Spook & the Guay

Vida Sonora

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Spook & the Guay immediately show their colors on the opening title track of Vida Sonora with a bright rhythm track flavored by guitar and horns, a reggae-ish bassline, and very Mano Negra/Manu Chao voices singing in Spanish. "Music Is a Weapon" is punchier with a reggae chorus; its rapid-fire English DJ-patter salutes Fela Kuti, and musicians in general, while turntable scratches and a dancehall groove push "Etre et Avoir," with the singjay vocals; this time in French. "Superman" is the standout track, opening with the kind of French café flavor Zebda dipped into on Essence Ordinaire. The accordion, violin, and acoustic guitar get a horn blanket. and the chorus riffs digs in deep with more Mano Negra/Manu Chao echoes in the rhythm drive with heavy guitar-overlay combinations. "Good School" is very close to the acoustic feel of Chao's solo albums while "La Chance," "Ma Radio," and "Carol" all work off a bouncy reggae groove and the violin returns for the sort-of "café spaghetti western:" "El Siglo de Oro Del Asesino." The Latin element that surfaced on Spook & the Guay's last disc only shows up indirectly on the closing "Mi Tierra," a gentle acoustic piece moved by flutes and violins. Replacing that is a much heavier reliance on turntable scratches that peak on the electronica-influenced "Au Taquet," while "Ceux Qui Marchent Debout" brings in even more Mano Negra/Manu Chao influences filtered through reggae flavors. But there's a big problem here -- this French band is part of the Mediterranean mix school where you pick and choose different elements to mash up and mesh together in an energetic, rhythm-oriented mix. They're accomplished at it, and because they sing in three languages and love utilizing Jamaican-born sounds, they undoubtedly increase their ability to connect with international audiences. But Vida Sonora is Spook & the Guay's third CD, and never before have their major influences, chiefly French home boys Mano Negra and Zebda, been so transparent in their music. It's still a solid disc, but it sounds more and more like a pastiche of what the band hears going on around them. So you gotta wonder whether Spook & the Guay will be able to come up with something that's more distinctly their own the next time out.

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