If the new CD by guitar troublemaker Marc Ribot and his band Los Cubanos Postizos coheres better than the "fake Cubans" eponymous 1997 debut, that's because Atlantic Records originally signed them after they had played just three gigs together. The group's concept of parsing the music of Cuban composer and legendary big-band leader Arsenio Rodriguez originally was intended to be a goof, albeit an inspired one. Muy Divertido! is both more engaging and more divergent than the band's feedback-encrusted premiere, thanks to peppy acoustic passages shaking hands with blaring noise, as well as clever arrangements that manage to create hooks from oddball textures, including Stranger Than Paradise star Eszter Balint's somnambular lead vocal on the disc's opener, "Dame un Cachito."
Although Ribot made his name backing Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and fellow downtown Latin-pop enthusiast Arto Lindsay, for five years he also was a member of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, and that film-noir jazz influence shows. Ribot cloaks Fifties-style Cuban music in layers of ironic detachment, giving us the ersatz nostalgia of cuts like "Lomas de New Jersey," which waxes melancholic for the singer's wish to return to the scented New Jersey hills of his youth, complete with a deadpan voice-over translation of the Spanish-language lyrics. Fueled by the burbling underpinnings of Steve Nieve's electronic organ and the frequently signal-processed percussion of E.J. Rodriguez and Robert J. Rodriguez of the Miami Sound Machine, the band teeters between a love of exotica worthy of Martin Denny and a stone-faced variant on the B-52's.
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Rescuing Muy Divertido! from mere shtick is the conceptual fire that lights the project. Los Cubanos Postizos not only glom onto the lovely melodies of yesterday's mambos, but also the angular rhythms lurking just beneath the surface. Part punk and consistently nightmarish, this group of would-be Cubans plays with as much style and intensity as the genuine article.