“Le Hiedra Venenosa” / Los Straitjackets
Okay, summer’s a long way off – you folks in the Midwest are still getting snow, right? – but I believe in the power of positive thinking. Maybe if we all play records that SOUND like a Southern California summer afternoon, the sun will be inspired to warm things up at last. Anyway, it’s worth a try – and for this purpose, you can’t go wrong with anything from this new Los Straitjackets CD, Rock En Español Vol. I.
Los Straitjackets are an instrumental combo (what a great retro word that is, “combo”) from Nashville, which is kinda incongruous, considering how authentically they play 60s-style California surf guitar, channeling Duane Eddy and the Ventures for all they’re worth. Occasionally they’ll bring in guest vocalists to spice up the instrumentals (check out Sing Along With Los Straitjackets), and for Rock En Español, they’ve thrown us yet another curve – all the vocalists sing in, yes, you guessed it, Spanish.
For the record, I don’t believe any of these guys are Latino – their names are Eddie Angel, Danny Amis, Pete Curry, and Jason Smay – but as rock’n’roll revivalists, they’re diving down into a very specific sub-subgenre of Sixties music: Top 40 hits as re-recorded by Latino bands from Mexico or East LA. It takes a few minutes to purge your ears of the original versions – all great songs in the first place, or else they wouldn’t have inspired covers. When it comes to songs like “Anna,” “Slow Down,” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” I also have to purge my ears of the brilliant covers the Beatles did. But once you get into the AM radio groove of these tight pop classics (think vinyl 45s, think fold-up record player), it all begins to make a loopy sort of sense.
I assume “le hiedra venenosa” is an accurate translation of “poison ivy”; from there on, the lyrics are as impenetrable to a non-Spanish-speaker like me as the Coasters’ original must have been to Mexican fans – but hey, that’s only fair. And come on, “Poison Ivy” was never a work of literature; it’s all about that whomping rhythm section. Remember the line, “You better get an ocean [bump da-BUMP da-bump] / Of calamine lotion [bump da-BUMP da-bump]”? You can’t sing it without the rhythm section, can you?
And now, grooving on Los Straitjackets’ tangy guitar licks, I begin to realize how plodding the Coasters' arrangement actually was. Sure, there’s only one singer here, not the original fat four-part harmony -- but vocalist Big Sandy (front man for the East LA band the Fly-Rite Boys) adds a tasty vibrato that’s all his own. And I’m digging it.
So maybe I’ll never get to the point where I’ll prefer Los Straitjackets’ “De Dia Y De Noche” to the Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night” (I mean, c'mon, we're talking the Kinks here), but theirs is a perfectly acceptable simulation -- a whole lot better than, for instance, Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me”. And chances are, if I keep on listening to this CD, I may actually begin to prefer “Loco Te Patina El Coco” to the Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Say, I’m feeling a little global warming already. Todo es bueno.
La Hiedra Venenosa sample