*SANTANA — ABRAXAS (50th Anniversary)

It blows my mind to think that this year (2020) is the 50th anniversary of Abraxas by Santana. Man, 50 years is half a century, and that is a long-ass time. 

I remember when I was a kid that my father had a Santana LP in his Vinyl collection, which from what I recall, was a pretty extensive record collection. I’m not sure which Santana album he had, or if he had more than one LP — all I remember is that the artwork was pretty awesome. I would say that I was somewhat familiar with Santana and a few of his songs here and there, but I never really paid attention to him until my late teens.

It was the summer of 1999, and Carlos Santana had his big comeback album Supernatural — An album featuring guest artists and a few instrumental tracks; It was a massive worldwide hit — It dominated radio airplay. It swept most of the music awards that year, including the Grammys. The entire album is pure summer magic for me; the music still feels very much relevant today, and it brings me back to a time in my life that I often look back with fondness. Supernatural ended up opening my eyes and my curiosity towards Santana’s discography.

As I researched their discography, I went all the way back to the genesis of the band and their first self-titled album released in 1969 to get a better sense of Santana’s music; however, it wasn’t until I discovered their second album; Abraxas, that my admiration for Santana was firmly cemented.

In one of my many visits to the DC area, I was at Smash records in Adams Morgan when flipping through the classic rock section; I came across a pristine first US pressing of Abraxas, which included an original Santana Poster. It was a no brainer for me, and I went ahead and bought it. It wasn’t too expensive, but it wasn’t cheap also, and I was ecstatic to finally own Abraxas on vinyl to pair it with my LP copy of Santana III.

Recorded between April and May of 1970 and Released on September 23, 1970, Abraxas was Santana’s second studio album, but their first album to reach #1 in the US. The album’s title is inspired by a passage from Hermann Hesse’s book Demian and the album cover art is from a painting by Mati Klarwein.

The album was a game-changer in the world of music, and it became a highly influential album to generations of musicians thereafter. There is a unique rawness to this album, mostly because there was nobody else from that era that sounded like Santana. Abraxas is the ultimate communion between Afro-Latino music, Blues, Jazz, and Rock. It has been 50 years since this album came out, and it still holds strong as one of the best and most impactful albums of all time.

Tracks:

1.Singing Winds, Crying Beasts (instrumental): Drums, keyboards, electric guitar; I love this intro track, it sets the mood for the whole album, and it gets me going every time I play it.

2.Black Magic Woman: The opening drums setting up the guitar is perfect. It is sensual and hypnotic; this track is simply out of this world. 

3.Oye Como Va: This song created an entirely new genre of music in the Spanish speaking Mundo. Oye Como Va was an original 1963 Mambo composition by Tito Puente; It is important to note that traditional Latin bands of that era were initially outraged by the idea of their music being covered by Rock bands. And initially, Tito Puente was not very supportive of the idea but came around to Santana’s version of Oye Como Va after the song and album became a hit. If this track doesn’t compel you to move and dance, then you probably have no soul. 

4.Incident at Neshabur (Instrumental): This track is a rollercoaster of sounds and a clear example of the high level of skillfulness from the band.

5.Se a Cabo: Written by percussionist Jose “Chepito” Areas. This track has a Salsa vibe mixed with some intense electric guitar. 

6.Mothers daughters: This is probably the least Afro-Latino influenced track of this album. It is more of a traditional Rock piece that shows the versatility of the band. 

7.Samba Pa Ti (Instrumental): The story behind the inspiration of this song is legendary. This is the sexiest track of this album; it is smooth, elegant, and beautiful. 

8.Hope You’re feeling Better: The solo riffs are powerful, and Greg Rollie’s singing is outstanding. This track is pure late 60s early 70s Rock and Roll. 

9.El Nicoya: Another contribution by “Chepito.” The track is short but sweet; it is a groovy way to brings this spellbinding album to a close.

*CERATI: FUERZA NATURAL (Documentary)

The opening lyrics to the first track of Gustavo Cerati’s 2010 album Fuerza Natural evoke some profound emotions, and they always manage to put me in a reflective mood. Those opening lyrics are haunting….

Puedo equivocarme, Tengo todo por delante Y nunca me senti tan bien, Viajo sin moverme de aqui….

Rock en Español has always been a critical component of my musical DNA, and within that DNA, Gustavo Cerati’s music has played a crucial role in shaping saïd DNA. This is why I was beyond excited when I heard that a documentary about the making of Fuerza Natural was available.

We are transported back to the recording sessions of the Fuerza Natural album, which became Cerati’s final studio album—filmed by Leonardo Fresco, a musician who collaborated with Cerati many times and played keyboards on Fuerza Natural. This documentary is a black and white intimate look at Gustavo Cerati’s recording and creative process. And although this documentary piece is only 15 minutes long, it still manages to capture some remarkable images and moments.

We get to see some cool stuff, like the recording of the song Cactus (Track 8), as Cerati plays the acoustic guitar himself. We get a quick peek at the handwritten lyrics and music notes for He visto a Lucy (Track 13). We see some pretty neat, old-school special effects made in-studio.

He seemed deeply involved in the music-making process. We get to see him carefully listening and fine-tuning every single piece of musical notes, making adjustments, changes, and offering constant feedback to his studio band. There is a moment when we see Cerati providing input on exactly how he wanted the bass to sound like….. that was a pretty cool thing to see.

I also notice his constant chain-smoking, which might have contributed to the respiratory issues that he developed after suffering the stroke. It is pretty surreal watching him happy, full of life, creating magic in the recording studio, and then barely a year later, he would fall into a coma and lay on a hospital bed for four years until he died in 2014.

This short documentary piece is a must-watch for all Soda Stereo and Gustavo Cerati fans; for 15 minutes, we get to pretend that we are there with him, and he still is here with us.

*RIP PAU DONES: JARABE DE PALO — Tragas O Escupes (Album Recap)

I was bummed beyond belief to hear about the recent passing of Pau Dones, the leader and frontman of Jarabe de Palo.

I first discovered Jarabe de Palo in the summer of 1999; I was dating a girl who at the time was much more knowledgable about emerging Rock en Español bands than me. She gave me a list of bands to look out for, and Jarabe de Palo was on the list. Our relationship didn’t last long, but I think the incredible music she exposed me to was the highlight of our relationship.

In those days, right after receiving my weekly paycheck from my minimum wage job, I would go on an obsessive-compulsive music buying spree. Every single week, I would make pit stops at multiple music stores throughout my city and end up spending a big chunk of my paycheck on music….. I can still clearly remember like it was yesterday when I purchased my first Jarabe de Palo CD, way back in the summer of 1999 — it was the album “DEPENDE” (1998), and it feels somewhat ironic that this past summer of 2019 marked 20 years since I bought their first album.

It quickly became one of my favorite albums of that year, and still today, it is one of my favorite Rock en Español albums ever. The whole album is pure magic, and it even includes a duet with Celia Cruz on the final track. Pau’s music was a fusion of rock, pop, flamenco-rock, and all the great Latin sounds that make Rock en Español such a fantastic genre. DEPENDE has aged nicely over the years, and it still sounds relevant today as much as it did 20 years ago — I would put DEPENDE in my top 20 Rock en Español albums of all time for sure.

Tragas o Escupes was released at the end of May on all streaming platforms, which caught me by complete surprise because I heard that the album was supposed to drop in September of this year. But it came out nearly 4 months ahead of schedule, and along with the album, Pau attached a press release thanking all of his fans and people who have supported him throughout his career. Sadly, Pau Dones passed away 12 days after the release of Tragas o Escupes; his final studio album.

Now, it makes complete sense to me why the album was released a few months earlier and why Pau’s letter was also attached to the album’s release. The whole thing reminds me of David Bowie’s Darkstar album being released a few days before his passing.

When news of Pau’s cancer diagnosis became public, there was an overwhelming outpouring of love that humbled Pau. As I read the letter he wrote to his fans, it becomes clear to me that perhaps he wanted to take this final opportunity to acknowledge and thank all those strangers who, in a way, were never really strangers to him…. Jarabe de Palo’s music brought us close to Pau and will continue to bring us closer….. Even long after he is gone from our physical realm.

The promotional first single, “Eso Que Tu Me Das,” sounds like a direct farewell to all his fans and loved ones — A farewell in the typical Jarabe de Palo manner.

With this album, Pau manages to turn the sad energy of his passing into a positive one — as you listen to the whole album, you cannot help but realize how at peace with his life he truly was. His musical approach was always about positivity and joy. The type of music that found the light within all the darkness.

I am glad that I had the chance to watch him perform live at the Howard Theatre in Washington DC, back in 2015. It was an excellent experience that I will cherish forever.

Jarabe De Palo – Live at the Howard Theatre (Washington DC, 2015)

As I listened to this TRAGAS O ESCUPES album in its entirety, it becomes such a unique and surreal listening experience to me; all the lyrics have profound meaning. It is like you are listening to a manifesto of a life that was lived fully, and now it seemed ready to come to an end — especially as I listen to the whole album within the context of his passing embedded in my consciousness.

Buen Viaje Pau….Thanks for the music.

*BUNBURY: POSIBLE (Album Recap)

It has been three long-ass years since the release of the highly successful Expectativas (2017), and Bunbury is finally delivering another excellent studio album. It comes out at a crucial moment during this global pandemic, where there is this collective hunger for light and positivity—a need for quality in music, films, and art. And POSIBLE arrives at the perfect moment to soothe our souls.

Bunbury has been consistently making some of the most profound and well-crafted albums of the last 20 years, so the expectations are always high when it comes to his work. Hell, in a world where Live albums are a rarity, Bunbury has released two of the most compelling “live” recordings of recent history; Bunbury: MTV Unplugged (2015) and Bunbury: California Live (2019). Both albums are excellent musical productions.

However, Posible (2020) feels more like an experimental album than previous Bunbury albums. There is a straightforward electronic-rock approach to it, full of lyrics that scrutinize certain aspects of his personal life. A more brooding, soul searching, and more personal sounding album. Where the possibilities of living multiple and parallel lives within a singular existence is a central theme here, I could not help but sense a cinematic vibe throughout this album, with a deep metaphysical sensitivity.

There are tons of David Lynch-inspired musical imagery that come across as you listen to this album, especially when you watch the music videos attached to this album. Most Notably, the Video for “Deseos de usar y tirar,” which is beautifully directed by frequent Bunbury collaborator and highly regarded visual artist Jose Girl (she directed all three videos for this album).

This Video has a clear-cut David Lynch influence, which features Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) and trans woman artist Jessica Hogan.

This Video for “Cualquiera en su sano juicio (se habría vuelto loco por ti)” is also full of David Lynch vibes. I heard Bunbury was influenced to practice transcendental meditation after hearing about Lynch’s creative process, which explains the connection.

I have been playing this album on heavy rotation, and I really think that as time passes by, it will age very nicely amongst some of the very best albums in the entire Bunbury discography.

Electro-rock is a sound that I have always appreciated when done right. U2’s Achtung Baby (1991) comes immediately to mind. And this album is right up there in terms of quality. A mix of elegant sounding lyrics and bold experimentations. POSIBLE is another phenomenal achievement for a remarkable artist.

WARNER MUSIC SPAIN (2020)

*FITO PAEZ-LA CONQUISTA DEL ESPACIO (Album Recap)

On my first listen I didn’t like it, and I didn’t really get it, It sounded like the same old and outdated Fito Paez from his 90s glory days. But I gave it a second listen, and then it grew on me. I tend to be very critical of musicians/bands who don’t take chances, who play it safe. Releasing albums that sound and feel the same as their previous albums or their older work. It just feels like they refuse to explore new sounds or don’t have anything new to express musically—and that is what I first thought when I first listened to La Conquista del Espacio.

FITO PAEZ-LA CONQUISTA DEL ESPACIO (Sony Music, 2020)

But then, on my second listen, I paid closer attention to the lyrics and begun to notice just how much personal reflection and socially relevant issues are expressed on most of this nine-track album. There are things on this record that work and some things that I can do without. For example; there are way too many Argentinian slangs and regional issues mentioned throughout this album, which I feel is an issue when trying to connect with audiences outside of Argentina. This has been the Achilles heel for rock en Español artists coming out of Argentina for at least the last 10-15 years. Look, although those issues are important—I feel that an International superstar like Fito Páez can exercise tremendous influence all over the Spanish speaking world with his music. It is also important to note that music has an enormous role to play in creating change and inspiring activism, which is why I take issue with parts of this album.

La Conquista del Espacio was produced by Gustavo Porner, who also produced Calamaro’s Cargar La Suerte—which explains why I had similar issues with both albums. The return of Guillermo Vadalá adds to the importance of this record. Vadalá collaborated previously with Fito on nine albums, most notably on the classic album “El Amor Después del Amor” (1992). The highly accomplished drummer Abraham ‘abe’ Laboriel jr also joins this album—Abe has been playing drums with Paul McCartney’s band since 2001 and has worked with Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, and Shakira to name a few. Juanes also makes a quick cameo.

Although short and fast, with just nine tracks and under 37 minutes of playing time, La Conquista del Espacio is a solid, well-made album that grows on you pretty quickly. There are a couple of tracks that are destined to become classics, and Maelstrom is my new Fito Paez favorite song. Here is my take:

Track List

  1. La Conquista del Espacio: Opening track sounds like classic Fito Paez, making a mission statement on what this album is all about; Love and freedom—is the thesis of not just this song but the whole album. Juanes and Maria Campos lend their vocals here.
  2. Resucitar: This track was the first promotional single. It’s all about the contradictions of our human condition.
  3. Las Cosas Que Me Hacen Bien: A quote from the “Art of War” by Sun Tzu opens this socially conscious track. The police state, the current social and cultural issues plaguing society are expressed here using examples of modern life and trends. 
  4. La Canción de las Bestias: Now, this is one of my favorite tracks on this album. It sounds raw and reflective. Fito bears his soul while asking deep questions about our humanity. 
  5. Gente en la Calle (feat. Lali): A jazzy love letter to Buenos Aires. Beautiful melody, thoughtful social lyrics. Lali Espósito lends her vocals here. 
  6. Ey, You (feat. Mala Mama): My least favorite track, and allthough the lyrics have some social relevance, still, the musical choices do not work for me. We get some funk, rock, cumbia, and some English and Italian phrases (“Fucking bastard-Vaffanculo”). The Argentinian cumbia band Mala Fama and it’s lead vocalist Hernan Coronel add an unnecessary ingredient. I felt like this song could have worked without the cumbia element. 
  7. Nadie es Nadie: Fito is reaching far here, with lyrics that attempt to appeal to a more inclusive audience, while balancing his classic style of rock. Forgettable track.
  8. Maelstrom: Now here we have the highest mark on this album and my new favorite Fito Paez song. The songwriting and melody are excellent; it is Fito at his best. Everything about this song works. It elevates this album to new heights. 
  9. Todo Se Olvida: This final track is a declaration of where he stands after all these years in music and an icon of rock en Español. A solid way to end this remarkable album.

LA CONQUISTA DEL ESPACIO (Sony Music, 2020)

*DIEGO VASALLO-LAS RUTAS DESIERTAS (Album Recap)

Rock en Español is not just “rock in Spanish,” it is a hell of a lot more. Out of the many categories and subcategories for Spanish language music, rock en Español is, without a doubt, the richest and most diverse of all Spanish music genres. The name itself should be synonymous with sui generis. While at the same time, it is essential to point out that this genre is not only infused with traditional Latin sounds but also infused with jazz, blues, country, folk, soul, reggae, funk, and even metal. And musicians like Diego Vasallo are a clear example of why this genre is particularly exceptional when compared to other genres of Spanish language music. 

Diego Vasallo-LAS RUTAS DESIERTAS (Galerna, 2020)

Las Rutas Desiertas is Diego Vasallo’s follow up album to the excellent “Baladas para un Autoretrato“(Subterfuge Records,2016). Both records were co-produced by Fernando Macaya, who also plays guitar on this new album, and often plays on some touring gigs with Mikel Erentxun. Although Las Rutas Desiertas has somewhat of a dark sound and feel to it—it is not as bleak as it seems, or as the album title suggests (Deserted Routes). The lyrics are full of positive outtakes, and a hopeful outlook into the future. There is a lot more light and positive vibes on this record, which is a departure in tone from Vasallo’s previous album.

Diego Vasallo is a master lyricist, and this album is a confirmation of his mastery. At times, he sounds similar to Andres Calamaro, which is not a bad thing. Still, If you are sick and tire of Calamaro’s nonsensical lyrics as of late, then Vasallo is the perfect antidote. Diego Vasallo has delivered another fantastic album—full of soul, rock, folk, and a touch of blues. An album worth multiple listening sessions, and I feel that it will age exceptionably well with time. 

Here is a quick breakdown of Las Rutas Desiertas.

Track List:

  1. Mi Historia: Cabaret vibes are the best way to describe this track. Diego has a deep affinity for Bob Fosse’s film Cabaret (1972), which has always inspired and influenced some of his solo work.
  2. Cargamento: It is all about the good times ahead and the promise of a better tomorrow. This is a beautiful song. 
  3. Mecha en la Tormenta: This is such an alluring song. The lyrics are just magical and full of hope. The harmonica makes a cameo and adds a touch of blues towards the end.
  4. Esta Noche No Se Parece a Ninguna: One of my favorite tracks on this album. Everything about this song works. Vasallo is at his songwriting best here. 
  5. Entre el Olvido y el Perdón: This song is pure poetry wrapped in melody.
  6. Erase Una Vez: This track has a cinematic feel to it. I picture the opening of a film, set somewhere in the desert.
  7. Alli Te Esperare: My favorite track in this album. A beautiful love ballad. The lyrics, the vocals, the guitar play—they are all flawless. 
  8. El Rio Baja Crecido: The electric guitar shows up here, and it is impeccable. 
  9. Intemperie: Folksy and mellow. Reminds me of early Duncan Dhu
  10. No Me Niegues Nada: There is this air of blues and folk here. Reminds me of early Eric Clapton and Leonard Cohen
  11. Las Rutas Desiertas: Melancholic notes bring this masterpiece to a close. This final track sounds like a declaration of hope and the possibilities lying ahead in an uncertain future. 

LAS RUTAS DESIERTAS (Galerna, 2020)

*Bunbury-California​ live (Album Recap)

Live records are a rarity nowadays. There was a time not too long ago (it seems), when Live albums were a constant thing, even bootleg live recordings were a thing, but recently live albums are at a brink of extinction.

Lately, I have been going out of my way to acquire as many live records as I possibly can, or at least I am trying to. My LP vinyl collection is somewhat in its infancy, so I do not have an in-depth collection of live records as I would like to have, but I do have some pretty cool ones so far.

However, when it comes to Rock en Español, there seems to be a more significant demand for live albums, and interestingly enough this particular market has kept the MTV Unplugged brand alive and relevant for the last twenty years. Which is very refreshing to think about and it gives me hope that there still is a chance for a good instrument based albums and non-digital music to resurge.

Is safe to say that Bunbury is currently seating at the very top of the entire Rock en Español Mundo. There is absolutely nobody out there close enough to challenge his place in the scene, he is clearly leaps and bounds ahead of everybody else, and after listening to Bunbury’s latest album: California Live, his home in the Mount Rushmore of Rock en Español is now fully established right at the very top. 

California Live is more than just a live album, is also a journey through Bunbury’s musical career. The record includes songs from his days with HEROES DEL SILENCIO and songs from many of his solo albums. My only issue is that he did not include any songs from the album Flamingos, 2003, which is probably my favorite Bunbury album of all time, but I enjoyed this excellent live album, and I think it definitely is one of the best Rock en Español live records in recent memory.

The first five tracks are straight from his latest studio release (Expectativas,2017), 01. LA CEREMONIA DE LA CONFUSION, 02.LA ACTITUD CORRECTA, 03.CUNA DE CAIN, 04.EN BANDEJA DE PLATA, 05. PARECEMOS TONTOS. All these songs are now considered hits and very radio-friendly, these live versions show Bunbury on tip-top Rockero form. Most of the remaining tracks have a solid dose of saxophone infused in them. Previous Bunbury live albums did not include this particular musical ingredient, and the result is very satisfying.

06.EL ANZUELO– From the album, El Viaje a Ninguna Parte, 2004. This track, like many others in this album, is given a new life and sound, especially with the addition of the Saxophone as one of the main instruments. 07.El MAR NO CESA– This track is only available in the LP version. 08.EL RESCATE– From the album, El Viaje a Ninguna Parte, 2004. Once again, the Sax becomes the perfect companion to this track. 09.TESORO-From the album, El espíritu del vino, 1993 (Heroes del Silencio). This track is given a new feel, a new vibe, and a new life. The sax shines through once again giving it a modern feel. 10.DESPIERTA– From the album, Palosanto, 2013. This live version has a bigger rock anthem feel than the album version, especially when the audience gets involved singing along. 11.HAY MUY POCA GENTE-From the album, Hellville de Luxe, 2008. The only differences from the album version and the live version are the audience participation and a few sax cameos here and there. 12.HEROE DE LEYENDA-From the album, Heroe de Leyenda, 1987 (Heroes del Silencio). This version is an excellent new take on one of the great rock en Español classic anthems of all time. 13.MAS ALTO QUE NOSOTROS SOLO EL CIELO– From the album, Palosanto, 2013. The balance between the tempo and harmony is one of the high points of this entire album. 14.MAR ADENTRO– From the album, El Mar no Cesa, 1988 (Heroes del Silencio). This version feels like it belongs in one of Bunbury’s more recent albums, it has an updated feel to it when compared to the original 1988 version. 15.DE TODO EL MUNDO– From the album, Las Consecuencias, 2010. A gorgeous rendition, this is one of my all-time favorite Bunbury songs. The live version is a joy to listen to. 16.MALDITO DUENDE– From the album, Senderos de traición,1990 (Heroes del Silencio). The crowd participation is what makes this live version feel very special like you are right there with them, and you cannot help but sing along with them. 17.LA CONSTANTE– From the album, Expectativas, 2017. An excellent choice to bring this live album to an end with a beautiful romantic rock ballad. This song has become a favorite amongst Bunbury fanatics.