Thursday, January 07, 2010
It wasn't a good year for recorded timba. This isn't really surprising, as 2008 produced a bumper crop (Pupy, Azucar Negra, Klimax, Salsa Mayor) and few bands release an album each year, so it makes sense that the following year would be a quiet one.
However three albums were so good they filled the void by making me press "play" over and over again. I'm using this as the criteria as I don't think you can argue with hours played. You might think an album deserves a spot at the top because the band has previously released good material or whatever, but if you didn't play the album; if you didn't want to listen to it, and enjoy it, then I don't think that's an accurate reflection of its status.
So here are my most played timba albums of 2009.
Havana D'Primera's Haciendo historia, which I was lucky enough to have had since the middle of last year and was finally officially released in June of this year, proved a stayer. I don't have much more to add to the preview I wrote in February of last year. And if you're reading this blog and you don't have it, I advise you to get it, post-haste. It's not just one of the best releases of the year, but one of the best of the decade.
The other two albums on constant iPod rotation were both from Sweden: La Tremenda's self-titled debut, and Calle Real's follow-up to Con fuerza, Me le gané. (And can I say while they are two of the best albums of the year, they both have two of the worst covers of the year.)
I am always late to the Calle Real party: after they released their debut, it took me ages to appreciate Princesa for the exciting, multi-faceted dance track that it was; and it took me months to get into Me lo gané, the opening track, Somos familia aside. This last is a no-brainer: a salsa-disco fusion with soaring strings that can enliven the most sluggish dance floor.
The rest though, all seemed to share a sameyness that I initally found difficult to penetrate - for a long time I couldn't tell one from another, and the measured pace of the majority didn't inspire.
Other timberos had been smitten, but the songs they recommended weren't sucking me in. Finally the odd coro surreptitiously snuck in - first from the last track Loco, then Los dos sabemos, with its gorgeous closing strings, and dashing coro "solo con tu mirada tú me enamoras otra vez".
And I realised that they are all finely crafted tracks, the majority of which have low-key starts that build to a strong finish. They have intricate arrangements that weave in and out through bombas and bloques, fine horn parts and catchy coros. Calle Real also have a very good singer in Thomas Sebastian Eby, who has a soulful voice and good phrasing.
This is an excellent timba album. Other recommended tracks: Me lo gané, Mi melodía, Jugando Supermario Bros.
Sweden's other killer album was the La Tremenda album - if I was late to the Calle Real party, I was one of the first to this one, and I sometimes feel like I'm still waiting for others to show up. There is no doubt this is timba, but it's got a kind of sello you don't often hear. The nearest comparison is Klimax and yet it doesn't sound like Klimax at all. I still love it (played it yesterday as I was walking home in fact). My lengthy review is here. I wouldn't add much more except to say that the songs generally go down well on the dance floor, which is pleasing: it's always nice when something I love gets people moving.
I have to give a mention to Alaín Daniel's Vestigios as well. It had a few naff tracks that I never played, but a few that were on high rotation for a while (Esa mujer, Marginal, Un loco enamora'o). Part of the problem with his album is that it took so long to come out (it was recorded in '97!) that I'd already played some of the songs to death as demos (La niña le canta la calle, Se pegan). My review is here.
To round it out and make it a top 5, I'm going to cheat a little bit and put in Azúcar Negra's Exceso de equipaje. It came out in December'08, so it's not too far out, and it was an album that I had songs I kept returning to in '09. Add the lively Estres to the list of songs I namechecked in my review.
Tunbao Havana's Mambo duro, which finally came out but seems to be available at only a couple of obscure places, contains just a few delights for me: the great dance track Padrino, the paean to Cuba featuring Alexander Abreu on vocals and trumpet, Familia Cubana, and the title cut, with its slow change. Probably the most heartening aspect of the album for me is their excellent singer - reminiscent of the AWOL Michel Maza. Don't know his name but I'm looking forward to hearing more from him.
No love for Van Van's Arrasando, you ask? I played it briefly when it was new. I loved Yeni's Este amor que se muere; had a brief flirtation with Mayito's La rumba no está completa, and continued to enjoy Lele's Me mantengo (the demo), which I think is the stand-out. The others failed to make an impression, or made the wrong one: Un tumbao pa los is a great song marred by a wince-inducing vocal.
I loved Chapeando, so I'm looking forward to seeing what the Formells do next.
Posted by Yemaya at 9:14 am