La*45 recently went live on Facebook to present their new production, La*45 II. No, it wasn’t a concert, but a listening session from their recording studio. It was intimate and full of studio and road stories, along with some pretty lofty conversations about music-making and theory. It was mind-blowing, though I think we would have been left in tatters if they’d not been as humble about their talents.
La 45, self-dubbed “the NextGen Chicanos,” is one of those special bands made up of the usual pieces, but also with a powerful 5-piece horn section. Yes, one of those big bands that brings up memories of Little Joe, Johnny y La Familia, Latin Breed, The Royal Jesters, and Tortilla Factory. Compadres Mike Torres III and John Ontiveros, La Familia alums, have put together some pretty impressive elements that not only record great music but reproduce it live to near-perfection. And their long-awaited second studio album has arrived.
The first single, “Como Me Alegro,” was released a year ago while production continued on the album. A hard-driving ranchera with excellent use of the horns and an accordion break, it’s one of those tunes that floats you to the dance floor. Another single is both a tribute to and a collab with the King of the Brown Sound, Little Joe Hernandez, “Traigo Mi .45”. Yes, the band is named for this classic tune and Torres and Little Joe trade-off on delivering the lyrics. A similarly classic-sounding tune is “Asi Lo Quisiste,” with the addition of harmonies from Torres, III’s better half, Amy, and an amazing sax solo.
The horn section gets quite the workout with a couple of sweeping tunes: The cumbia, “Cumbia de la Media Noche.” and a samba, “La .45 Anthem.” The anthem includes some amazing drumming, trumpet, sax, and guitar solos from Will O’Rourke, John Ontiveros, Ricky Ray Hernandez, and Estevan Ramirez, respectively. “Moriria Por Ti” has a Roberto Pulido-feel to it with its dual sax performance and Tejano cumbia sound. [Shout out to Ricky Ray for being a Texas State Bobcat!]
Although the album has an R&B feel throughout their repertoire, it is “How Could This Happen,” that shows off that ability–vocally and musically. La 45 is known for their ability to move from Tejano to Cumbia to R&B and back in a live setting, so it’s understandable that they showcase it on an album.
“Solo Un Juguete,” with its Steve Gadd drum intro and keyboard-heavy melody, brought memories of the 80s which saw the introduction of synthesizers to La Onda. [Side Note: Mazz did a similar drum intro in 1984 with the intro to “Ay Muchacha” from the Standing Ovation album, for all those historians out there.] Mike and Amy Torres collab on another modernized classic, “Con La Misma Tijera.” Herbie Lopez’s organ backdrop injects the classic sound into the tune. “Que Bonito” offers a jazzy tenor sax intro by Hernandez before heading into a signature ranchera.
All in all, La 45 II is a nice package of cruisin’ music that soothes and causes general happiness. At least, that’s what it did for me. And, next time there’s a super dance in San Antonio produced by Henry “Pepsi” Peña and featuring La 45, we’re there!
One more thing. The eye-catching artwork on the cover and in the liner notes is by Chicana artist Bianca Mireles. She’s a West Texan who is now based in New Hampshire. Check out her work on her insta.
And get your copy of La 45 II at La45Music.com. You can get the digital version for $10, or, for $15 download it and receive the CD in a week or so. I did the latter.
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