The Upshot: So upbeat and infectious that even if you don’t understand the Spanish vocals you’ll find no barrier to enjoyment.
BY FRED MILLS
Okay, rock ‘n roll fans, how about some traditional Latin roots music incorporating elements of hip-hop, indie rock and jazz as well as world music from Africa, Eastern Europe and South America—AND a Spanish-language version of the Beatles’ Abbey Road gem “Because,” rendered as a kind of sensual bolero ballad rather than the dreamy psych of the original while still retaining the signature lush vocal harmonies?
Meet Texas dectet Grupo Fantasma—which yours truly saw once upon a time in Austin, during the annual SXSW fest, and was totally, thoroughly, permanently blown away by the combined intensity and sensuality of the group’s prevailing multi-culti aesthetic. Problemas, their fifth full-length, is particularly noteworthy by virtue of producer (and Los Lobos member) Steve Berlin, and the alliance is apt. With a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on in the low-end department (the better to fonk you with, my dear; it’s all about that bass), the group serves up everything from swingin’ big band Afro-Puerto Rican bomba (“Mulato”) to rousing staccato-horns salsa with a side of island guitar (“Problemas”) to sinewy Nuyorican-styled bugalú (“Cayuco”) that suggests a summit between Mongo Santamaria and—check the guitar solo—Santana.
Elsewhere one encounters elements of mambo, south-of-the-border cumbia, New Orleans funk, Peruvian chicha and more. It’s all so upbeat and infectious the fact that you might not be able understand what they’re singing is no barrier to enjoyment. “Ghost group” (which is what Grupo Fantasma translates as), my ass: these guys are as earthy and visceral as pretty much any American roots-rock outfit currently going. The music will still haunt ya, though, and that’s definitely no problemas, eh?
DOWNLOAD: “Porque” (the aforementioned Beatles cover), “Mulato,” “Cayuco”