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World Music CD Reviews World Fusion

Grupo Fantasma

By Paula E. Kirman
Published August 21, 2008

Sonidos Gold
Aire Sol/High Wire

True to its name, Grupo Fantasma incorporates major elements of Latin-American music into its sound, but there’s far more to this 11-piece orchestra from Austin, Texas, than meets the eye. The band’s fourth album (the ensemble was founded in 2000) writhes and roils through musical alleys lined with cumbia, salsa, merengue, funk, and even a hint of psychedelia—with a few special guests along for the ride, including saxophone giant Maceo Parker (“Gimme Some”) and Fania All-Stars pianist Larry Harlow (“Rumba Y Guaguanco” and “Se Te Mira”). Channeling a Manu Chao-like progressive rock sound that’s steeped in traditional Latin music, Grupo Fantasma manages to transfer much of the energy from its legendary live shows into the studio, which makes sense considering the band books more than 100 shows a year and provides back-up for such notable performers as Prince and the indie rock outfit Spoon (all while recording specials for the Austin City Limits television series). With a big sound, thoughtfully-written songs and an enthusiasm for performance, Grupo Fantasma has the goods.