Vallenato Legends Very Be Careful Bring Their Edgy, Politically Fearless 60s-Style Coastal Venezuelan Grooves to Queens
Very Be Careful are to Colombian cumbia and vallenato what the Pogues were to Irish music, or what Gogol Bordello were to the Ukraine when they first started out. In other words, totally punk, but with smart original songwriting and a worldview that spans beyond sarcastic humor. The LA band recorded their latest release Daisy’s Beauty Salon in an analog studio that had been abandoned for years with the original 64-track board intact. Their first album since 2012’s Remember Me from the Party isn’t out yet, therefore it hasn’t hit the usual online spots.
The album title is a shout-out to the mother of the group’s accordionist Ricardo Guzman and his bassist brother Arturo. They grew up in the sketchy deep-ghetto Los Angeles neighborhood where she opened her shop in 1978. Mrs. Guzman also happens to be a songwriter – from time to time, the band have covered her material. They’re playing on July 12 at 7 PM at Queensbridge Park at 41st Ave and Vernon Blvd, opening for alternately rustic and techy tropicalians Systema Solar. Take the F to 21st St. and walk to the water.
Ricardo Guzman has gone on record about the band’s mission being to pick up where the classic 60s gangster Colombian bands left off after money-grubbing record labels insisted on dumbing down the music for the sake of reaching a mass audience. In other words, if they’d had autotune in 1968, they would have used it. The new album is 180 degrees from that. The opening track, El Disfraz, slinks along on a two-chord vamp, Ricardo’s accordion front and center. It’s a wry battle-of-the-sexes scenario.
El Desesperado is just plain gorgeous, bittersweet accordion riffs bookending skeletal verses which are just bass and clattering percussion. El Anillo (The Ring) has echoes of bouncy Veracruz folk over a more slithery, tropical groove, Ricardo reflecting on differences in relationships on both sides of the border in a louche Spanish drawl.
Bell player Dante Ruiz hangs in the distance behind the washes of accordion and the shuffling, insectile beat in Santa Clos, a refreshingly unsentimental, twisted Xmas tale. The beat in Hombre de Malas (Bad Guy) is just as twisted, until the band more or less straightens it out after this bad-luck tale’s second verse. Counterintuitively, the mini-epic Dos Amantes is anything but a blissful love ballad, bristling with the creepy chromatics and unsettling close harmonies that Ricardo loves so much. It’s the best song on the album.
La Hormiga (The Ant) has subtle but resounding political overtones for an era when every anti-immigrant nutjob has crawled out from under his or her rock and wants to build a wall around everything. Likewise, La Escuela (School) will resonate with everybody who wasn’t in the goody-goody crowd – it’s a vastly more concise vallenato punk counterpart to the Supertramp classic. Everything they teach you in history class is a lie, after all.
Likewise, the vampy El Soldado (The Soldier), which is less in-your-face and more of a dancefloor groove. The workingman’s anthem El Reloj (The Watch) shuffles along with a more weary beat and hints of hip-hop. Then the band pick up the tempo a little with the exasperatedly populist La Direccion. And Ricardo sings Que Cosita (What’s Up) with a similarly perturbed delivery: if Dylan sang in Spanish on Highway 61, he would have sounded like this. The band return defiantly to La Hormiga at the end of the album: “Here comes the ant!” Queens is gonna be hopping on the 12th.