Los Super Seven ‘Los Super Seven’ / ‘Canto’ 2CD (Floating World) 5/5

Go back in time to 1997 and world roots music was about to witness a major new phenomenon with the advent of the Buena Vista Social Club, a collective of veteran Cuban musicians. What is less known is that just a year later, in Austin, Texas, a jam session between Mexican roots or Tejano music, and U.S. country-folk musicians took place at a local festival. Inspired by the example of the Cuban musicians, the notion of creating a group of seven musicians plus additional instrumentalists was thus born: Los Super Seven. Two separate albums were recorded in 1998 and 2001 respectively with differing line-ups and sounds, and these are both handily contained in this fine re-issue. Anyone who thinks that Texas and Mexico are not culturally linked by an umibilical cord ought to listen carefully because from a musical perspective, these various styles blend with the greatest of ease.

The first of these albums and self-titled, focuses more on the relationship between Mexican roots music and that of its cousin just across the border in Texas. Some of the key musicians of the era are on board including the late Freddy Fender on vocals, Los Lobos vocalist and guitarist, David Hidalgo along with fellow band member, Cesar Rosas, accordionist extraordinaire, Flaco Jiménez, Flatlanders vocalist Joe Ely, guitarist and vocalist Rick Treviño and ‘El gato negro’, Ruben Ramos on vocals. The sound is pared down roots music, with strong and extremely catchy vocal harmonies. A traditional number, ‘El Canoero’, features both accordion and Latin vamp on piano with beautiful vocal harmonies and hand claps. The feel good factor is definitely there from the outset. In a slightly more percussive vein, ‘Un beso al viento’, is a winner of a tune. In general, this first albums shares similarities with the wonderful album that Linda Ronstadt recorded devoted to the songs of her childhood, ‘Canciones de mis padres’, and the emotional delivery of Fender makes this experience all the more enjoyable. A personal favourite is ‘La Morena’ (Dark skinned girl).

By the second album, the Buena Vista collective had gone truly global and this may well have informed the new line-up and sound, which explores both the Mexican and Cuban traditional songbook, and there are indeed close connections with several Cuban musicians residing in Mexico City at one time or another ans these included the likes of Celia Cruz and Perez Prado. In fact, the sound of the second album has more of a pan-Latin American feel which is not at all surprising when guest vocalists of the calibre of Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca and Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso are invited. Baca impresses on the sparse, slow-paced ‘Drumi Mobila (aka Drume mobila)’, which has lovely jazz inflections on piano, bass and guitar and that jazz meets Cuban roots continues on a pared down percussive accompaniment to the staple Ernesto Lecuona number,’ Siboney’. Uptempo Cuban influences abound on ‘Me voy pa’l pueblo’ and on ‘El que siembra su maiz’, the latter notable for a stunning percussion breakdown. That said, the emphasis, as with the first album, is still firmly on showcasing the roots of the music and that is beautifully illustrated on the rustic sounding interpretation of a classic Nico Saquito (Cuban singer-songwriter of repute) composition, ‘Compay Gato’. A staccato rhythm to the English language sung, ‘Teresa’, works extremely well. The jewel in the crown, however, comes in the two songs delivered in Portuguese by Veloso. His early 1980s song, ‘Qualquer Cosa’, has new life breathed into it, with the original trumpet replaced by acoustic bass and guitar. The psychedelic late 1960s masterpiece, ‘Baby’, is given an acoustic makeover here with a more pared down feel and the use of just guitar and percussion. Long overdue to be re-issued in the UK, this is a fine exploration of Mexican music and related roots music, and as such it comes highly recommended. Full discographical details that include extensive sleeves notes on how the project came about.

Tim Stenhouse