Rhett and the Pawn Shop Drunks (Rhett y los Borrachos Empeñados)

During a New Times interview earlier this year ("Ugly Beautiful," January 20), Miami-based Cuban-American rocker Rhett said his first Spanish-language album, which comes after two decades of his performing Anglo rock in three bands (Young Turk, the Butter Club, and now Rhett and the Pawn Shop Drunks), was like taking a well-stocked refrigerator for granted until one day you discovered you had apples.

The Spanish-language disc Entre Dios y el Diablo (Between God and the Devil) contains eleven manzanas -- some sweet and some decidedly sour. The album, which is a little bit world beat and a little bit grunge en español, is a perfect candidate for college radio test marketing. Enhanced with a political conscience and sound bites from DJ Le Spam, the songs "El Negro y la Balsa" ("The Black Guy and the Raft") and "La Virtud de Bicicletas" ("The Virtue of Bicycles") offer a decent sampling of Latin funk/fusion, while tracks like "No Presto Lo Mio" ("I Don't Lend Mine") and "Perdóname" ("Forgive Me") are nicely reminiscent of early Nineties altrock.

The musical arrangements are well harmonized and even offer a touch of Santana-inspired guitar work. And though Rhett's raspy voice generally fits the tone, it does become overly dramatic on songs like "Angeles Perdidos" ("Lost Angels"). It's an approach that's unfortunate and hampers otherwise solid tunes. And in the end, Entre Dios y el Diablo sounds too contrived despite its many strengths. It is what it is: a first attempt at making the crossover from Anglo altrock to Latin fusion. Not a bad attempt, but it could use some fine-tuning.

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Julienne Gage is a Miami-based anthropologist and journalist who has worked as a reporter and as a civil rights and international aid communications specialist in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. Her fieldwork has exposed her to many forms of cultural expression, and during her master’s in anthropology, she studied at Cuba’s Center for the Investigation and Development of Cuban Music.
Contact: Julienne Gage