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SALVADOR (2002)
Salvador - Click to view!From the Afro-Cuban rhythm-infused rock of Carlos Santana to the infectious Latin dance of Miami Sound Machine, from the down-home Tex-Mex of Los Lobos to the Tejano pop of Selena, a number of Latin acts have attempted to crossover into mainstream rock and pop through the years. Sadly, this reminds me of Gerardo and his song, "Rico Suavé." But I digress. Particularly disheartening is the lack of sustained success for these crossover acts. Even Santana, who seems like he's been around since the guitar was first strummed, had to reinvent himself to achieve recent success, collaborating with more "now" artists on his Grammy-winning album, "Supernatural." The phenomenon is, predictably, more prevalent in the Christian music world, due to a dearth of Latin artists. Aside from a half-hearted effort by Motivo, there hasn't been much activity in the area of spiritual Hispanic music.

Like a breath of fresh air comes Salvador and their self-titled debut album on Word Records. Led by energetic and charismatic frontman Nick Gonzales, the group hits you right off the bat with their special brand of jazz-funk on "Lord, I Come Before You." Nick's slightly-raspy voice and tremendous inflection are impressive, if for no other reason than they are so unique. Someone deserves some serious credit for the inspired decision to introduce the studio horn section, because it was a perfect addition to the 5-piece band's sound. "David Danced" is the next track, introducing another distinctive characteristic of this group. Whereas there is always some difficulty to be found in translating Spanish to English and vice-versa in music, Salvador manages to bridge the gap by including some of each in a number of its songs; in others, only English or Spanish is used. In the end, this blending of languages can be off-putting to those, like me, who speak little to no Español. Closer listening reveals, however, that the Spanish words on "David Danced" are mostly just a repeat of the English verse. The only all-Spanish song is "Montaña," which is listed as a traditional Spanish Hymn. I don't imagine that the "traditional" part is the Salsa rhythm, but what do I know? I may not understand anything beyond it having something to do with the parable of mustard seed faith and a mountain, but it still rocks.

Of course, not every cut is up-tempo. "Cry Holy" starts off very slowly, very low-key, then transitions into gospel, complete with choir. The album closes with a beautifully crafted song, titled "With God" that is played at a pace appropriate to its lyrics: "Looks like stormy weather forever / and they'll never see the light of day / Paul and Silas kept on singing, believing / Their deliverer was on the way." One can easily picture the lone pianist staring out the window at the rain pouring down and ruminating on his faith. But the majority is up-tempo, including the best song on the disc, "Healing." A great song played with obvious passion, it reminds me a bit of the piano jazz of Michael Martin Murphy.

This disc brings along the infectious rhythms, energy and passion of Latin music, yet packages it in a way that the average listener can truly appreciate. The lyrics are sometimes introspective, other times not, but at all time worshipful. This album is truly a great listening experience time after time.
- Scott Bush
January 2005
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