Los Cenzontles with David Hidalgo & Taj Mahal: American Horizon

RIYL: Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder

Odds are you’ve never heard of Los Cenzontles (the name translates to “the Mockingbirds”), but they’ve been a major force in traditional Mexican music since forming in 1989. Twenty years and 17 albums later, they’ve teamed up with Taj Mahal and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo (who also worked with the group on last year’s Songs of Wood and Steel) for American Horizon, a sprawling, 15-track concept album that, in the band’s words, “tells a timely story of immigration, work, and the American Dream.” Not the sort of thing you’re going to hear coming out of Sean Hannity’s car stereo, in other words, but if you’re looking for a beautifully moving collection of roots music that literally transcends language, get ready to spend a few weeks curled up inside the restless grooves of this album. You won’t be able to understand the literal meaning of much of it if you don’t speak Spanish, but don’t worry – you only need a soul and a pair of ears to be able to feel American Horizon’s bright strains of joy and sadness. Think of it as a sort of spiritual cousin to the Buena Vista Social Club, and you’ll be on the right track. Mahal and Hidalgo receive second billing, but don’t buy Horizon looking for flashy cameos; instead, their work here reflects a pair of careers spent knocking down musical barriers. It’s one of the most heartfelt – and purely interesting – records we’ve heard all year. (Los Cenzontles 2009)

Los Cenzontles MySpace page
Click to buy American Horizon on Amazon


Various Artists: Twenty First Century Twenty First Year

It may have seemed like just another example of dilettantism from a major star during the late ‘80s – a time when Amnesty International tours were all the rage and the Top 40 was stuffed with globetrotting music from Sting, Paul Simon, and Peter Gabriel – but 21 years later, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop is not only still around, it’s an inspirational example for anyone hoping to establish a boutique label. Known primarily as an outlet for releases from Byrne-approved “world music” artists like Zap Mama, Luaka Bop has actually been a more eclectic imprint than most people have given it credit for, something highlighted in the label’s new anniversary compilation, Twenty First Century Twenty First Year. You get the expected stuff – like Byrne’s tastes, the set skews toward South American and Afro-Caribbean grooves, offering booty-shaking cuts from Moreno +2, and Los Amigos Invisibles and some fine Shuggie Otis – but Twenty First is also careful to remind you that the label has provided a home for artists as diverse as Geggy Tah and Jim White. It all adds up to a solid hour of eclectic music that, like the label itself, is more interested in showing you a good time than proving how hip it is. And it succeeds, too – with the exception of Geggy Tah’s “Whoever You Are,” which should be locked in a lead-lined vault and fired into space, these tracks will make a fine addition to your next barbecue playlist, and it’s a fine introduction to the label in the bargain. (Luaka Bop 2009)

Luaka Bop MySpace page


Adolfo Lazo: On Tape

Generic indie-rock that would be better if Lazo wasn’t doing the singing. His nasally voice would have been a wonder had he been working in a band like Camper Van Beethoven, but alas he only has his plain white music to prop himself up. There’s nothing inherently terrible about the album, but it’s just another one of those indie shots that sounds like it was recorded for the artist’s own amusement rather than something to grab anyone else’s ears by. Of course, the two Spanish-infused tunes here (“Rey de Espana,” “Wall es tu Carrera”) sound like Santana Lite, and a third one (“Borracho”) is just plain silly filler. Suffice it to say that Adolfo Lazo isn’t a very interesting musician or singer, and this album certainly isn’t going to further his cause. It may have been better for everyone if he had kept this one on tape in a shoebox. (self-released)

Adolfo Lazo MySpace page


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