“Mambo Sinuendo” – Ry Cooder & Manuel Galbán

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Mambo Sinuendo – Ry Cooder & Manuel Galbán
World Circuit/Nonesuch Records
Release Date: January 28, 2003
Formats: CD, Digital

¡Los Twangueros ride again!

Back in 1997, Ry Cooder hit the paydirt with Buena Vista Social Club, a recording date with Cuba’s legendary folk musicians that continues to make the lists as one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, a Grammy winner, and as a historic event of musical diplomacy enshrined by a Wim Wenders-directed documentary. What made Buena Vista work so well (notwithstanding critical adulation, a Grammy, and 12 million copies sold as of 2015) is how fresh and lively it sounds while evoking past places and times, without resorting to contemporizing production gimmicks. Fast forward to 2003 and “Hurricane Cooder”  (Telegraph) would strike again with Mambo Sinuendo, a rocking, electrifying set of duets with Cuban guitarist Manuel Galbán. Although often overshadowed by Buena Vista, Mambo flows with a stronger evocative vitality through the chemistry between the two headlining guitarists, like the reunion of long lost brothers.

Cooder and Galban co-headline the record, but their playing blends so well into each other that you would think there’s only one guitarist playing! Manuel Galban got his start playing son Cubano, like many of the musicians on Buena Vista Social Club, but went electric after hearing American guitarist Duane Eddy (cue Peter Gunn theme) over the radio in Havana. His style–thick and shimmering R&B riffs with son Cubano’s intricate melodic fingerpicking–meshes so well with Ry Cooder’s playing, not only because of Cooder’s versatility, but because they share that Duane Eddy connection. Much ink has been spilled in singing praises of Cooder’s versatility as an accompanist. But Cooder himself actually knew and played with Eddy, and that gives this set the intimacy of a jam between two long lost friends and bandmates, who never missed a beat. The swinging, flirtatious opener “Drume Negrita” showcases the magic encounter between Galban’s rock-steady riffs and Cooder’s intricate slide guitar, beckoning you to listen on.

The closeness between the two heightens the playfulness and jollity of the record, perfectly suited for the album’s set of pop and Cuban standards from the 50s and 60s. “Monte Adentro” starts with a funky R&B riff and the harmonized vocals of the Commagere sisters, before descending into a raucous trade-off of guitar solos, and the “delightfully cheesy” (BBC) and flirtily playful “Patricia” is sure to make mambo maestro Perez Prado dance in his grave. Even the dramatic “La Luna en Tu Mirada”, a standard from Galban’s old group Los Zafiros, evokes the memories of an old flame on a romantic Havana night with Galban’s deep twang. Mambo Sinuendo knows how to party, but it definitely has a sensitive side on the breathtaking “Secret Love,” with a delicate duet of solo guitars.

Mambo Sinuendo stands above other world music records by showing music as an ongoing creative enterprise, rather than making aural snapshots as most documentary-style records do. Case in point: Mambo’s three original compositions. On the aptly-titled “Los Twangueros,” Cooder shimmers over Galbán’s chugging riffs and the funky rhythms of the congos and bass, while “Bolero Sonámbulo” shows Galban’s son fingerpicking backing up Cooder’s drunken slide guitar. While guitar nuts can salivate over those showcases of technical talent, the title track is a corny and catchy romp that may be the theme of a forgotten 1960s sitcom, variety show, or spy flick. “Mambo Sinuendo” puts one foot in the past, with Herb Alpert’s infectious trumpet, and another in the present, with the phased propulsion of Joachim Cooder’s percussion.

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Manuel Galban performing in Sydney in 2010. Retrieved from The Guardian. (Credits: Graham Denholm/Getty Images.)

When Manuel Galban first entered the studio with Ry Cooder in 2001, their first sessions felt like “almost sleepwalking” (NPR) to Galban (and thus the “Bolero Sonámbulo” was born). Indeed, Mambo Sinuendo feels like a vivid dream–intricately detailed, rooted in memory, and shaped by desire and imagination. The wide palette of moods and colors that these two maestros conjured up and the sheer joy from this meeting of kindred spirits makes Mambo Sinuendo‘s portrait of a bygone time and place compelling and enticing for the summertime, or anytime.

(Available on Nonesuch Records and other music retailers, digital and physical.)
(OH HEY: It’s 99 cents on Google Play!!!! As of press time.)


Related & Recommended:

To get to the roots of Cuba’s mystery guitarist Manuel Galbán, Duane Eddy’s first album, Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar, Will Travel (Jamie, 1958) is a perfect start. The distinctive tone of his guitar and his rocking fusion of country and the blues graced the soundtracks of crime and Western shows, and influenced guitarists such as Dave Davies (The Kinks), Bruce Springsteen, and Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys). Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit/Nonesuch, 1997) offers a detailed portrait of Cuba’s son Cubano music, the root of salsa and mambo. Lastly, Nonesuch also offers a compilation of Los Zafiros’ 1960s hits in Bossa Cubana (World Circuit/Nonesuch, 1999). Manuel Galbán’s first band, Los Zafiros enjoyed a level of popularity in 1960s Cuba that the Beatles enjoyed in the UK and US.

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