The Soul of Spanish Harlem

The Soul of Spanish Harlem

Vinyl LP(Long Playing Record)

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In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many New York Latin musicians became increasingly influenced by R&B and soul music. One could trace exchange among the styles all the way back to the birth of rock & roll if so inclined, but often the sounds cut by this circle were heard mostly or exclusively by a U.S.-based Latin audience, with only a little crossover to pop and African-American listeners. The Soul of Spanish Harlem collects 20 such tracks from the era (a couple of them previously unreleased), done for labels that for the most part were targeting the Latin market, the most prominent of them being Fania (though releases by other companies are also included). Even if you're a collector of this stuff, it's likely few of the names will ring bells, with the exception perhaps of Joe Bataan and Monguito Santamaria (Mongo Santamaria's son). While mixtures of Latin music, jazz, and soul (and even a bit of doo wop) are the general focus, it's hard to categorize the tracks with precision, since the concentration of elements vary so widely. Some cuts are essentially Latin-flavored jazz with a bit of soul; others are vocal group soul with just a hint of Latin sounds in the melodies and rhythms. What matters most is that it's consistently earthy, heartfelt, and -- at least to rock and pop listeners for whom these blends are unfamiliar -- quite unpredictable. It is true that those stylistic combinations are more interesting, for the most part, than the tunes, which can be derivative (as the Terrible Frankie Nieves' "True Love" of Barbara Acklin's "The Same Girl," or 107th Street Stickball Team's "On Old Broadway" of the chorus in Petula Clark's "Downtown"). But it's rarely less than entertaining, and a few sides do stand out as particularly memorable, like the aforementioned "On Old Broadway"; King Nando's invigoratingly swinging (if melodramatic) "Maria, Maria," which could have stood a chance of crossover success in an edited version; or the delectably dignified doo wop/Latin jazz hybrid of Ralphie & the Latin Lovers' "Lonely Has Been My Day." Though perhaps more remarkable for the form than the content of the actual material, this CD is a very worthwhile if fragmentary document of an important scene that remains largely unknown to fans of the rock and soul of the era, with (as is customary for the Ace family of labels) conscientious annotation and illustration in the accompanying booklet.

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