Papo Felix/Ray Rodriguez + Joe Acosta: Ghetto Sounds

Popo Felix and Ray Rodriguez: Work Out (Part 2)
From Papo Felix Meets Ray Rodriguez (Ghetto, 1971)

Joe Acosta: I Need Her
From The Power of Love (Ghetto, 1971)

I’ve been on a massive Latin kick lately, finally committing to beefing up my collection with titles I’ve looked at for years but hadn’t pulled the trigger on. Expect to see a slew of Latin/boogaloo-related posts in the weeks to come.

Just so we’re clear though – I got both the Acosta and Felix/Rodriguez on CD – original vinyl copies are in scarce (and astronomically $) supply. However, my interest in the albums isn’t an issue of format. I was originally put onto the Ghetto catalog by a friend who knew I was researching my Wax Poetics story on Joe Bataan. At the time, I knew about Bataan’s records with Fania and his later career with Salsoul but I didn’t realize he had, for a brief time, branched out with his own record label: Ghetto.

You can hear Joe’s own words about Ghetto here but the short story is this: Joe created Ghetto when he was in the middle of a stand-off with Fania. Rather than let his career sit on hold, Ghetto was a way for him to both stay busy in the Latin music world as well as try his hand at producing records for others. The label was funded by George Febo, a local uptown drug dealer who had aspirations of his own to dabble as a music exec.

The label turned out, at most, half a dozen albums, all of them very collectible (though the Bataan-produced Paul Ortiz album does turn up fairly often). The Papo Felix/Ray Rodriguez is one of three that Bataan himself produced and it was a bit of a revelation. I was expecting more of a Latin soul album but this is a full-fledged, descarga-ed, big band dance effort that sounds little like Bataan’s own albums from the era (and this not meant in a negative way). Instead, it’s loud and rousing, with brassy charm in spades. The cut with the most Latin soul sabor is the sizzling “Work Out (Part 2),” a funky affair of clanging percussion and a piano riff that charges with the energy of a car chase. I’d buy this album just that track alone (if I could actually afford to).

The Joe Acosta, ironically, is not one of the Ghetto albums that Bataan oversaw yet the inclusion of “I Need Her” is the closest thing to Bataan’s style of doo-wop-derived soul singing. It’s a slow, shuffling ballad that really showcases Acosta’s Jon Cruz’s distinctive voice (reminds me a little of Bill Withers). I’m no expert, but I get the sense here that he’s oversinging the notes a bit as a way to get around some pitch issues but regardless, the net effect works for the song.

There’s one other Ghetto album that was reissued: Orquestra La Fantastica’s Ear to Ear which I hear is worth checking out as well.