While artists don’t generally release Halloween albums as they do for the Christmas season, there are some songs out there that are appropriate for this witchy holiday. I’ve put a few on the jukebox for your enjoyment.
Monster Mash leads the way. Spooky, a folk (non scary) version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and Black Cat by Janet are included. Speaking of the Jacksons, I’ve included some tunes (not originals) from the man who’s always in costume. Michael Jackson used to be the color of the unlucky cats we see on Halloween, but he’s opted to look like one of the other symbols of the holiday – the pale ghost! But his music is still funky, so Beat it and have a Thriller of a Halloween!
My first exposure to trumpeter Chris Botti was in 1999 from the front row at Sting’s Brand New Day concert in Miami. As I am good with names, I recognized it when I saw some of his CD’s at the record store a couple years later. After debating over which album to buy, I settled on his The Very Best Of collection. It was just a taste though, and I craved more of his smoothness and his interesting interpretations of standards.
I am a big fan of his Christmas album, December, mostly because it’s not the same old holiday fare. His masterpiece though is 2004’s When I Fall In Love. It’s my favorite of his albums, and the album that made critics realize that Botti was worth their attention and recognition. The follow up, To Love Again, is a great set as well. It’s all duets with Botti and his favorite singers, including Sting, Paula Cole, Gladys Knight, Steven Tyler, and Michael Bublé.
His interpretations are thoughtful and his original compositions are impressive. He’s smooth without actually being in that Smooth Jazz category. He improvises, and has a touch of Miles, but doesn’t go on for twelve minutes. He’s in a genre of his own, and that’s what makes him so remarkable.
His current release, Italia, is a formidable set of compositions ranging from film music to classical opera, along with the newly composed title track. It captures the romance and sweeping atmosphere of Italy, and shows Botti’s strength as a composer and interpreter.
The opener, Deborah’s Theme (from Once Upon A Time In America) and Gabriel’s Oboe (from The Mission) are works of the accomplished Italian composer. While Morricone’s original Deborah’s Theme is entirely classical with a full orchestra, Botti interprets it with very little accompaniment, letting his trumpet shine on this shorter version. The title track, Italia, is a duet with one of Italy’s greatest tenors, Andrea Bocelli. Bocelli’s passion for music and his homeland bring this song to a higher level. Having the Tuscany-born Bocelli here is a wonderful addition to Botti’s tribute to Italy. Paula Cole, a frequent collaborator of Botti’s, offers her sensual vocals to a new rendition of Ray Noble’s The Very Thought Of You. Botti’s trumpet adds a touch of magic to the 1957 vocal recording of I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face by Dean Martin. Had Dino been alive to hear this, he would’ve been as pleased as Botti must be. Puccini’s Nessun Dorma from the opera Turandot gets a stunning interpretation. Ave Maria is done so beautifully here; there’s a choir to create the religious and breathtaking characteristics of Schubert’s masterpiece.
Italia will transport you to the lushness and romance of Italy with the very first note. Botti brings new life to old standards and adds something extra to already perfect compositions. His work only continues to improve with each new release. Italia is masterful and quite beautiful, and evidence that Botti is the premier trumpeter of his time.
Go to the Blogroll on the right to view some of Botti’s live performances.
Free bonus track downloads/CDs at: Chris Botti
Marc Anthony is no typical Salsa singer. He has a powerful voice – a range that is enviable by most singers. He can sing anything, English or Spanish. But, Spanish is his strength. Whatever he sings, party songs or love songs – his voice is sensual, confident, and soaring. He is the Prince of Salsa – the biggest-selling Salsa artist of all time.
While he doesn’t have a bad album in his extensive catalog, his two standout albums – Todo En Su Tiempo (Everything In Its Time) and Contra La Correinte (Against The Current) are must-haves. From the first album, the tunes Nadie Como Ella (Nobody Like Her), Te Conozco Bien (I Know You Well), and Hasta Ayer (Until Yesterday) are the best. And for those who haven’t heard Mrs. Anthony sing in Spanish, which she should do more of; the duet No Me Ames (Don’t Love Me) is a lovely song. They both shine!
In the recent Jennifer Lopez/Marc Anthony film, El Cantante, Anthony is luminescent in his singing performances as the legend, Héctor Lavoe. The entire album inspired by the movie is recommended to fans of both Lavoe and Anthony.
To watch the 2005 Grammy performance of Escapémonos, another Anthony/Lopez duet, go to the Blogroll on the right and click: Escapemonos Video
For the No Me Ames video, Click: No Me Ames Video
Since its explosion in the 1970’s, there have been many Salsa singers, too many to discuss here. I will touch on two: Celia Cruz and Marc Anthony.
Celia Cruz was around since Salsa’s early days, and still lives on even after her death. She recorded with many great musicians during her more than 50-year career and transcended race, language, and genres, earning her the well deserved title of Queen of Salsa. Young and old knew of her and appreciated her charm, talent, spectacular stage presence, and her trademark motto: Azucar!
She began her singing career in her homeland of Cuba, and continued it in America in 1965 by forming a band with Tito Puente and recording eight albums with him. She went on to record with other greats, such as: Oscar D’Leon, Johnny Pacheco, and The Fania All Stars. She was continuously recording and performing, and many of her songs were remixed and even became dance hits, such as 2001’s La Negra Tiene Tumbao. She recorded her last album, Regalo de Alma (Gift of the Soul), in early 2003, a few months before her death from a brain tumor.
Since her catalog is so extensive, to make recommendations of her best work would be difficult. Here are some of her standout songs: Quimbara, La Vida Es Un Carnaval, Burandanga, La Negra Tiene Tumbao. There are some Best Of’s and live albums out there, and those would be a good start. Also, there are Fania All Stars compilations, which would give listeners a taste of classic Celia, along with exposing them to other stars of Latin music.
Willie Colón was one of the pioneers of Salsa during the 1970s in New York City. As trombone player, composer, and bandleader, he was instrumental in the musical careers of Hispanics arriving in the U.S. at the time: Celia Cruz, Rubén Blades, and Héctor Lavoe, among them. His most successful partnerships were with vocalists Lavoe and Blades. While their solo efforts were formidable, their collaborations with Colón were exceptional and financially viable.
Colón has been recording since he was 18 years old. His debut album, El Malo, was one of the first albums to have that “New York Sound.” This album was the beginning of his partnership with Héctor Lavoe.
Héctor Lavoe’s extraordinary vocals garnered him the nickname “El Cantante de Los Cantantes” (The Singer of Singers). His voice is angelic and soars above the music. His standout songs include: El Cantante, Mi Gente (My People,) Che Che Colé, and El Dia de Suerte (The Lucky Day). To watch a 1979 video of Lavoe singing “El Cantante,” click here.
Rubén Blades is among the most successful vocalists from Panama and continues to influence Salsa music with his modern arrangements and intelligent and politically relavent lyrics. His standout songs include: Siembra, Ligia Elena, Buscando Guayaba, Maria Lionza, and Pedro Navaja (the biggest selling single in Salsa history, a Spanish barrio version of Mack The Knife). To watch a video of Blades singing “Pedro Navajo,” click here.
Below are albums that were instrumental in reviving Latin music in the U.S. and still stand as Salsa’s finest moments.
- Cosa Nuestra (Our Thing)
- La Gran Fuga (The Big Break)
- The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
- Siembra (Sow)
- Canciones del Solar de los Aburridos (Songs from the Neighborhood of the Bored)
Puerto Rico has a long history of rich culture and music. Music from the island country is vibrant, sensual, and festive. Its musical influences include: the mambo and the son from Cuba, the merengue from the Dominican Republic, American jazz, and romantic ballads from Spain. The most prevalent genres of Purto Rican are: danza (rich in harmonies, resembling classical music,) plena (narrative songs about contemporary events,) bomba (African rhythms, masks, and spiritual worship), and the most famous of them: salsa.
Salsa began in the late 1960’s to describe this new genre. It’s birth was in New York City. Just as Nueva York is a mix of so many cultures, so were the influences that brought about salsa. Salsa is for dancing, and its rhythms are caliente, and compelling.
Gloria Estefan’s strength lies in her native Spanish songs, those that celebrate the Caribbean beats and her Cuban heritage. The album that started her on her journey back ’home’ was 1993’s critically acclaimed Mi Tierra. 90 Millas, her fourth Spanish album, is another love letter to Cuba. It’s aptly named for the distance between Key West – the southernmost point of the U.S. – and Cuba. 90 Millas is a fiesta. It doesn’t matter if you understand Spanish or not, it’ll get you moving or want to learn how to dance salsa. This impassioned new addition to Estefan’s catalog of music is her absolute best.
No Llores (Don’t Cry) brings together the exceptional José Feliciano and Carlos Santana on guitars, with Sheila E and Luis Enrique on percussion. Because of Santana’s distinctive opening riff, the listener will immediately be reminded of Smooth, and that’s not such a bad thing. This caliente tune is already climbing the charts in much the same way. Píntame (Paint Me) is in the tradition of the Cuban ’son,’ or folk song. It’s heavy on the bongos, timbales, and the Cuban Tres – the guitar-like instrument with three double strings present in many Afro-Cuban bands. This type of song celebrates the union of lush landscapes and love among country folks. There are layered vocals and short verses, with the ongoing chorus prevailing. The actor, Andy Garcia, shows his rhythm on the bongos here. A premier Tres player, Nelson Gonzalez shines brightly, and is a major contributor to this album.
One of the slow tunes, Bésame (Kiss Me) is a beautiful love song. José Feliciano – a frequent collaborator of Estefan’s – does his magic on the acoustic guitar. And on flute, Johnny Pacheco (also known as El Maestro) – the Dominican-born composer, bandleader, and producer who pioneered salsa music in the United States. Esperando (Waiting) and the title track ponder the eventual freedom of Cuba. The second is especially rich in African chants. There are very few Spanish lyrics here, and they are sung much like a conga mantra: 90 millas vienen, 90 millas faltan (90 miles come, 90 miles still to go). Whether it’s wishful thinking or not, the timing of these songs couldn’t be better.
The most interesting song on 90 Millas is Morenita (Dark-skinned Girl). Afro-Cuban rhythms are at their best in this composition. It tells of the Santeria ritual where saints are channeled through chants, dances, and drums. This will get you shaking your hips and clapping your hands, as will the other two party songs – A Bailar (Let’s Dance) and Esta Fiesta No Va Acabar (This Party Will Not End).
Several high-caliber musicians participate in this high-energy celebration of Latin music. Aside from those already noted above, Latin jazz greats Arturo Sandoval and Pacquito D’Rivera play trumpet and saxophone respectively. The octogenarians, Candido Camero and Israel “Cachao” López aren’t slowing down just yet. Camero bangs on the congas and bongos with vitality, while “Cachao,” the father of the mambo, skillfully plays the bass.
90 Millas is quite simply, the album Gloria Estefan was born to make. And if by chance it’s the last, then, what a way to celebrate!
Conga performance on Dancing With The Stars: click here.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, my posts for the next week or so will be dedicated to Latin music. Some new, some old, and some that’s just gooood!
Join me for some musica caliente y sobrosa…
Raul Malo’s latest solo release, After Hours, takes country classics to a new level, a more upbeat swinging one. The former front man of the successful country group, The Mavericks, has a powerful and soulful voice that transcends the genres he explores: country, Latin, pop, and jazz. Malo can sing anything and make it sound easy. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Raul Malo’s voice has helped fill the void left by the loss of Roy Orbison.
This ten-song collection opens with a slow burning – perhaps in a smoky room – smoldering take on Welcome to My World. Malo’s vocals need very little musical accompaniment here. Muted horns and the piano let him shine on this tune made popular by Jim Reeves. Malo gives You Can Depend On Me and Take These Chains From My Heart straightforward jazz interpretations. Kris Kristofferson’s For The Good Times gets a jazz interpretation as well, but the heartbreak and loss intended by the original remains and feels even stronger with Malo’s laments. The song that comes closest to staying in the genre of country is Roger Miller’s Husbands and Wives because of the pedal steel guitar. It’s quite bold to take on one of country music’s greatest songs already mastered by none other than Ray Charles, but Malo does. And here, he interprets Buck Owens’s Crying Time with great style. A somber clarinet, the upright bass, and a sparse piano arrangement work perfectly on this classic.
The three most up-tempo songs on After Hours prove that not all classic country songs are melancholy. Malo takes Dwight Yoakam’s already upbeat It Only Hurts Me When I Cry even higher with some horns. A little over two-minute, (Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I, popularized by Jim Reeves and Elvis Presley, gets a big band interpretation with horns and piano. This is definitely a track that earns repeated plays. Hank William’s Cold, Cold Heart gets quite a makeover. It’s reworked into a playful 1930s boogie-woogie swing. Certainly, this is the surprise gem of After Hours.
After Hours shows the elegant, more sophisticated side of country music. It’s a well-crafted album of carefully chosen compositions. Raul Malo doesn’t just sing them as they were sung years ago, but rather, gives them a modern day edge to be appreciated by listeners of today, expanding these songs’ appeal. And that’s a wonderful way to honor and emulate these talented songwriters. Hopefully, this album is just the start of more of Raul Malo’s inventive renditions of country classics.
To watch Raul Malo’s extraordinary live performance on CMT, go to the Blogroll on the right and click: Raul Malo Video
Sting has been one of my favorite musicians since his days with The Police, although I become more of a fan of his solo material. Plus, he’s so good-looking… I saw him (barely, because of obstructed view seating) during The Police’s Synchronicity tour, and fell in love with his voice and became somewhat obsessed with him. Although I was not a fan of his orange hair stage, I still loved him from his Every Breath You Take video. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic is one of my favorite songs to this day. I bought all Police albums on vinyl, and played them continuously. I welcomed his first solo effort, Dream of the Blue Turtles, with great excitement. His second album, Nothing Like The Sun is one of my favoite albums of all time. In 1985, I attended my first of five or six of his concerts, the last in 1999. The reason that was the last – I had first row center (less than 10 feet away) and thought that would be a good way to say adios to my obsession. Since then, I’ve discovered some gems (in English and Italian) which he’s contributed to soundtracks and other artists’ albums. Among them, the standards, Someone to Watch Over Me, My One and Only Love, and The Windmills of My Mind. He has a way of incorporating exotic musical forms with intelligent lyrics, along with finding excellent musicians to play on his albums and collaborate with.
Happy 56th Birthday, Sting! You don’t look a day over 49.
For some Sting tunes, go to the Blogroll on the right and click: Sting Songs