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Bio Ritmo

La Verdad

(Electric Cowbell; US: 20 Sep 2011; UK: 19 Sep 2011)

Bio Ritmo Keeps It Real

Twenty years after its formation in Richmond, Virginia, this 10-piece outfit sounds as vibrant and vital as ever. Crossing elements of samba, reggae, cha-cha-cha and other rhythms, the outfit has unleashed one of the most life-affirming albums of the year. It’s ultimately hard to write about a record that reveals itself as easily and perfectly as this one does – it’s virtually wall-to-wall perfection, a series of eight tracks that highlight why this band has outlasted most others and why, this long into its career, it’s still finding new things to say with its passionately defiant style.


The group opens the disc with the titular track, a number that highlights the interplay between the group’s powerful percussion and high, holy horn sections, to say nothing of Rei Alvarez’s unquestionably unique voice. Equally powerful is “Dina’s Mambo”, four minutes of dynamic instrumental ecstasy punctuated sweltering, swaggering horn lines and odd, eerie keyboard convulsions that add to the track’s dizzying delightfulness.


Bio Ritmo has long been a band to defy conventions and La Verdad offers plenty of evidence of that. “Vercuenza” blissfully marries tradition with a few unexpected but subtle touches that allow the track to lunge into multiple musical dimensions with a quiet ferocity. Elsewhere, the band revels in humour via “Majadero”, pays homage to Rafael Cortijo with the impossibly wild “Carnaval”, and takes a moment to revisit its own past with “Lola’s Dilemma”, a 1997 hit for the group.


Although a lot has been made about the group’s sonic diversity – members moonlight in outfits as diverse as the Bolero group Miramar, an all-female Beatles cover outfit called the Girtles, a synth pop unit, and various jazz concerns – the press material for the band hints at influences that range from Stereolab and The Who to El Gran Combo and Roberto Roena. Bio Ritmo certainly need not worry too much about having to establish itself not as a traditional “world music group”. One listen to this release and you’ll know you’re in the presence of something inventive and inexhaustible.


As with so many – but still far too few – bands, the music of Bio Ritmo appeals to a broad range of audiences, whether the traditionalists or the sonic explorers, out to learn more about Latin and world music. The group appears to know this and emerges with an album that appeals directly to those diverse concerns. In rock circles, there would be cries of selling out, but, in this circle, it’s about the most intelligent thing the band could do.


It’s probably easy to guess that Bio Ritmo’s live shows are more powerful than its studio recordings, which is saying a lot because La Verdad captures the power and punch and authentic spontaneity of a live performance without sacrificing any studio polish. La Verdad is a record to fall in love with deeply, wholly, and with the kind of passion Bio Ritmo has clearly placed into the making of it. Here’s to at least another 20 years of a band that never seems to grow old.

Rating:

Jedd Beaudoin is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He holds an MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Wichita State University and hosts Strange Currency six nights week for Wichita Public Radio. His writing has appeared in No Depression and The Crab Orchard Review as well as at websites such as Ytsejam.com and Amazon.com.


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