Album review: Ozomatli's 'Fire Away'

(Downtown Records - Downtown Records)
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010



Fifteen years in the biz, and the members of Los Angeles Mexifunk troupe Ozomatli have no intention of growing up. And why should they?

Their keg-stand anthems, general buffoonery and sneaky lefty politics have landed them three Grammys and a recent White House gig. Since 2007, they've been spreading Western love in places like Vietnam, Burma, Jordan and Nepal, as U.S. State Department cultural ambassadors.

On the band's fifth album, "Fire Away," there's plenty of goofball fodder for the frat houses. The brassy banda romper "Caballito" is so over-the-top, it will dare drunk college kids to bust out their best Mexican hat dance. But there's also plenty of party music, such as "Elysian Persuasion" -- the closest they've come to nailing Parliament's brand of funk.

At times, the jocularity seems to get away from them. It's not that "Gay Vatos [Dudes] in Love" is offensive, but given Ozo's penchant for social commentary and the debate over same-sex marriage in California, it seems like a wasted opportunity. They opted for a punch line instead of a kick to the establishment.

Ozo's arsenal includes several Latin American string instruments (jarana, charango, tres), an Indian tabla and a Persian piano-like celeste. And on the Afro-pop, merengue track with blaring mariachi horns, "Are You Ready?," the Good Hope Tsalanang Cultural Group Gumboot Dancers (from a home for abused children in Johannesburg) lend their voices and stomping feet.

Ozo is sort of like a mullet: all business up front and party in the back. But be they clowns or emissaries, they know one thing: Laughter and dance can unite people in ways politicians could only dream of.

-- Mario Iván Oña Recommended tracks: "Elysian Persuasion," "Malagasy Shock," "Are You Ready?" Ozomatli performs at the 9:30 club on April 26.

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