Lost and Found: Buena Vista Social Club
Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes
Two recent musical releases dig into hidden gems and leftovers to create new albums—Lost and Found, from the Buena Vista Social Club, and Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes.
While these musicians are old by any standard and the music they play is thick with tradition, the sounds always make my body feel like moving.
On Lost and Found you will experience a wonderful mix, from Manuel Guajiro Mirabel’s trumpet solos of “Habenero,” taken from the vaults when it didn’t make it onto a planned solo album in 2004, to the infectious live tune that starts the album, featuring Ibrahim Ferrer and more than a dozen other musicians. Other pieces are from the recording sessions in 1996 that created the original Buena Vista Social Club album. If you haven’t listened to the original, it should be on your list to check out. Most of the tunes are from a variety of recording projects that happened after the immense success of that release and the subsequent tours. These didn’t make it onto those albums for a variety of reasons. I can’t imagine that any of these were left out because of an issue of quality. “Black Chicken 37,” an improvised jam from a studio session, demonstrates the amazing rhythm section created with congas, bongos, and bass. Eliades Ochoa treats us to just his guitar and voice on “Quiéreme Mucho” and “Pedacito De Papel,” recorded after everyone else had quit for the day. But when they all play together, the energy goes up a notch as they continue to play together as they have for years. It reminds me of the music I heard around the clubs in Havana when I visited almost 20 years ago—infectious, loud, and amazingly beautiful.
These musicians really live in the music, and they feel it with their whole bodies and souls. While these musicians are old by any standard and the music they play is thick with tradition, the sounds always make my body feel like moving. Even though I don’t understand the lyrics of most of the songs, it is a fully engaging and entertaining listen.
I must confess up front that I have been a fan of Bob Dylan for years, so I jumped on the purchase button when The New Basement Tapes were released. T-Bone Burnett received a collection of lyrics and fragments written by Dylan in 1967. This was the same time period that the original Basement Tapes were created by Bob Dylan and The Band. Burnett sent the lyrics to a group of talented musicians and began the process of creating music from them. Burnett invited Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James, Marcus Mumford, and Taylor Goldsmith in the hopes of creating a similar atmosphere of the original Basement Tapes. This album releases 20 of the recordings created in a two-week session. They did create a few memorable tunes: “Kansas City,” with Mumford and Goldsmith, “Duncan and Jimmy,” where Giddens plays her banjo and her voice reaches out and grabs you. “Lost on the River” ends with Giddens vocalizing the pain of being lost, not found. The simple instrumentation adds the counterpoint to her melody, and I am hooked on the story. This rendition of the title song, one of two, returns us to the emotion we heard in Dylan.
Unlike the Buena Vista Social Club offering, this album never seems to become a cohesive whole. Many of the cuts are individually effective, but then you are jarred by a stylistic and tonal switch in the next song. My favorite cuts often have more to do with the music and the performance than they do with the lyrics. I have admired the writing of Dylan for years, but here I am not inspired to pay much attention to the lyrical content. On the Buena Vista Social Club album, the simplicity of the solo cuts offer a welcome respite from the driving rhythms. These changes seem organic rather than the abrupt changes of direction of Lost on the River.
Lost on the River, at the end of the day, is just not as satisfying of a listen as is Lost and Found. I am more likely to listen to the latter again and again. If I want to go back to a Dylan style of collaboration with lyrics and music I think I will dig up the 1988 Traveling Wilburys Volume 1. Life is too short not to dance a little, and the Buena Vista Social Club offers up another encouragement to do just that. The other reclamation project isn’t as cohesive and will probably just stay on the shelf.