At first listen, it's easy to find shades of Marc Anthony, Chris Perez, Santana, Maná, even a little Ricky Martin, to VuDú Café. But the truth is VuDú sounds like only VuDú.
VuDú Café was formed by guitarist Jesse Flores and drummer Steve Salazar in 1998. Flores, originally from San Jose, California, had been writing and performing as a solo acoustic act since '92. Labels were starting to show interest in his work, but rather than launch a career as a songwriter and solo act, Flores decided to join forces with Salazar. Later, bass player Carlos Lopez and guitarist Mario Aleman were enlisted to complete the VuDú roster. The versatile group has a style that covers everything from Colombian rock to Mexican pop and Puerto Rican salsa, and what's more, they are (almost) able to do all of it very, very well.
VuDú front man and guitarist Flores writes, produces and sings on each track, and while this disc could easily turn into The Jesse Show, it doesn't. As a producer, Flores is excellent. There's a good flow to the CD's lineup, and the entire project is evenly balanced, with vocals and music done equally well.
Some of the finest musicians in Texas enliven the ten-cut CD. Augmenting VuDú on this release are Guillermo Ponce on percussion, Jorge Sillir on rhythm guitar and Gilbert Sedeno on piano. Artie Villaseñor and Frank Rodriguez take turns on electric guitar, while Randy Holland is featured on trumpet.
Local salsa fans will recognize Holland. After years of playing Latin jazz with Roberto Zenteno, Holland has developed into a musician's musician. He's bright, hot and articulate, and long overdue for some recognition. He especially shines on "Ella," the CD's opener.
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"Sueltame," a torcher with heartbreaking vocals, and "Mi Amor," a slow, seductive ballad, feature Flores's singing at its best. Both also show this band's ability to develop a song. Flores isn't afraid to let the song grow, and his use of dynamics makes both tunes emotionally complete.
In "Angelita," Holland's trumpet again adds some seductive heat. You don't need to understand Spanish to know that this is an "I want you so much it hurts" love song. Flores sings with an urgency and need that require no translation.
The only tune Flores didn't write is "You're My Everything." The wedding reception standard seems a surprising choice -- until VuDú takes it into a salsa groove. While it's fresh and fun, here lie the CD's only missteps. Salsa mixing is the opposite of most other Latin styles. The piano is up front, the horns pushed back, generally speaking, but not here. Engineer Andy Bradley keeps the piano well in the background. Of course, that might not be such a big mistake, as Johnny Torrez's underwhelming keyboard-pounding is best left underemphasized. While the other musicians move from style to style with no problem, Torrez doesn't quite make the leap to salsa. He sounds like a Tejano musician trying to impersonate Alfredo Rodriguez.
Such cavils aside, few groups are as confident as VuDú to spotlight guest instrumentalists. Holland's piercing trumpet could easily overpower other, less capable vocalists. And Frank Rodriguez's searing electric guitar could even steal the attention away from a televised Second Coming. But VuDú's core members match Holland and Rodriguez note for note, and the result is an exciting and new sound that will soon demand national attention.