Though the songs included in this collection of "Latin Lollipops" (as the title loosely translates) are virtually unknown in the U.S., each is as important to Latin American "pops" orchestras as Leroy Anderson's "The Syncopated Clock" is to the Boston Pops. These colorful light classics travel well, they carry no pretensions, and they work more magic per musical square inch than all the Chant CDs put together. Six composers are represented -- Camargo Gu…rnieri, Ginastera, Revueltas, Carre*o, Plaza, and Moncayo -- and the characters they portray in music include a wandering tadpole and a country bumpkin on his first visit to a big-city opera house (shades of Spike Jones's "Pal-Yat-Chee").
Dorian Recordings is committed to the music of Latin American composers. A 1994 release titled Tango! opened with Astor Piazzolla's Suite Punta del Este, music you will recognize if you've seen the new film 12 Monkeys (not that Universal gave Piazzolla proper credit for it, mind you). Venezuela's Sim centsn Bolivar Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Eduardo Mata on earlier Dorian discs; here, Mata (who was killed in a plane crash last year) is ably replaced by up-and-coming young conductor Maximiano Valdes. Dorian's fidelity is unbelievably lifelike, so play this one loud.
From the Louisiana bayou rises Anders Osborne, a scraggly Viking with a slide guitar, a soul-tinged voice, and a bagful of hooks. At times his brand of boogie harks back to early Allman Brothers, Little Feat, and even Jackson Browne. Tunes such as "Favorite Son" sound mighty familiar, yet sweep you along before you can ponder where you might have heard them before. Behind Osborne's achy-breaky tones, Theresa Andersson's electric violin and gospel-like backing vocals add spice to his surprising and tasty musical gumbo. Osborne himself fuels the fire with everything from mandolin and dobro to mouth harp, kalimba, Hammond B-3, and a Native American drum.
Like G. Love and Special Sauce singer-songwriter Garrett Dutton III, (another youngster on the recently reactivated Okeh label), Osborne flirts with the blues on just about every cut from Which Way to Here, his debut album. But where Love's hip-hop blues is a mere gimmick, Osborne uses the blues as a stepping stone for his genre-crossing songwriting. He even dabbles in country on "Limestone Bay," a lilting waltz that weeps like a classic honky-tonk elegy. Another quiet pleasure is "Don't Leave Me," with Osborne's voice and acoustic guitar tastefully underlined by a haunting violin that seems to stream in from Bob Dylan's Desire. Unfortunately Osborne's lyrics sometimes slip to the level of high school poetry. In "Blame It on a Few," he conjures a cast of romantic down-and-outers, including a troubadour who'll "sing about women and wine so real you can smell that perfume." Ugh.
Although there are some hot muffins here, there are also some half-baked -- or just half-assed -- ideas. "Nothin' On" kicks off with an irresistible New Orleans second-line beat, but bogs down into swampland long before its seven minutes are up. Still, as long as he skirts that kind of quicksand, Osborne's off to an auspicious start.