Ozomatli: Fire Away

RIYL: Santana, Spearhead, Los Lobos

The Los Angeles culture-mashers are mixing up a vibrant stew on their fifth full-length LP, with producer Tony Berg (Aimee Mann, Pete Yorn) at the helm for a festive and diverse affair. Berg describes working with the band as “like visiting seven continents simultaneously” and the album sessions as having captured “the spirit of the band’s live show without being a live album.”

It’s hard to quantify Ozomatli in any particular genre since they mix up a musical collision of rock, funk, samba, salsa, hip-hop, cumbia, merengue, reggae and more. Tunes like “Are You Ready,” “45” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” all surge with an upbeat party-rock flavor, mixing horns with big grooves and funky accents. Lead single “It’s Only Paper” recalls the ’90s barrio-pop vibe of Sublime, with catchy hooks and some social commentary on “the choices that you make… They say money is to blame, but it’s only paper.”

“Elysian Persuasion” cranks it up another notch with a hard-hitting jam and rocking beat that conjures a high-energy sound for one of the album’s best tunes. “Gay Vatos in Love” switches gears for a potentially controversial, jazzy R&B number. There are no gay members in the band, but the song is statement that every person should “have the right to choose who and how they love one another,” according to the band. This all-inclusive attitude, combined with the band’s diverse musical background, may well explain why Ozomatli has been sent around the world on a series of musical missions from the U.S. State Department.

“Malagasy Shock” recounts one such adventure where singer/guitarist Raul Pacheco had a self-described near-death experience when he was electrocuted onstage during the band’s State Department trip to Madagascar. Pacheco says the tune is about being “shocked into realizing life must be lived with a profoundly energetic fervor.” Such a fervor is what infuses much of the album. Another highlight is “Nadas Por Free,” an upbeat song that uses “Spanglish” to mix lyrics from both English and Spanish. “It’s Only Time” and “Love Comes Down” have the band amping down for a couple of ballads with a resplendent flavor that would fit nicely with a Pacific Ocean sunset.

Fire Away perhaps lacks that one particularly memorable breakthrough song, but is a strong overall outing that should give the band plenty of new material to keep their live dance parties going. (Mercer Street 2010)

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