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War explores Latin side

Coleccin Latina
Colección Latina
By War

Avenue Records: 1997

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This review first appeared in the October 4, 1997 edition of the American Reporter.

Along with Tower of Power, War was one of the first multi-racial West Coast funk/soul outfits – and certainly one of the best known. In the early '70s, War rode the charts with hits like "Low Rider," "Why Can't We Be Friends" and "Summer" – with groups like the Ohio Players and Earth Wind & Fire, War showed that even in-your-face black artists could attract a viable crossover audience if the music was good.

Even after the hits stopped coming, War scored with their presciently named "Platinum Jazz, " full of long instrumental breakouts that did, indeed, go over big with jazz fans and even received airplay on so-called "progressive" rock stations, getting sandwiched between Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer.

Like the above-mentioned Earth Wind & Fire, Tower of Power and Ohio Players, War fell on hard times in the 80s. These guys could all play – could improvise with the best of them, could play jazz, country or rock if need be. But their school of music went out of style for a good long spell. They didn't go away; we did.

Following up a box-set retrospective and a new recording a few years back, War's latest project is to remix a lot of their older songs into Latino-oriented arrangements – not too much work considering that War's music always had a strong streak of Latin running through it.

"Colección Latina" is a gem, reminding the listener not only what a polyglot melting pot California is but just how good War is. The new CD has two new versions of "Low Rider" on it – one with Spanish lyrics and one a contemporary dance mix. There's a remix of "East L.A." with new vocals by Jose Feliciano (so smooth, so hip), and a new mix of "Angel."

The rest of the album is filled out with songs that were from the start reflective of the band's Latin influences – "The Cisco Kid," "Ballero," "Cinco de Mayo." There's even a song that wasn't released before, "Salsa."

As always with War, the beat is driving, the jams first-rate.