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Post-crash course in ardent rap

Times Staff Writer

Vico C

“Desahogo” (EMI Latin)

****

Salsa crooner Marc Anthony is often compared to the late Hector LaVoe, the great Nuyorican salsa singer. But if LaVoe were reincarnated today, his spirit and music would be a lot closer to those of rapper Vico C, a tormented ex-drug addict with the agile verbal skills of a street-corner poet, tremendous timing and a big, big heart.

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During the ‘90s, while Anthony was gentrifying salsa with generic love songs, Vico C was refining an urban Latino rap that bristled with the raw passions, risks and rewards of the barrio. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Puerto Rico, he recently experienced a traumatic motorcycle crash, recovery from cocaine addiction and an evangelical conversion, and now returns with a provocative new album.

He quickly plunges into the ferocious title track, Spanish for “release,” or getting things off your chest (literally, dis-suffocate). Despite his disclaimer that he doesn’t pretend to be a preacher, Vico C’s rap sizzles with a fire-and-brimstone righteousness. He skewers hypocritical politicians as well as the rap culture of sex, violence and materialism.

Unlike reggaeton, the popular but often monotonous Puerto Rican rap/reggae fusion, Vico C explores a stunning breadth of styles (guajira, reggae, classical, vallenato) and sentiments (outrage, regret, gratitude, love). He stretches out in several collaborations: In a duet with salsa star Gilberto Santa Rosa, he makes a soaring appeal for a lover’s forgiveness with a Mozart-meets-Eminem string arrangement. And with reggae beats from Puerto Rico’s progressive band Cultura Profetica, he delivers a wake-up call from a son to his distant, disciplinarian father. The least fruitful pairing is the guajira-hip-hop with D’mingo and Spanish rapper La Mala Rodriguez.

The most touching tune is Vico C’s heart-wrenching tribute to his loyal wife (“Companera”) who stuck with him during “addictions, afflictions and convictions.” He urges her to dispel her doubts, calling her “my great friend, my way in and way out” (mi entrada y salida).

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Anybody still yearning for the excitement, emotion, musicianship and social message of vintage salsa from the LaVoe era, yearn no more. Vico C has it all.

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A mother lode of inspiration

Andrea Echeverri

“Andrea Echeverri” (Nacional)

***

After 10 years and six albums as lead singer of the acclaimed Colombian alt-Latino duo Aterciopelados, Echeverri recently gave birth to her first baby and her first solo album. The events are so intertwined that seven of the 12 songs on her eponymous CD are about motherhood, in all its glorious and graphic facets.

Some of the songs are so personal they read like a confidential diary. In the lilting folk-style lullaby, “a-eme-o” (the first letters of “amor”), Echeverri might make some listeners blush as she confides to her baby that she feels more sexy since giving birth. And in what must be the most explicit baby song ever written, “Lactochampeta,” Echeverri cleverly satirizes a sexually loaded folk genre, the Colombian champeta, to describe her intimate feelings about breast-feeding.

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Not all the songs to her baby are so revealing. But they are all written with Echeverri’s wit and delightful wordplay. Motherhood also suits her musically. This work rings much more natural, sweet and melodic than her trendier, electronica-influenced work in Aterciopelados (the Velvety Ones), which had a tendency to sound spacey, cold and detached.

Echeverri devotes the other half of the album to the father of her new inspiration in life. The languid “Menos Mal” (Good Thing) recounts the ups and downs of a relationship, leading to a liberated, unisex concept of romance: “Good thing we connected / Good thing we became pregnant/ Good thing we penetrated each other.” (It’s much more poetic with the matching verb endings in Spanish.)

Aterciopelados did not disband. But this work is so involving you hope Echeverri continues her solo career, if only to see how mother and baby are doing.

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Elevating a folk music of Argentina

Chango Spasiuk

“Tarefero de Mis Pagos: Sounds From the Red Land”

(Piranha Musik)

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*** 1/2

Too often, it takes an outsider to recognize great music in our own backyard, especially when it comes to Latin America’s exciting but commercially ignored folk genres. Thanks to this Berlin-based label, a whole world of Argentine music known as Chamame comes to us through its premier exponent, accordion master Chango Spasiuk. This joyful and beautiful music is the result of a confluence of cultures in northeast Argentina, Mbya-Guarani Indians, Creoles and European immigrants.

Spasiuk, of Ukrainian ancestry, was born in the small province of Misiones near the Brazilian border, an area known for its rain forests, rivers and yerba mate plantations. Now in his mid-30s, he started playing accordion at 11 and has made six successful albums, but this is his first recorded for export. Far from sounding rustic or rural, the mostly instrumental, acoustic work boasts a sophisticated sound that infuses earthy traditions with jazz influences and a classical touch.

Surprisingly, Chamame echoes certain elements of Mexican country music, its sorrowful duets with guitar, its bouncy polkas and lively jarabes. But Spasiuk’s piano accordion sounds fuller and deeper than the button accordion used by Mexican norteno bands.

Like norteno, though, Chamame was once a marginalized rural dance genre. Through his passion, mastery and commitment, Spasiuk has elevated this folk art from the remote red lands of his birth to a dignified place on the world stage.

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A mellower style, some saucy lyrics

Osdalgia

“Suenan los Cueros” (Lusafrica)

***

This vocalist with the unusual name stands out as one of the best of Cuba’s contemporary crop of female salsa singers. Unfortunately, her albums are still relatively unknown among U.S. salsa fans.

From the opening Spanish guitar riff, Osdalgia’s third album marks a clear stylistic break from her previous CDs for Lusafrica, the world music label. Osdalgia has a new producer, acclaimed arranger Juan Manuel Ceruto (Issac Delgado, Paulito FG), who brings a mellower, acoustic tone to her work, compared to the brassier, edgier productions of timba pioneer and former producer Jose Luis Cortes, who discovered her in 1994.

The result: This album is less varied and adventurous, more traditional and probably more accessible to conservative salsa fans. Plus, the singer-songwriter (full name: Osdalgia Lesmes) contributes many more tunes than before -- 10 of the 14 new tracks are hers.

Paradoxically, while the sound is more conservative, some themes are decidedly unconventional. In the tender “Un Dia Cualquiera” (An Average Day), the singer describes a reluctant lesbian encounter. And in the saucy “Lo Tuyo No Alcanza” (Yours Doesn’t Reach), she tells a hapless suitor that, well, size does matter.

No parental warning needed. It’s all done with typical Cuban double-entendres and in good taste, which is her trademark.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent, and are already in stores unless noted.

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On the Web

To hear samples from the various albums described in Latin Record Rack, visit calendarlive.com/rack.


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