EDGY THEMES OF shattered relationships, emotional desperation and longing haunt the 12 tracks on this debut release. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing here that's going to throw a downer on the party--quite the contrary, this record rocks with all the dynamics of a tornado ripping across the Texas panhandle. Acoustic and electric guitars and solid drumming flesh out details from the ashes of love, shifting from gentle country licks to full-on rolling thunder. Joey Pena's vocal delivery embodies a raw, genuine passion, ranging from a soft, crooning growl to a primal shout. The title track "Freaks" is a knockout, making me wonder why the major labels are spending so much time in the Phoenix area.
YOU WANT FUNKY? Legend has it l'il Johnny Spencer's mom got impregnated behind the bandstand at a James Brown concert. This expensive, obscure, well-recorded import captures the Explo in full flight at L.A.'s Whiskey on January 4, 1995. The low, minimalist groove of "Soul Typecast" spills over into a controlled skronk explosion near song's end but settles casually back into place just in time. "Mo Chicken" is an hilarious but tightly wound instrumental raveup as sleek and skunky, sonically speaking, as an old Yardbirds jam. And while the dissonant riffing of "Greyhound" may sound to the untrained ear like postpunk noodling, the precise drumming and signature vocal exhortations (Elvis does Capt. Beefheart) reveals a well-rehearsed ensemble. Boss Hog fans beware: Christina struts on for the encore and whips the boys all the way down to her S&M dungeon.
Las Manos De Oro
PUERTO RICAN MUSIC is great if you play the trumpet or timbales, but stringed instrumentalists have less available as a means of connection with the style. The under-recorded Yomo Toro, though, rips through his country's traditional music on a 10-string instrument called a cuatro, flashing chops that will be of interest to fans of both the mandolin and jazz guitar. "Three Minus Two" is reminiscent of Django Reinhardt, and the rest will sit well with those who prefer more Latin authenticity than they find in the Gypsy Kings. Several previous albums, now out of print, flaunted Toro's dazzling playing better than this disc does, but listeners will not be disappointed with what they find here.
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