Conga Club is the poor man's Santana gone contemporary. Led by guitarist Dave Shul, who wrote all but one of the ten tracks, the band plays rock and funk spiced by latin rhythms, repetitive melodies and beats, and split their time between instrumentals and vocal tracks. Shul is not all that psychedelic, choosing a burning, more economical bluesy electric style, fairly untreated. The strength of the band lies in their danceability. The only soloist who stands out is pianist Ramon Lazo, who gets to dig into some montuno on "What's That?" and plays some lovely figures on "Changito." More pop oriented numbers, like "The Happy Song," sung by Martika, and Michael Franti's cameo rap on "Conga Clubbin'," seem more a focus for the band, rather than latin-jazz. Better to hear the flamenco styled "She's Phrygian," with Shul playing overdubbed acoustic and electric guitar, and the rhythm section simmering underneath, or the finale, "Is That Better?" which swings a little in 5/4, and displays some original thought. Like Santana, Conga Club is from San Francisco, and it is 30 years after Carlos Santana broke through with his energetic and fresh ideas alamgamated with rock. They ask more questions than they answer, and I'd bet that in a live setting they get to stretch out more. Songs on this collection are fairly short. The musicianship is present, and now needs to be set in a more challenging framework.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
feat: Michael Franti