Album Review #15: Dance Mania by Tito Puente and His Orchestra (1958)

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I enjoyed this album greatly. As the third album of Latin music in the last five albums I’ve reviewed, you’d think the genre would start getting tired by now. But, as I’ve learned, Latin music is a vast umbrella for countless incredible genres of music, of which there are simply too many to list. It’s a massive, fascinating world of music, and albums like Dance Mania by Tito Puente and His Orchestra are the cream of that world’s crop.

A trend I’ve noticed: in both Palo Congo and Kenya, my favorite part was the percussion. That holds true with this one. The drums are just so excited and interesting that they carry the music on their rhythm alone. This is music you need to move your feet to. Every song is pulsating with liveliness, and does every damned thing in its power to put a smile on your face. The record’s opener, “El Cayuco,” and the instrumental “3-D Mambo” are the album’s best two tracks, in my opinion. Every element of the jazz orchestra collaborates perfectly, creating an almost ridiculously cheerful musical blend that never loses its appeal even after multiple repeat listens.

Dance Mania by Tito Puente and His Orchestra is a truly enjoyable album. Usually I find that albums lose their luster after about 4-5 listens, but this one just never loses its sheen. It’s an excellent listen, filled with catchy rhythms and cheery melodies that almost anyone would find irresistible. Listen to this one: you might just like it.

Favorite Tracks: “El Cayuco,” “3-D Mambo,” “Cuando te Vea (Guáguanco)”

Next Up: Lady in Satin by Billie Holiday (1958)

Album Review #13: Kenya by Machito (1957)

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Kenya by Machito is one of my favorite records of the list so far. Explosive and exciting all of the way through, it really is one of those albums that I struggle to find anything I dislike about it. It remains fully enjoyable and engaging even after multiple repeat listens, and of the thirteen albums I’ve reviewed so far, this one is definitely my favorite.

There honestly isn’t a single track on this album that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, but even then a few were definite highlights. “Wild Jungle” is probably my favorite out of its twelve tracks. It kicks the album off in a hyper-energetic frenzy that’s almost impossible to sit still to. My second favorite track has to be “Conversation,” with a ridiculously catchy and dance-able melody that’s so good it manages to carry the whole song. The entire album retains the excellence of these two tracks, though, so picking highlights is almost pointless.

So, if you’ve never heard this album before, you absolutely should. While In the Wee Small Hours still tops my rankings, this one’s a definite #2. This one gets my biggest recommendation.

Favorite Tracks: “Wild Jungle,” “Conversation”

Least Favorite Track: Uhh… I got nothing.

Next Up: Here’s Little Richard by Little Richard (1957)

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

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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)