Monday, March 13, 2006

Zemog El Gallo Bueno - Cama de la Conga

Zemog El Gallo Bueno has an odd name, but an even more unconventional approach to song composition as the band blurs the lines between individual genres to deliver a truly original listening experience. The band has been labeled as a Latin rock hybrid, which is a fair description but doesn’t adequately convey the extent of their musical reach. It’s difficult to identify all of the influences swirling through this heady concoction, but elements of salsa, jazz, mambo, flamenco, and jam band rock rise to the surface at times.
Led by Puerto Rico-born Abraham Gomez-Delgado, Zemog (Gomez reversed) kicks off their second studio release with the rock/experimental jazz combo of La Costilla, followed by salsa rhythms and brass on Assimilate Asimilar, leading into shades of big band jazz on Atawalpa. The stylistic jumps continue throughout the album but surprisingly don’t come off as erratic, just different facets of a complex talent. Other selections include a downtempo track anchored by accordion and guitar, an upbeat mix of salsa brass with electric guitar, and a sweet combination of flamenco, acoustic guitar, and saxophone. A couple of tracks veer too far into jam band noodling with no real purpose or payoff, but on the whole you’ll never know what to expect next, and that’s all part of the charm.

Gomez-Delgado sings predominantly in Spanish with a raspy, not entirely in tune voice that carries a great deal of emotion but not much technical skill or range. He’s somewhat along the lines of a Tom Waits, possessing a smoky, bar room voice that has obviously seen a lot of use and doesn’t particularly care to reach for difficult notes. His lyrics cover topics including Latin American folktales and history to protest about US imperialism (Assimilate Asimilar) to light-hearted tales about discarded toys (El Jardin Suspira) and even jolly old St. Nick (Gordo Rojo). The latter track is especially impressive as at first glance it’s just a comical story about the concept of Christmas being introduced to Puerto Rican school children prior to the Cold War, while subtly serving as a metaphor for the larger picture of US imperialism being forced upon the next generation.

The band includes members from a variety of Latin American countries and the US, and they all contribute their own local flavor to this intriguing amalgamation. While the constant genre bending and blending might give casual listeners whiplash at first, the disparate pieces all fuse together on repeated listenings and add up to a unique and welcome musical adventure.


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