Home Music Various Artists: Color de Trópico Vol. 2

Various Artists: Color de Trópico Vol. 2

Like its companion volume, the worst thing about Color de Trópico Vol. 2 is that it’s too short. Gathering eight tracks of never-before-reissued Venezuelan music released from 1966 to 1978 in 25 minutes, the material could easily have been added to the 28-minute first volume without breaking a digital sweat. But it’s hard to complain about such a dud-free selection. Compilers El Drágon Criollo and DJ El Palmas have again programmed a consistently entertaining and surprising mixtape that covers a range of styles from salsa to psychedelic soul, and it all sounds seamless.

The first three tracks here are particularly varied, yet each feels like part of a suite that’s both inventive and accessible. Los Kings’ “Empecemos (Let´s Start)” is the apt opener, a funky Fela Kuti cover from 1972, with space-age synths and a beat that sounds like a soulful update of traditional rhythms. With a Santana-esque guitar solo (if not nearly as big) and a farfisa showcase, it sounds like the kind of garage band you imagine would hail from Venezuela, with a homegrown pulse and an arrangement that’s loose but still tight enough to bring the funk. Things get steamier with Nelson y Sus Estrellas’ “Maria La Bella,” a sultry salsa from 1973, while Las Cuatro Monedas shift tones again with their 1969 single “Buena Suerte,” (“Good Luck”), a spirited and perhaps ironic cover of Desmond Dekker’s 1967 smash “007 (Shanty Town).”

That’s three show-stoppers in a little more than nine minutes, and if the album takes a slight retreat from that early peak, it never falls flat and quickly gets back into top form. Orquesta La Playa’s “Negro Soy” opens with a boisterous, laughing vocal that recalls Germán Fernando’s wild “Socorro, Auxilio” from volume one. This is followed by a 180-degree turnaround with Anselmo López’ instrumental “Seis Pajueliao,” a showcase for a wonderful ever-shifting improvisation played on a four-string guitar called the bandola. The performance only lasts 2:40, but you imagine López has the chops to keep that invention going for much longer, bass strings keeping an irresistible pulse as he plucks out a trebly melody, all of which echoes through the bandola’s cavernous hollow body.

As the album nears the end it the party cranks up with La Retreta Mayor, whose “Zambo” was a highlight of volume one. Their “Liquido Elemento” is a terrific Latin-funk-jazz number that sounds like a full-on cop show theme. You can hear the band’s only album in its entirety on YouTube, and the whole thing is worth hearing, the downside being that at barely 23 minutes it’s even shorter than these comps. (One hopes the Barcelona reissue label El Palmas might reissue the whole thing – please?)

The album closes with the discofied hybrid of Grupo Almendra’s “Tutti Frutti”. It’s not a Little Richard cover but a funky hybrid with background singers that coo “Ooh! Ahhh!,” suggesting a more rhythmically complex Silver Convention before a samba break takes the floorshow into the eponymous tropics.

The sporting cover art of each volume gets at the distinction nicely; while volume one feature a boxing match that suited its alternately darting and punching rhythms, the dynamic baseball shot on volume two conveys both the graceful athleticism of these musicians – and, with the runner easily taking home plate, it’s a neat parallel to the playful running of the bases and genres, which all returns to the place where it all started. The compilers write that this series, “illustrates how Venezuelan musicians were searching for their own identity after years of dictatorship and with a new-found prosperity.” These short mixtapes reveals how much that national voice emerges in this vibrant musical diversity. And for those interested in wearing that style on your sleeve (or head), El Palmas also sells sunglasses.

Summary
This consistently entertaining and surprising mixtape covers a range of styles from salsa to psychedelic soul, and it all sounds seamless.
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