Very Be Careful
Escape Room (Barbes Records, 2010)
Be very careful that you don’t label Los Angeles-based Very Be Careful a world music band. They’re not. They specialize in a particular style and have thus far shown no interest in mixing and matching it with anything else. And the fact that they play their signature style, Colombian vallenato, with the minimal intensity of garage rock (reportedly making fans at their live shows get rather rowdy) makes it harder to pin any genre labels on them.
Vallenato, which translates as “born in the valley,” is a looser relative of Colombian cumbia, and Very Be Careful strips it down to the bones: accordion (one of the coolest instruments on the planet, no matter what anyone says), standup bass, caja (hand drum), guacharaca (gourd scraper) and cowbell (I can only imagine the number of “more cowbell” jokes these guys have had to endure). So, now that we’re all clear on what this band does, let’s be equally unequivocal about the fact that they do it very (be) well.
While their first few albums were comprised mainly of cover versions of songs made famous by Colombia’s vallenato greats, they concentrated on originals for their last album Salad Buey and the new Escape Room. Brothers Arturo and Ricardo Guzman, on bass and accordion respectively, give the songs airs that range from stately simplicity to outlaw intensity, befitting a music associated with both down-home folksiness and Colombia’s drug trade.
Richard Panta, Craig Martin and Dante Ruiz thump and clatter away in their syncopated percussion duties, giving the whole thing a forward motion that solo and group vocals jump on and off of. It’s rough, it’s repetitive and it’s damn near irresistible. VBC shows just how bold it can be to embrace pure tradition in creating infectious, vibrant music.
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