Ozomatli, Fire Away (Mercer Street Records, 2010)

Born and bred in Los Angeles, Ozomatli have been making some pretty solid music for fifteen years now. The multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual septet have mixed rock and rap with salsa and meringue, throwing in some strong political sentiments for good measure. Recently the band teamed up with veteran producer Tony Berg (Michael Penn's March and Free for All albums remain favorites of mine) for their fifth studio album Fire Away. It is their most musical and melodic album to date, without compromising their energy or attitude.

The rousing opener "Are You Ready?" alone should be sufficient for long-time fans of the band to buy the record, but Fire Away takes some interesting turns from there. "It's Only Paper" evokes the old Stax soul records, particularly the guitar playing of Steve Cropper. The 3/4 ballads "Gay Vatos in Love" and "It's Only Time" effectively capture the romantic sounds of the fifties, with the former paying lyrical tribute to the gay Latino community in Los Angeles. "And if the world can't understand, stand by your man." (The song was written as a response to Proposition 8, which I'm happy to announce was overturned as I was writing this.) Ozomatli also do a great cover of the Pogues' "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah," making an Irish stomper sound like it was meant for them all along. The tongue-in-cheek rap song "Nadas por Free" is irresistible fun. The frenzied "Malagasy Shock" was partly inspired by singer/guitarist Raúl Pacheco's near-death experience on stage in Madagascar, and partly by the band's regular exhortations to it's audience to stop accepting what's spoon-fed to them and get up and take charge of their lives. The ambient ballad "Love Comes Down" has some uncharacteristically subtle instrumentation, but the band pull it off flawlessly.

For most of their history, Ozomatli have had a reputation for being great in concert but not quite able to match their live performance when they went inside the studio. Fire Away will go a long way to altering that perception.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott

"Elysian Persuasion"

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