Señor Coconut and his Orchestra

Fiesta Songs (Emperor Norton)

On the surface Fiesta Songscovers a diverse selection of popular songs with a Latin flair. In the hands of Señor Coconut and his Orchestra, Michael Jackson's "Beat It" goes merengue, New Age progenitor Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygene (Part II)" does the mambo, and Sade's "Smooth Operator" is performed over a little cha cha cha. It takes a strong band to pull off such radical interpretations well -- which Señor Coconut does. Its most clearly audible star is singer Argenis Brito, who displays a palette of moods throughout and projects buttery smoothness with every vocal. He sounds as if he's laughing while singing Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," but then seems utterly genuine when taking on Elton John's "Blue Eyes," which finds him at his most emotive and least gimmicky (even though the pop ballad is refashioned into a bolero).

But there's also a behind-the-scenes star on Fiesta Songs doing more than might be initially evident. It's the mysterious Señor Coconut, the alter-ego of prolific German electronic music producer Uwe Schmidt. He has recorded under dozens of aliases, with varying styles to match, most popularly as Lassigue Bendthaus in the early industrial music era and Atom Heart in the more recent ambient age [he now goes by Atom(tm)].

The Señor Coconut project, however, is Schmidt's most substantial experience to date in working with a group of musicians. He avoids making cringeworthy choices at every turn, from selecting the right song to choosing an appropriate style for covers. He reins in the eight-person orchestra (most of whom are European) with a masterstroke of his Macintosh G4, mixing subtle electronic noises and effects into the framework. The producer also wrote three original compositions for Fiesta Songs ("El Rey de las Galletas," "Las Maracas de Machin," "Electrolatino"); they seamlessly blend in with the other selections, neatly showcasing his overall songwriting skills.

Fiesta Songs is the rare selection that will liven up any holiday party, from the most mainstream to the more irreverent and edgy. Though it's a fun novelty affair, paying attention to its minute details will reveal a quiet subversive quality as a musical chameleon displays his most brilliant colors.

 
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