Songwriters don’t always get the respect they deserve. Most of the time, they’re seen as back-room hired guns. Only critics and obsessives care who wrote a chart-pop song, as long as the girl or boy dancing and lip-synching in the video is cute enough. Similarly, professional songwriters are the backbone of the country music industry some performers get away with writing their own material (Willie Nelson is the most prominent example), but even they are frequently singing words written by others. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. Elvis never wrote a song in his life neither did Frank Sinatra.
The singer-songwriter, though, is another matter entirely. From Lennon and McCartney and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, rock’s pantheon is full of performers whose unique voices delivered lyrics they’d written themselves. And though it’s arguably still coming into its own as a genre, Latin rock is developing its own heroes in this regard.
This pair of compilations (sold separately) pays tribute to Andrés Calamaro, one of the foremost singer-songwriters in Argentinian rock. A performer since the late 1970s, Calamaro first made his name as a member of Los Abuelos De La Nada, though he recorded his first solo album in 1984 while still a member of that group. The following year, he really struck out on his own, releasing Vida Cruel. Neither album was particularly successful, though, so Calamaro began producing other acts, including Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Los Enanitos Verdes. After abandoning Argentina for Spain, he formed the band Los Rodriguez in 1991, and didn’t release another solo album until 1997’s Alta Suciedad. This was followed two years later by the two-CD set Honestidad Brutal, a musical documentation of his breakup with a longtime girlfriend. Two years later, the astonishingly creative Calamaro released the five-CD set El Salmon, containing an astounding 103 songs in almost as many styles. (This was later culled down to a single disc of 25 tracks.)
The list of performers on this bifurcated tribute is impressive. Calamaro Querido! Cantando Al Salmón Vol. 1 kicks off with a previously unheard recording by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, a version of “La Parte De Adelante” that’s funky and ska-inflected like the best of their own catalog. It’s a rollicking, immediately addictive number that serves as a perfect lead-in to El Canto Del Loco’s take on “Palabras Mas, Palabras Menos.” Diego Torres, Kevin Johansen, Los Tipitos, Ivan Noble, Fabiana Cantilo, Fito Paez, Arbol, Bahiano and Muchachito Bombo Infierno are also featured on here, performing the songs of Calamaro in styles ranging from piano balladry to hip-hop/funk-rock to smooth jazz. Noble’s take on “Buena Suerte,” which closes the first volume, is probably the softest moment of either disc - he sings the song over a simple, jazzy piano-trio arrangement, with the keyboard treated to sound almost underwater as the drummer works only with brushes and kick. Fito Paez also opts for piano and vocals on his version of “Crimenes Perfectos,” earlier in the disc, omitting even a rhythm section. But his delivery is so overwrought he sounds like Barry Manilow hiring Rick Rubin to give him a Johnny Cash-style stripped-down makeover. Fortunately, the song’s over quickly, and Bahiano’s relaxed ska rhythms on “A Los Ojos” pick the mood up again. The rest of the disc is almost all good. Los Tipitos’ “Mil Horas” is a high-energy highlight, reminiscent of early-‘80s Joe Jackson. Only Diego Torres’ cheesily romantic “Por Mirarte” is truly skippable.
Calamaro Querido! Cantando Al Salmón Vol. 2 front-loads, too, beginning with Julieta Venegas’s loping, reggae-tinged take on “Sin Documentos.” The song appears once on each of these compilations, receiving very different interpretation—frenetic, mixing salsa and Afro-beat—courtesy of Muchachito Bombo Infierno on Vol