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The Bad Boogaloo: The Nu Yorican Sounds 1966-1970Various Artists - The Bad Boogaloo: The Nu Yorican Sounds 1966-1970
No one could have guessed that the crossover success enjoyed by Latin bandleaders Ray Barretto and Mongo Santamaria early in the '60s was going to pave the way for a parade of artists later in the decade. Mixing pop, jazz, and soul with plenty of Latin flavor, they recorded some of the most moving -- literally -- tracks of the early Aquarian age for a variety of labels later gathered under the Fania umbrella: Cotique, Tico, Alegre, and of course, Fania itself. Read More >>


Johnny Blas - Indestructible SpiritJohnny Blas - Indestructible Spirit
At long last, Latin jazzman Johnny Blas is back with a new recording, his first in the 21st century. It has been eight years since King Conga, almost a decade since Mambo 2000, and almost 11 since his debut for Cubop in 1997 with Skin & Bones. Those records, with their quartet of trombones (one of them played by Dan Weinstein, who was the band's musical director), electric guitars, violins, claves, and flute along with Blas' killer congas and other percussion, set some new standards for Latin jazz in the 21st century. Read More >>


Tego Calderon - El Abayarde Contra-AtacaTego Calderon - El Abayarde Contra-Ataca
One day short of a year after Tego Calderón released The Underdog/El Subestimado (2006), a sprawling album that defiantly distanced him from the reggaeton bandwagon -- thereby alienating a significant segment of his audience and commercial prospects in the process -- he returned with El Abayarde Contra-Ataca, a remarkably refined effort that is a sequel to his classic debut, El Abayarde (2003), in name only. If anything, El Abayarde Contra-Ataca (i.e., The Abayarde Strikes Back) is a sequel to The Underdog, in terms of musical approach if not name. Read More >>

Willie Colón - The Player: A Man and His MusicWillie Colón - The Player: A Man and His Music
During the '90s and early 2000s, when the Fania catalog lay out of print for years, it was difficult for fans of salsa's greatest label to find anything by their favorites without scouring the bins or forking out a lot of money. Emusica's purchase of the catalog in the early 2000s began paying dividends immediately with great album reissues, but it took a few years to produce career compilations such as this one and that devoted to Ray Barretto (Que Viva la Musica). For those with any interest in Willie Colón's career, The Player is intelligently selected and packed with great material. Read More >>

Gloria Estefan - 90 MillasGloria Estefan - 90 Millas
Ever since Gloria Estefan split from Miami Sound Machine in 1989 to go solo, her best efforts tended to be her Spanish-language ones, and her fourth such album, 90 Millas, is no exception. In fact, it might be her best overall effort -- regardless of language -- since Mi Tierra (1993), which was her first to be sung entirely in Spanish and an instant, best-selling classic. In a couple ways, 90 Millas is a follow-up to Mi Tierra. Both are heartfelt albums inspired by Cuba and Cuban music -- whereas Abriendo Puertas (1995) and Alma Caribeña (2000), Estefan's other two prior Spanish-language efforts, were more broadly Hispanic and Caribbean, respectively, in their influences and intent -- and both 90 Millas and Mi Tierra are graced by some of Latin music's most gifted instrumentalists, many of them legends. Read More >>

Juan Luis Guerra - La Llave de Mi CorazónJuan Luis Guerra - La Llave de Mi Corazón
With his typical style and charm, Juan Luis Guerra delivers an intoxicating mix of merengue, bachata and salsa so expertly written and performed as to become an old favorite after the very first listen. Most comparable to 1998's Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual for its amazing variety, La Llave de Mi Corazon surprises listeners with the unique texture and feel of each track, with evocative melodies and poetic lyrics that invite a closer look. Though the tropical music world (bachata and merengue in particular) is known for releasing records with totally homogenous repertoire -- most tracks so similar that the differences from song to song are semantic -- such is never the case with Guerra. From rollicking merengues like "Amores" to the New York salsa styled "Travesia" to the tender balladry of "Solo Tengo Ojos Para Ti," Guerra takes to each new musical terrain as if it were his native soil. Read More >>

Juanes - La Vida...Es un RaticoJuanes - La Vida...Es un Ratico
By the time of his fourth album, La Vida...Es un Ratico, it was difficult to imagine Juanes being any more acclaimed or popular. He'd already won trophy cases of awards, from numerous Grammys to France's highest cultural honor, L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and he'd already topped charts in a diverse range of countries, including not only the entire Spanish-speaking world, but also such unlikely markets as Germany, where his 2005 single "La Camisa Negra" was a number one hit. Plus, he'd toured the world seemingly without end in support of Mi Sangre (2004), expanding his fan base to such an extent that Universal chose to release "Me Enamora," the lead single from La Vida...Es un Ratico, to media outlets in 77 countries. Read More >>

Héctor Lavoe - La VozHéctor Lavoe - La Voz
No one made salsa great more than Willie Colón, but a large part of what made Colón great was Héctor Lavoe. "El Cantante" was the greatest vocalist in salsa history, a man whose gift for vocal improvisation and rhythm was in similar company with James Brown and Ray Charles -- and precious few others. He sang his lines with the same melodic dexterity as the greatest jazz singers (with more resemblance to an instrument than a voice). Also, he played off Colón's sprightly arrangements and punchy trombone lines to perfection. In fact, it's difficult to tell who inspired the other more. Read More >>

Gilles Peterson - Fania DJ SeriesGilles Peterson - Fania DJ Series
Give Gilles Peterson a license to dig over two hours of his favorite cuts from the Fania catalog, and no Latin fan would dare ask for more. His volume in the continuing series of crate-digging compilations by varying DJs -- utilizing the strong and deep Fania catalog (which also includes the heavy-hitters Tico, Alegre and Cotique) -- is nearly the best ever heard from the Fania vault, although unsurprisingly it's not the place to go for the label hits from Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón, or others. (In fact, Colón doesn't lead any tracks here, and isn't even missed.) Read More >>

Maria Rita - Samba MeuMaria Rita - Samba Meu
Brazilian MPB star Maria Rita changed direction for her third album, Samba Meu, which, as its title ("My Samba") makes clear, is a samba collection. As on her previous albums, the warmly received Maria Rita (2003) and Segundo (2005), the musical arrangements are acoustic and jazzy, with first-rate production quality. Also like her previous albums, Samba Meu is comprised of excellent songs all around -- just cue up the album and press play, it's that easy; no need to skip even a single track. Read More >>

Check out Part 1