Willie Bobo

Willie Bobo's Finest Hour

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There are compilations and there are compilations. Verve's Finest Hour series has, generally speaking, been consistent in producing collections with artists' best performances from the label -- with the possible exception of the Ramsey Lewis volume, which sucks. This set by Nuyorican percussion and arranging ace Willie Bobo is arguably the best collection of his work on the market. Virtually everything a fan would want on a single disc is here and, even more crucial, this is flawless as an introduction to Bobo's amazing contribution to Latin, popular, and jazz musics. Obvious cuts like "Grazing in the Grass" and "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries" are here in their steamy glory, as are his incomparable versions of "Knock on Wood" and "Walk Away Renee." Bobo's "It's Not Unusual" is a complete reinvention of the Mills/Reed classic commonly associated with Tom Jones. What comes across so forcefully on the Bobo collection is that his ideas about music were progressive to the point of being oversimplified by others; Bobo saw all music as pop music and treated it as such on his records. His wish to make corner-bending sides for his friends in Harlem actually translates to the entire American populace very well, so well in their directness and emotional honesty -- as well sweet-grooving simplicity -- that sophisticated statements on race and class are played out in his pop music. For those who don't give a damn about this kind of analysis, it's safe to say that this set -- all 18 tracks of it -- constitutes one hell of a driving, partying, dancing, or goofing record straight from the heart to the street corner. This is amazing stuff.

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