[17 July 2008]
With their clever marketing and cutely packaged primers, Putamayo are a label purists love to knock. This Cuban roundup may be coming to a coffee shop chekout near you, but the merchandising doesn’t have to obscure the music—there’s some good stuff here. Likwise, the revelation that Hemingway drank in Havana is hardly going to stop the press, but the hefty slab of liner notes are informative enough once they actually get into the music, itself by no means the usual suspects. And who less likely than Meters legend Zigaboo Modeliste? Here he is though, strut-slinking his way through José Cónde’s “El Chacal”, a Miami take on Carlos Puebla’s Hasta Siempre Comandante; no surprise the title translates as “The Jackal”…Rio-based Rene Ferrer sings the sylvan view from Brazil, Afro-Cuban All Star Ignacio “Mazacote” Carrillo does an elegant “Lágrimas Negras” and German Obregón offers “Pincel Campesino”, a patrician-proud guajira firmly in “El Carretero” tradition. But Putamayo knows its market and—Kelvis Ochoa’s skanking “Fue Una de Mambo” aside—even the younger entries ply strictly acoustic variations on old themes, most impressively Edesio Alejandro’s “Morenita”, dated 2006 but as vintage as a habana vieja façade.