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Grupo Fantasma: American Music Vol. VII

Chris M. Slawecki By

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The thirteen new tracks on American Music Vol. VII celebrate Grupo Fantasma's first studio album in five years as well as the nineteenth anniversary of Austin's preeminent Tex-Mex party band.

In several ways, Vol. VII sounds like much of their previous music: This Grupo can spice up and rock an energetic, celebratory party sound that few other bands can match. But this music also sounds and feels different and as a result remains vibrant and vital, too.

Its clattering, polished surface comes from Grupo's collaboration with Miami-based Colombian musician, songwriter and producer Carlos "El Loco" Bedoya, who helps the band inject booster shots of Columbian folk rhythms and instruments throughout this set. "La Cruda" and the opening (and quite topical, as later explained) "El Fugitivo" feature Josh Baca on accordion, and the closing maritime mariachi "Sombra Roja" spotlights accordion courtesy of Mr. Vallenato.

Vol. VII also marks the first time that a singer from another band sings lead on a Grupo Fantasma song: Tomar Williams (of Tomar & the FCs) steps up to front the boogaloo chunk of funk "Let Me Be," shadowboxing with its horns and cowbells. It also presents one of their rare English lyrics in "LT," which roars and snarls through its guitar hook into a torrid funk-rock groove.

More than many sessions, American Music Vol. VII was impacted by where it was recorded: Sonic Ranch, long on the group's "musical bucket list" and the world's largest residential recording complex, located in the small border town of Tornillo, Texas. As the band began wrapping up final versions of their songs, Tornillo coincidentally became the site for one of the US government's immigrant border detention centers.

So, it's natural to wonder if "The Wall," this multicultural, multicolored tribal polyglot with Locos Por Juana and Ozomatli, builds into different layers of meaning. It's razor-sharp funk, with horns cutting into all the right, tight places, and background whoops and hollers supporting the sharp spoken-sung lead vocal, but its surrounding undercurrents run much deeper than funk music.

Upon its release, the band issued a statement that the title of American Music: Vol. VII was a "direct response to the concept of identity as well as the pigeon- holing of our music, which we've dealt with throughout our careers."

Track Listing: El Fugitivo; Nubes; LT; Qué Es Lo Que Quieres De Mi?; The Wall; La Cruda; Nosotros; Let Me Be; Ausencia; Hot Sauce; Cuidado; Yo Quisiera; Sombra Roja.

Personnel: Josh Baca: accordion; Mr. Vallenato: accordion; Angela Miller: backing vocals; Lauren Cervantes: backing vocals; The Soul Supporters: backing vocals; Josh Levy: bariton saxophone; Greg Gonzalez: bass; Wil-Dog Abers: bass; Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes: congas, bongos; Sunny Jain: dhol; John Speice: drums, percussion; Beto Martinez: guitar; Raul Pacheco: guitar; Kino Esparza: lead vocals, hand percussion; Carlos "El Loco" Bedoya: keyboards, backing vocals; Dan Bechdolt: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone; Mark "Speedy" Gonzales: trombone, trumpet; Gilbert Elorreaga: trumpet; Itawi Correa: vocals; Justin Poree: vocals; Tomar Williams: vocals, keyboards; Jaime Ospina: vocals, percussion, gaita; José Galeano: vocals, timbales.

Title: American Music Vol. VII | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Blue Corn Records

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