Album: Mambo Sinuendo

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Album:

Mambo Sinuendo

Artist: Ry Cooder, Manuel Galbán
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Label: Nonesuch

If there’s a certain instant familiarity to this collaborative celebration between U.S. guitar icon/musicologist Ry Cooder and Cuban fret legend Manuel Galbán, it’s only testimony to how deeply the island nation’s rich musical heritage permeated American pop music in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and beyond. Cooder and Galbán (a key compatriot in the American guitarist’s Buena Vista Social Club project) invent a back-to-the-future sound—twin guitars fronting a Cuban rhythm section of two drum kits, congas, and bass—whose dreamy swing quotient is matched only by its…

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If there’s a certain instant familiarity to this collaborative celebration between U.S. guitar icon/musicologist Ry Cooder and Cuban fret legend Manuel Galbán, it’s only testimony to how deeply the island nation’s rich musical heritage permeated American pop music in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and beyond. Cooder and Galbán (a key compatriot in the American guitarist’s Buena Vista Social Club project) invent a back-to-the-future sound—twin guitars fronting a Cuban rhythm section of two drum kits, congas, and bass—whose dreamy swing quotient is matched only by its sense of mirthful abandon. Thus tracks like “Dru Me Negrita” and “Los Twangueros” manage to evoke everything from Link Wray, Duane Eddy, and the Ventures to Mancini and Esquivel, while Cooder and Galbán twirl a standard like “Patricia” and the nervy title track around dueling poles of tradition and experimentation with deceptive grace. It’s joyous, mercurial stuff that the two musicians conjure at their fingertips. —Jerry McCulley

Ever in pursuit of Americana beyond the mainstream (and generally from a southerly direction), guitarist Ry Cooder teams up in Mambo Sinuendo with legendary Cuban guitarist Manuel Galban. The session was inspired by the marriage of mambo and American pop that was spawned by Cuban composer Perez Prado in the 1950s, but Cooder and Galban seek a fresh perspective by setting the style for electric guitars. There are actually powerful reminders here of Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos (1998) in which guitarist Marc Ribot paid tribute to veteran Cuban composer Arsenio Rodriguez. So, the sound may not be that novel, but by mixing the crisp, glassy tones of Fender Stratocasters with heavy mambo rhythms, Cooder and Galban produce an atmospheric evocation of the hazy intersection between north and south America.

Cooder and Galban are technically far less ambitious than Ribot, and the guitar playing, like the album as a whole, has a rough, untutored feel. This may be contrived—Cooder and Galban have been at the guitar for many years—but the sense of amateurism adds to the folksy atmosphere and, effortful or not, they produce much attractive playing. Among the highlights are some shimmering false harmonic work on “Dru Me Negrita” and some barking chord fills on “Patricia” that recall Django Reinhardt at his most visceral. The band (also featuring Jim Keltner, Orlando “Cachaito” López, Joachim Cooder and Angá Diaz) builds up an exciting head of steam on the highlife-flavoured “Monte A Dentro”, even if the track fades just as it should intensify. In fact, if the album has any shortcoming, it is a tendency occasionally to under-develop its material.

The cynical may suspect Cooder’s motives in following his mega-selling Buena Vista Social Club with another Cuban-based album. But his fascination with southern flavours long predates Buena Vista and the cultural tourism that surrounded it. Mambo Sinuendo may safely be seen as another successful episode in an organically evolving career. —Mark Gilbert

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