La Santa Cecilia’s new self-titled mini-album opens with a techno-disco-pop extravaganza and closes it with a low-down blues classic. In between, the Grammy-winning Los Angeles band presents songs that touch on their collective Mexican/Nicaraguan/Venezuelan/U.S. heritage and comment on topics both timeless (loss and mourning) and timely (the ubiquity of social media). The powerful voice of lead singer La Marisoul ties the varied threads together in a way that should satisfy longtime fans and bring more on board.
Named after the patron saint of musicians, La Santa Cecilia are Jose ‘Pepe’ Carlos, accordion and requinto; Alex Bendaña, bass; Miquel ‘Oso’ Ramirez, percussion; and La Marisoul, vocals. The band released their debut album, Noche y Citas in 2011, and won the Best Latin Rock Album Grammy for 2013’s Treinta Dias. In addition to their original songs, La Santa Cecilia have offered unique interpretations of songs as varied as “Tainted Love” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, creating a faithful fan base in the process.
Depending on your frame of reference, “Always Together” might remind you of a classic Miami Sound Machine ’80s hit, a light and airy Donna Summer disco hit, a string-enhanced Philly soul classic, or some combination of all of the above. Riding a solid dance beat, La Marisoul sings of long-term romantic commitment and the power of getting out there for a drink and a dance as a means of sticking together. That is good advice, nicely delivered.
The album’s second track, “Dream”, returns La Santa Cecilia to their Latin American roots with a bit of a hip-hop beat and a string section that enhances the drama of La Marisoul’s vocal. “A Thousand Times” is a rootsy highlight, fueled by some soulful accordion and organ interplay.
Soulful ballad, “I’ve Been Thinking”, is the ‘Wow, I wish I could hear Otis Redding sing this’ moment of La Santa Cecilia. On the surface, “I’ve Been Thinking” can be heard as a break-up ballad. But the song gains gravitas with the knowledge that three members of La Santa Cecilia have lost their fathers over the past year.
“I’ve Been Thinking” is followed by “Winning”, the oddest track on La Santa Cecilia. “Winning” is a song about too much information, in the long tradition of songs about too much information that includes, but is not limited to, everything from “One Week” (Barenaked Ladies) to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (Billy Joel) to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (Bob Dylan) to “Too Much Monkey Business” (Chuck Berry), and, of course, two different songs called “Too Much Information” (the Police and Duran Duran).
“Winning” alternates between La Marisoul riffing on whatever is popping up on her newsfeed over minimalistic music (“Swipe Up for exclusive content…hashtag: winning”) with a totally ’80s power pop section. “I can’t find no inspiration / Never-ending information / Always stuck in purgatory / ‘Cause I’m addicted to your story.” “Winning” is timely, if not necessarily timeless. Throw it in time capsules memorializing 2019 to give future generations something to be confused by/contemplate.
“Play Your Game”, another dramatic ballad, follows “Winning” before La Santa Cecilia finish with a cover of the classic blues song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. Popularized for rock fans by Eric Clapton – both on his hit Unplugged album in the 1990s, and the classic Derek and the Dominoes record two decades earlier – “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” was a hit for blues queen Bessie Smith in 1929. Backed by the California Feetwarmers, a band that specializes in ragtime and early swing, La Marisoul brings La Santa Cecilia to a rousing close with a lusty vocal that sounds like it ought to be emanating from a scratchy 78 rpm record and not a digital music stream.