Reviews

Charanga Cakewalk

Michael Ramos, the Austin, Texas musician who records as Charanga Cakewalk, grew up bilingual and bicultural and made a name for himself as a sideman playing with John Mellencamp, Paul Simon, and Patty Griffin. As a young man, he turned away from his Latino heritage to pursue rock, but when he began dabbling in the studio as Charanga Cakewalk, he rejected musical borders and fashioned an inclusive sound that references everything that has ever caught his ear. Flamenco, ska, cumbia, garage band rock, and folk music rub up against sampled beats to create a soothing Pan-American brand of electronica.

The title track kicks things off with a catchy organ line. "Gloria" is a Tex-Mex accordion romp accented by some flamenco guitar runs and inventive percussion loops. "No Soy Feliz," an old José Feliciano tune, gets a makeover as a smoldering duet featuring Tejano legend Ruben Ramos and Patty Griffin. Martha Gonzalez of L.A.'s Quetzal adds her vocals to "Vida Mágica," a relaxed Latin house track that celebrates the simple pleasures of life. The set closes with "El Ballad de José Campos Torres." The music blends hallucinogenic keyboards, dark guitar textures, and a funereal Latin backbeat to pay tribute to a young man killed by police in 1976.

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J. Poet