and unlike its companion volume on Latin jazz released around the same time, goes to the trouble of digging through the crates for a few vintage classics. The opener, fittingly, comes from cuatro player Yomo Toro, a master of a rural style (jibaro) who nevertheless played with some of the best modernists of salsa's '70s peak: Willie Colón and the Fania All-Stars. Best of all, the disc reissues "Todo Tiene Sue Final" and "Que Bien Te Ves," a pair of unjustly obscure '70s classics from Willie Colón, both recorded with Hector Lavoe (one of the most respected voices in salsa) and both perfectly illustrating Colón's sumptuous meld of infectious grooves, pop hooks, and a hearty evocation of the past. Fellow Fania heroes Eddie Palmieri and Jose "El Canario" Alberto also have excellent features, Palmieri's coming from his 2002 descarga classic La Perfecta II. While many salsa fans would've preferred hearing a few more of their favorites, the compilers wisely gave equal space to contemporary artists, both dance-based (like Nava or Plena Libre) and more traditional (Los Pleneros de la 21). Also fitting is the closer, a performance by the group Paracumbe that bookends Yomo Toro's opener by providing an academic, musicological perspective on rural styles like bomba and plena.

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