Album Review #11: Palo Congo by Sabu (1957)

palo-congo-sabu

One of the things that I love about list projects like this one is that they really expand your horizons and make you listen to music that you normally wouldn’t. Palo Congo by Sabu is one such album. I’ll admit, I was pretty much completely unfamiliar with the genre of Latin music, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this album. It sure was a pleasant surprise, though. This album is energetic, catchy, and exciting, with borderline perfect percussion throughout. With five different musicians credited for the album’s conga drums, it’s definitely safe to say that the drums are the centerpiece of the entire record. They’re so good at it that they managed to make an entirely instrumental song featuring nothing but drums an engaging and exhilarating experience. The guitars are great too, and while they only show up on half of the album’s tracks, they still manage to make the most out of the play time they have with their memorable, if repetitive melodies.

The album starts off strong with “El Cumbanchero,” with catchy vocals and guitar, before dropping the guitar for a ridiculously exuberant call-and-response chant in “Billumba-Palo Congo.” In my opinion, one of this album’s strongest points is its ability to carry a song on as little as vocals, conga drums and bongos. The performers are just so talented that they simply require no more. “Simba” is a definite highlight, with a great vocal performance and the usual incredible drum section. “Rhapsodia del Maravilloso” is a mesmerizing improvised jam with guitar and drums that doesn’t overstay its welcome for one second, while “Aggo Elegua” is another chanting song that, while not as good as “Billumba-Palo Congo,” is still a very enjoyable listen. I think the sole track that left me underwhelmed was “Tribilin Cantore,” the album’s closing song. It just doesn’t maintain the energy that the rest of the album has in surplus, and simply feels somewhat lethargic.

Sabu’s Palo Congo is, simply put, a must-listen. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in the genre, give it a chance; I was a complete outsider to Latin music myself, and I absolutely loved it. So give it a listen! You might just enjoy it.

Favorite Tracks: “Billumba-Palo Congo,” “Rhapsodia del Maravilloso,” “Simba”

Least Favorite Track: “Tribilin Cantore”

Next Up: Birth of the Cool by Miles Davis (1957)

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