Various Artists

Signature Fania: Latin Soul

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There is no question that Fania Records was the most important label for popular Latin music in America. Entering its fifth decade, it is only in the 21st century that the label has begun exploiting its catalog in all the ways they should -- by assembling inexpensive compilations and thematically arranged samplers. The Signature Series is a case in point. The Signature Fania Latin Soul volume is packed with excellent -- and in many cases early -- music by some of the genre's most important architects: Willie Colón's "Willie Whopper" is an important opener here, and showcases the complete range of influences in the music from rhythm & blues, son, soul, mamba and cha cha, rock, doo wop, early funk and soul-jazz. One can argue with the inclusion of Tito Puente or La La Lupe if they wish, (the former's glorious "Fat Mama" is here and the latter's novelty reading of "Fever" is too) , but the sheer dangerous badness of Ray Barretto's use of James Brown in "New York Soul," or Larry Harlow's steaming, groove instrumental "Latin Roots" are inarguable. Eddie Palmieri's long-form political groover "Somebody's Sons" with Harlem River Drive is also here, clocking in at nearly twelve-and-a-half minutes. The great crooner Joe Bataan is represented with his gorgeous ballad "Ordinary Guy," as is Mongo Santamaria with the title cut from his classic Sofrito album that begins as a folk tune and becomes an Afro-Cuban workout. The Lebrón Brothers' regional smash "Together" is included in this set, as are the Lat-Teens with "Now You Know," which brings mariachi and Pachuco soul to brew with traditional son and doo wop. Of coursed Johnny Pacheco is here, one of the co founders of Fania, and a celebrated bandleader. Again, this is one of those cuts, arguable in terms of its inclusion being more of a fingerpopping cha cha tune than anything else, but there are fine saxophone and trumpet solos. The set closes with the smokin' hilarious drug spoof "Banana Freak Out," by George Guzman. The bottom line is that this is more than a good-vibes party record. It's a budget-priced classic of fine tracks that tell their own kind of story: they have to, no data is given other than artist and cut name selection. This is a wonderful introduction for the curious even though its data is sketchy -- non-existent really -- but the sound is as good as it gets for Fania.

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