Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca

  • Mambo Yo Yo [Putumayo World Music, 1998] *
  • Sao Salvador [Putumayo Artists, 2000] **
  • Isabela [Mopiato Music, 2007] A-
  • Retrospectiva [Mopiato Music, 2009] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Mambo Yo Yo [Putumayo World Music, 1998]
Californian Afro-salsa, sweet and mild ("Mambo Yo Yo," "No Me Engañes Más") *

Sao Salvador [Putumayo Artists, 2000]
Diasporan pansalsa, the next level-meaning ready for the cruise ships and good clean fun ("Boom Boom Tarará," "Ave Maria [Por Dios]"). **

Isabela [Mopiato Music, 2007]
The Angola-born, L.A.-based salsero-by-default has always been a trifle polite, but on this careful tour de force, he makes politesse an active virtue. In five different non-English languages he invites cousin after cousin into the extended family--from boogaloo to rumba, bolero to son--and defines the groove they share with his own contained dynamics. Far from jarring against each other, the styles barely even seem to segue, shifting like the themes and moods on a well-sung album of quality love songs. Two exceedingly well-spoken female singers, one of them usually a bore, chip in on duets. They groove too. A-

Retrospectiva [Mopiato Music, 2009]
The ineffable grace of Isabela never takes over here--some tracks are too poky, others too punchy. Nevertheless, this collection of reconceived Lemvo warhorses suggests that Isabela was a turning point. What was once a likable, entertaining world-music pastiche has coalesced into a fully realized pan-rumba. I didn't say pan-salsa, now--the brass isn't obstreperous enough. My Puerto Rican nephew tells me that sometimes Lemvo's clave is off. That could be part of his charm. A-