Tuesday, February 21, 2006

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Rolas De Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement CD (Smithsonian Folkways)
This was my favourite album of 2005. Go figure that one out. It came as a complete surprise to me, too. I mean, a compilation featuring "songs of struggle, hope and vision (which) fueled the Chicano Movement's quest for civil rights, economic justice and cultural respect"? Sounds like something of potential interest, much like that whacky LP box set of Mexican Revolutionary Songs on Folklyric I have hanging around here somewhere, but not necessarily a Top 10-er. Well, throw not a single dud in the mix, a fancy package w/ a 40-page booklet and 19 tracks of gold recorded between the years 1966 and 1999, and you've got a winner on your hands.

There's only one name here you'll recognise, that's Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, who eventually mutated into Los Lobos (and started life gigging w/ many an LA punker), but the rest, sans the informative liner notes, would otherwise remain a complete mystery. Mainly folksy, some of it lo-fi, much of it Mariachi-flavoured, it's a disc I've had on heavy repeat for the last 10 months. There's two knockouts here which put it in first place: firstly there's Los Alacranes Mojados' "Chicano Park Samba", a 6+ minute number which brings to mind no-one else but the Minutemen ca. 3-Way Tie (I am one for drawing long bows, yes, though my wife actually thought this track was the Minutemen, so I guess I've kept reality in check here), especially so in the D. Boon-ish guitar strumming and that chorus "Under the briiidge" which floats around my head long after it finishes; secondly is the song which kills me, and yet what kills me more is the fact that I cannot find a single word or reference to the guy anywhere on the web. It's "Vietnam Veterano" by Al Reyes. Reyes is/was an award-winning journalist and musician who released an LP in 1983 by the name of California Corazon. That is all I can tell you. The song in question, over eight minutes in duration, collages his simple acoustic guitar and softly-spoken vocals with a plethora of sound effects: helicopters, gunfire, TV commentary. The result is surreal, somewhat like a combination of soaring, late '60s Tim Buckley and Cul de Sac's unique, collaged and sampled take on John Fahey's "The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California" from their epochal ECIM CD (a reference which probably falls flat, but if anyone remembers it...). I've played this to friends and they've either all been too polite and accommodating to offend me or they've told the truth: it's a knockout from start to finish.

Just like this CD as a whole. If you buy but one CD documenting the trials and tribulations of the American Chicano movement this year, make it this one. Nice work. Hunt it down.

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