We gave it a B+
Latin music thrives in this country, thanks to a network of independent labels and dozens of singers and bands. But most American record companies steer clear of it — hence the importance of this soundtrack to the film version of Oscar Hijuelos’ novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, a collection of new recordings that may constitute the first major-label sampler of this music. What’s even more shocking is that Elektra didn’t blow it. Sure, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos are here to entice pop fans (each singing ballads in appropriately lush settings). But the bulk of the album presents some of Latin music’s venerable old guard playing brassy, percussion-heavy rumbas, tangos, and mambos. Grammy-winning bandleader Tito Puente (the Chuck Berry of the genre) and the Mambo All-Stars give a taste of the music’s sharp-dressed, rhythmic side (listen to the way the horns stab at the arrangement in Puente’s rousing ”Ran Kan Kan”), while sleeker tracks by Beny Moré and the husky-voiced Celia Cruz show how sly and romantic it can be. The Mambo Kings could inspire newcomers to pick up a Berlitz manual or two.