Los Piojos

It isn't news that Delanuca (the independent label owned by Miami-based distributor DLN) has been releasing some of the best Latin alternative discs in the past two years. Classics, newcomers, obscure, local and international, good or bad, it doesn't matter -- if DLN can get hold of it, it does. This year, DLN's quixotic spirit began to pay off with five deserved nominations for Latin Grammys. But the simultaneous release of the last two albums by Los Piojos might be the label/distributor's most historically significant risk yet.

Los Piojos (the Lice), one of the most popular Argentine bands of the Nineties, appeared to be in a slump after the lackluster Azul (1998) and the departure of drummer Daniel Buira, who was the band's connection to the Afro-Uruguayan candombe rhythm (not to be confused with the Brazilian candomblé, please) and the murga, a Spanish-influenced vocal and rhythmic style that developed in Uruguay but enjoyed a parallel life in Buenos Aires. As in the case of Bersuit, another major institution of the hybrid between rocanrol and ethnic rhythms from the Río de la Plata (the river that separates -- and unites -- Uruguay and Argentina), Los Piojos' love for candombe has its roots in the tiny Uruguayan neighbor -- while Bersuit is into the more cutting-edge Jaime Roos, Los Piojos are more into the Negro-pop of Rubén Rada. But when it comes to murga, Los Piojos prefer the Argentine freeform murga, rather than the Uruguayan orthodoxy favored by Bersuit. Ritual, a powerful live performance, is the last recorded document of Buira's days with the band. Except for disposable, crowd-pleasing, needless covers of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around," the Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock and Roll," and Carl Perkins's "Blue Suede Shoes" (the latter based on a better Spanish version by Argentine rock legend Moris), Ritual is a strong must for both fans and newcomers.

Los Piojos were always at their best live, and the album's groovy, street-flavored tour de force reaches chilling effects with the crowd's greeting to Diego Maradona, the soccer star for whom the hit "Maradó" was written. Before and after Maradona thanks the band onstage for the song because "We all need affection," the thunderous chorus of "Maradoooooo, Maradooooo!!" is the highlight of a great album, a deserved tribute to the man who, flaws and all, is the true historical source of happiness and pride for all Argentines. Evita who?

But Los Piojos was always, first and foremost, a rock band. It just happened to delve into ethnic routes, mostly due to Buira's influence. The question was whether singer/producer Andrés Ciro Martínez would take the band into his own turf or continue Los Piojos as we know it. The answer was an album named Verde Paisaje del Infierno (Green Landscape of Hell) that suggests the Lice are alive and in good form. A little subtler, but still itching. The murga is felt only on the bass, not in the percussion and choruses ("San Jauretche," an epic homage to Argentine nationalistic thinker Arturo Jauretche), and the chacarera (a rural type of local folk) is written into a power ballad that ranks among the best songs Los Piojos ever wrote ("Fijate"). Besides the mostly solid material, Verde ... is the most guitar-oriented album in the band's career. His Majesty Ricardo Mollo, leader of Divididos (Argentina's most powerful trio), took care of all the strings, and the band excels both in softness ("La Luna y La Cabra"/"The Moon and the She-Goat") and rock ("My Babe," a sample of what Ratones Paranoicos should have done instead of becoming the Stones). Curiously enough, next for Los Piojos is yet another live album. "Why not?" says Martínez. "It will have the new drummer and the songs from [Verde ...]." Huracanes en Luna Plateada (a title made up of place names: Huracán, Luna Park, and Mar del Plata, two venues and a city in which the album was recorded) is a limited edition, twenty-song double CD. No need to do that, but it's been many years since Los Piojos earned the right to do as they damn please.


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