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The Blazers
 Short Fuse, Rounder CD or LP 9043
 East Side Soul, Rounder CD or LP 9053

 Latin-inflected roots rock for fans of Chuck Berry or Los Lobos

High school buddies Manuel Gonzales and Ruben Guaderrama founded the Blazers in 1990, and started playing innumerable gigs around L.A. In 1994, they signed with Rounder and hit the ground running with "Short Fuse." A great roots album, it mixes age-old rock'n'roll themes with Latin rhythms. The result is a raw slice of classic rock. Twelve crisp tracks, none over five minutes long - nine originals by Gonzales and Guaderrama, a couple of covers of Latin classics, and a blues number by folks named Dunlap and Slagle - then over and out, thank you very much. Manuel Gonzales (I believe) is the vocalist on most of the tracks, which is good because he has the strongest voice. A really good voice, in fact, full of hoarse emotion, but very well controlled.

"East Side Soul" is pretty much more of the same. Fourteen numbers this time, more of Dunlap and Slagle, another two Latin numbers (in almost the same places on the album as before). To mix things up a little more, they cover Canned Heat's "Going up the Country" and Jessie Hill's New Orleans classic "Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo," both to good effect. Ruben Guaderrama gets more vocal leads, which lends variety without improving things, due to his less assured intonation. The band is more polished this time around, and overall the songs are stronger. The two lead tracks, "Fun & Laughter" and "All Day Long" are as infectiously hard to forget as anything by Chuck Berry. (There's a lot of Latin feel to Berry's music; remember "Havana Moon"?)

I listened to the LP of "Short Fuse" and both the CD and LP of "East Side Soul." The sound on "Short Fuse" is up-front and unprocessed, matching the roughness of a hard working band on its first studio date. (On the title song, for example, it sounds like Gonzales stepped too far back from the mike, or his mike went dead and he was picked up by another one. In any case, his resulting shouting enhances the "watch out for that temper of yours" message of the song.) East Side Soul has a more produced sound, with layered instruments that are not really an improvement, as they often get lost in the mix. As rough as the sound on the first album is, you can hear almost everything that's going on. As far as LP versus CD, the LP wins for me here, with crisper drums, better capture of vocal inflections, and, especially, truer rhythms. One example: on "Cumbia del Sol," the infectious Latin rhythm is set at the very beginning of the tune with dual guitars, bass, drums, congas, and handclaps. On the LP, the groove locks in immediately and the accents fall in the right places. On the CD, the bass drum and handclaps lag just a hair, throwing the rhythms slightly off until your ear adjusts. This is subtle and hard to describe, but if you get a chance to hear it you'll know what I'm talking about. (Paul Simon's  Graceland exhibits similar rhythmic differences between CD and LP.) Rhythm is everything in music like this and the LP, in this case, gets it just plain righter than the CD. On the other hand, the CD booklet has room for the song lyrics, which Rounder failed to include with the LP. (Have they forgotten how to do inserts?) Without that, I would have had trouble figuring out lyrics like "Let's have a party tonight.  Puro fun & laughter  y lavisiando, gonna get some  todo tonight."

I saw this band live at Bumbershoot, Seattle's Labor Day party, and they really rocked out. Neither of these albums captures that intensity. I'll bet the Blazers will make a great album someday; meanwhile either of these albums are plenty of fun. --  Glenn Brooks

 Jason Staczek says... For what it's worth, I couldn't hear the rhythmic differences between LP and CD, despite repeated attempts. Either Glenn or I has had too many gigs without a helmet, I guess.

production notes
Manuel Gonzales, vocals, guitars, other instruments; Ruben Guaderrama, vocals, guitars, other instruments; Lee Stuart, vocals, electric bass; Ruben C. Gonzales or Mando Goss, drums, percussion; a few others in supporting roles.
Both albums produced and recorded by Cesar Rosas (of Los Lobos). "Short Fuse" (41:14) was mastered by (the outstanding) Doug Sax and others at the Mastering Lab and released in 1994. "East Side Soul" (51:16) was mastered by Toby Mountain and released in 1995.

song titles

 Short Fuse
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
Your Best Friend
Short Fuse
El Año Viejo
Hear What I Say
So Long Time Sally
I'll Be Gone, Gone
Tiburon, Tiburon
How You Make Me Feel
Sink or Swim
Mi Ultima Parranda
Miss You Lil' Girl
 East Side Soul
Fun & Laughter
All Day Long
Before I Get Too Old
Cumbia del Sol
Let Me Go
Going up the Country
I'll Stay Right Here
Dance the Night Away
What's Wrong with You
Cero 39
You Didn't Try
Stuck in My Head

Copyright © 1995 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.