Various Artists

The Greatest Salsa Ever, Vol. 1

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The problem -- or at least potential problem -- with giving a CD a lofty title is that it can create exceedingly high expectations. And when expectations are so high, it is very easy to disappoint. The Greatest Salsa Ever, Vol. 1 is certainly a lofty title, but this compilation boasts so many definitive examples of salsa that Universal can use that title with some justification. This 77-minute disc (which spans roughly 1971-2001) draws on the catalogs of three labels that made vital contributions to salsa -- Fania (frequently exalted as the Motown of '60s/'70s salsa), RMM, and Rodven -- and many of the tracks are considered essential listening among salseros, including the late Héctor Lavoe's "Mi Gente" (a huge hit in 1975), Cheo Feliciano's "Anacaona," Willie Colón's "Calle Luna, Calle Sol," and Rubén Blades' 1978 smash "Pedro Navaja." The tale of a street hoodlum who dies a violent death, "Pedro Navaja" is often called the salsa equivalent of "Mack the Knife" -- and the gem had such an impact that the lyrics "La vida te da sorpresas/Sorpresas te la vida...ay, Dios!" (life gives you surprises...oh, God!) became a popular saying among Spanish speakers (especially Caribbean Latinos). Despite the inclusion of those '70s classics, The Greatest Salsa Ever, Vol. 1 actually pays more attention to the '90s -- and while some salsa purists decry the '90s as a decade of watered-down, ultra-poppy salsa romantica, the '90s and early-2000s selections on this CD are not wimpy. Willie Rosario's "La Mitad," José Alberto's "La Critica," Frankie Ruiz's "La Cura," and Marvin Santiago's "Vasos en Colores" paint an attractive, hard-swinging picture of post-'80s salsa. The Greatest Salsa Ever, Vol. 1 is by no means the last word on salsa/Afro-Cuban music or the Fania, RMM, and Rodven catalogs, but it is full of five-star treasures and is highly recommend to both casual and hardcore salseros.

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