Classics is a benefit collection put together by Artists Project Earth (APE), a group dedicated to furthering awareness about climate change. The album itself features 19 (mostly) classic rock & pop tunes performed by Rhythms del Mundo (a talented assemblage of Cuban musicians…RDM is kind of a continuation of the Buena Vista Social Club) along with an international cast of well-known pop stars (some playing live with RDM others sampled with the original music stripped off and replaced with new backing tracks.)
The vibe is beguiling…tropical Latin rhythms and beats bringing entertaining new feel to the familiar songs…though it sometimes works against the grittiness inherent in some of the tunes.
The lead-off track, for example, is a breezy version of “Hotel California” featuring the Killers that is infectiously danceable (hard to resist those tasty drums and horns) despite the dark cynicism of the Eagles’ lyrics (Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” featuring The Editors also works despite its loping, foot tapping groove working almost at cross purposes with Reed’s ironic lyrics.)
On the other hand, Sam Cooke’s more fanciful “Cupid”…with vocals by Amy Winehouse…slips into smooth groove with no such dissonance as does the version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” featuring the Kaiser Chiefs and the sunny version of “Under the Boardwalk” featuring the Rolling Stones.
Some tracks really click: Jack Johnson’s mellow (well, duh! :-) take on John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a subdued little gem…the Zutons’ lively recreation of “Runaway” works despite its vocal similarity to Del Shannon’s original…K.T. Tunstall does a nice job with “Because the Night” as does Fall Out Boy taking a confident swing at Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”…Shanade’s version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” doesn’t have the dark urgency of Nirvana’s original but it succeeds by finding a more plaintive groove to inhabit…and the Kooks take on a relatively obscure Elton John song, “Are You Ready for Love”, and turn into a tropical flavored charmer.
Other tracks try gamely but slide a bit shy of the mark: the version of “Under Pressure”, featuring Keane, is so soothing that it leaches out all of edginess of the original (though, that said, the trumpet solo on the outro is pretty sweet)…Cat Power’s languid vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” are ill-matched with RDM’s pulsating rhythms…there is a disconnect between RDM’s sunny rhythms and the somber lyrics in One Republic’s version “For What it’s Worth”
The Spanish version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, featuring Augusto Enriquez, is very cool as is the rocking bilingual take on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” featuring Aquila Rose and Dana Valdes. Eros Ramazotti’s version of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” (here called “Mi Cherie Amour”) is smooth and sweet.
RDM’s instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” with thick guitar lines intertwining playfully with the horns is grand as is the stirring version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”…featuring the wondrous classical guitar playing of Rodrigo y Gabriela…that closes out the disc.
All in all, Rhythms del Mundo’s Classics is a delight full of great playing and beguiling fun.