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La Santa Cecilia: Buenaventura *

Album Notes

In 2013, La Santa Cecilia's Treinta Dias won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock Album. While the recognition was welcome, it was ill-fitting: La Santa Cecilia are a great pop band no matter what language they sing in. (Their ingenious cover of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever," from 2014's equally wonderful Someday New, proved it.) During the past two years, these Los Angelinos have become road warriors, playing clubs, concert halls, and festival stages across the U.S., Latin America, Canada, and Europe. They've gotten married and had children. The maturity from these experiences is revealed panoramically on Buenaventura, produced by Sebastian Krys. La Marisoul Hernández (vocals), José "Pepe" Carlos (accordion and requinto), Miguel "Oso" Ramírez (percussion), and Alex Bendana (bass) have become, by their own description, purveyors of "Pan-American Music," a sound that spreads across Latin genres, rock, pop, Caribbean styles, and R&B. The set's first single, "I Won't Cry for You," uses conjunto, swinging Dixieland jazz horns, blues, and a rock & roll backbeat -- thanks to in-the-pocket drumming from album guest Pete Thomas. Opener "Sacudo la Pereza" is a modern cumbia that leans heavily on rocksteady reggae and vintage pop-soul with a killer horn chart. Iconic Spanish rocker Enrique Bunbury assists La Marisol in delivering a rocked-up, boozy, passionate reading of Ramon Ayala's classic "Tragos de Amargo Licor." Steve Berlin and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos assist on second single "Nunca Más." It's a timeless, anthemic, funky cumbia that exhorts listeners to empower one another in standing against bigotry, violence, and hatred. While a church organ introduces "Here We Go Again," it's actually a gorgeous waltz that weds country music and norteño (in Texas this happens every single day). This is among La Marisol's finest performances on the album; the interplay between Carlos' accordion and guest Bob Bernstein's pedal steel is gorgeous. "Vámonos" is a rootsy rock & roll cumbia textured by a honky tonk piano with vocal assistance from Argentine rocker Fita Paez and drums by Thomas. The ranchera waltz "Caminante Nocturno" is adorned by the entire Latino Arts String Program from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and reveals inseparable connections between classical and Latin folk music traditions. "Pa' Que Trabajar" is a soulful cumbia with killer synth effects and rumbling bass that brings hooky pop-funk into the equation. Closer "Sucede" is a seamless intersection of ska, Latin pop, and rocking polka and conjunto. The spontaneous element in La Santa Cecilia's music remains ever present thanks to their seamless juxtaposition of genres, wonderful lyrics, and high energy. Buenaventura is not just a step past the excellence of their previous recordings, it's a leap beyond. The maturity, confidence, and sophistication on display here are reached by few bands -- especially at this still-early juncture. Given this stellar example, La Santa Cecilia's "Pan-American Music" may become its own pop genre. ~ Thom Jurek


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