You know why I love the music of the 60’s? Because the record companies had no formulas for success. Anything that could grab an audience was recorded and pressed, and the public, not publicity, made the stars. A great example is the truly unique sound of José Feliciano.
Start with a blind Puerto Rican flamenco guitarist who sings with a soulful jazzy style, backing by lilting latin percussion. Not so odd yet. But throw in a repertoire of pop standards. It’s been done. But not these pop standards: Beatles, Doors, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Mamas and the Papas! It all adds up to a mellow, groovy good time.
”Light My Fire” was a big hit, with its smoldering tempo and bedroom-eyed delivery making the lyric into a seduction rather than a revolution. The scatting at the end is a bit much, but otherwise it’s sexy as can be. The instrumental take on “And I Love Her” proves that without the dippy lyrics, the moody melody is powerful. “In My Life” gets another mellow groove which suits the wistful lyric.
Other highlights are “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me” which benefits from Ray Brown’s elastic bass playing, and “The Last Thing on My Mind”, with a glowering string arrangement that works with Feliciano’s vocal to project a deep sadness.
Feliciano too often gets carried away (does he have to proclaim “I love California!” in “California Dreamin’”?), but when he’s in the groove, it’s a delightful marriage of the mellow side of latin music and some of the best pop songs of the sixties. A must for fans of either genre.
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