LATIN LOVES…Cunao: Sangre Y Arena, Grupo Fantasma: Problemas

Here are a pair of albums with the sounds brewing from south of the border.

The LA –based band Cunao consists of Julio Montero/g-voc, Gabriel Ramirez/vio-perc-voc, Severin Behnen/acc-key-voc, Craig Shields/perc-xyl-voc and Josel Cruz/b-voc. Since there is no drummer, the sound is light and flexible and the feel keeps true to the traditional folk feel, yet with a touch of the modern. Rich voices mix with violin on a joyful waltz during “La Oveja Negra” and Cruz’s bass delivers a driving lick on the festive “El Llano.” The vocals are rich and strong, and the rhythm clippety clops like a horse on the peppy “La Casa De La Abuela.” There is a story with street background sounds on the street poem “Afuera” which breaks the mood a bit, but the glorious mix of accordion with acoustic guitar on “Gaitan” takes you back to the village. Very enjoyable.

Grupo Fantasma has a much brassier and electric feel. Not only do you get the horn section of Mark Gonzales/tb and Gilbert Elorreaga/tp with the bari sax of Josh Levy, but electric guitars and basses provided by Beto M artinez, Adrian Quesada and Greg Gonzalez provide a propulsive drive for John Speice IV’s drums and the percussion/timbales of “Matthew Holmes and Jose Galeano. Guest strings, saxes and brass make the sound feel like a street fest, with a salsa and voice mix on “Nada” has some rich bari and the percussion rumbles like an avalanche on “Otono.” The reeds get greasy on the sweaty “Roto El Corazon,” but the best idea by far is the bolero rtead of the Beatles tune “Because” which slithers like a sensuous snake. These guys got some ideas!

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