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Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Salsa Gold

(World Music Network; US: 29 Jul 2008; UK: 28 Jul 2008)

Salsa is a taste you may have missed back in the day.

When most folks think of ‘70s music, perhaps disco is the first style that comes to mind. Lord knows every dude wanted John Travolta’s feathered hair and Angel Flight white pants. And what about one of those disco floors that lit up with an endless supply of color blocks when you danced on it? That is an obvious ‘70s musical stereotype.


Then there were those that discovered the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Ramones before everyone else on their block. They had safety pins and a thousand little buttons all over their leather jackets before many of the moms and dads knew what was happening. Early punk was certainly one of the cooler ‘70s movements. There was also the AOR FM rock era. How can we forget—no matter how hard we try—all those corporate rock bands, like Styx and Foreigner? Many of these acts are still touring today, albeit with few original members and very little original hair.


At the same time that all these obvious music trends were bursting out into the mainstream, however, many other worthy styles were bubbling under the surface. The ‘70s were also wonderful days for world musics. Just ask any reggae enthusiast about that decade’s sounds. The world was just discovering Bob Marley, but also Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, and so many others. Alongside reggae, salsa was going through a particularly strong growth spurt, and The Rough Guide to Salsa Gold documents some of this style’s highlights of the era. Sadly, much like reggae’s sparse inroads over the years, this salsa style was mostly incorporated into other genres, rather than gaining fans of the straight stuff alone. If you listen to some of the first disco music, for instance, there are distinct salsa markings on many of these songs. That’s why few of the 14 artists represented on this compilation are familiar names.
   
It’s too bad authentic salsa didn’t beat out disco to become the reigning dance music of the day. Disco, as you may recall, had a rigid 4/4 beat. That’s why you could take everything from the Star Wars theme to Beethoven’s “5th Symphony” and transform them into a catchy nightclub do-the-hustle ditty. After a while, however, everything started to sound the same, and more than a little robotic. Not so with salsa.


The various percussion instruments driving these hot-stepping tunes range from the pounding of multiple drums to the shaking of maracas and other things. The joke about disco lyrics at the time was that many of them were written on cocktail napkins during lunch breaks. It was all about the mighty dance groove anyway, so who needed words? But these salsa tracks are thought-through songs fueled by romantic passion, not cocaine binges. And best of all are the horn arrangements. The ‘70s may have given us jazz-lite rock groups, like Chicago, which was touted for its horn-accented pop tunes. But this compilation boasts big, bold, beautiful brass parts that will blow you away.
   
The Rough Guide to Salsa Gold offers a great way to dig into one of salsa music’s heydays. Unless you were one of the few who caught the original wave the first time around, much of this music will be new to you. But as your high school teachers may have told class procrastinators a time or two, better late than never. Ah, but better never late.

Rating:

Dan MacIntosh is a freelance writer from Bellflower, California,


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