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Dance a Little Bit Closer with Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, Loleatta Holloway

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Charo and Salsoul OrchestraCuchi-cuchi!  Charo, or María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, burst onto the cultural radar with her goofy, slightly suggestive catchphrase during the late-sixties run of the television phenomenon Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.  Once a frequent passenger on The Love Boat, the comedienne-bombshell still is a familiar face today on television (Dancing with the Stars, RuPaul’s Drag University) and onstage – on land and on sea, even on the good ship Disney Magic.  In 1977, Charo teamed with Vince Montana Jr., the arranger-conductor of Salsoul Records’ house band The Salsoul Orchestra, for a fun disco romp entitled (what else?) Cuchi-Cuchi.  It’s one of two Salsoul classics recently given the deluxe treatment by Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label, along with Loleatta Holloway’s 1978 Queen of the Night.

Cuchi-Cuchi, jointly credited to Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, definitely proved that camp and stellar musicianship could co-exist.   “Dance a little bit closer…move it in like this…a little bit closer/You and me can dance so free/Oh, come/A little bit closer/Slide your feet like this/A little bit closer…” Charo coos on the opening song, one of the three compositions that sold Salsoul’s Cayre Brothers on Montana’s concept for a Philly soul-meets-Latin-fusion orchestra.  The lyrics of “Dance a Little Bit Closer” don’t get any deeper than that, but the seductively insinuating groove and immaculate arrangement – with lush strings, commanding horns and of course a vibes solo from Vince – were pure, sophisticated Philly disco.  “Dance,” breathily sung in the heavily accented English that made Charo famous (or infamous?) on Laugh-In, makes room for asides in Spanish (“Loco, loco, loco!”) as the singer’s playful personality compensates for her lack of a powerhouse voice.  She was rewarded with a Top 20 dance hit for the infectious track.

That effervescent personality is also used to good effect on a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”  Its once-controversial lyrics have always lent themselves to interpretation by sexy female artists – think Claudine Longet’s steamy rendition.  Charo’s salsa-fied rendition of the Jagger/Richards melody comes with a healthy dollop of humor, as does “You’re Just the Right Size.”  This remake of Montana’s 1976 Salsoul Orchestra song (basically an instrumental with choice vocal interjections) is one of the album’s most carnal cuts, but it’s also a fine showcase for the Orchestra’s trademark Latin percussion and Montana’s swirling and oddly elegant strings. “Cookie Jar,” co-written by the bandleader, is driving yet catchy funk, highlighted by Charo’s lighthearted double entendres.

More boisterous is Pedro Calaf’s singalong-style “Borriquito,” sung in Spanish as a disco-fied flamenco track.  Charo warbles modestly in both English and Spanish on Mexican singer-songwriter Roberto Cantoral’s “The Clock” (reportedly recorded over 1,000 times by various artists worldwide).  It’s performed in a straight ballad version with another delectable string chart from Montana.  The oddest, campiest track on Cuchi-Cuchi, however, is far less authentically Mexican.  It’s the disco revival of Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales,” sans Mel Blanc’s animated interjections that enlivened the original recording.  A more successful tongue-in-cheek moment comes courtesy of Montana and Ronnie Walker’s made-to-order title track “Cuchi-Cuchi,” a centerpiece disco workout for the album.

Charo is backed by the ubiquitous background vocalists known as the Sweethearts of Sigma on the quintessential Philly soul of “More of You,” on which she sings “straight” over the irresistible and slickly funky track.  Her hushed vocal is also commendable on the sensual ballad “Only You,” co-written by Montana, Ronnie James and Janet Gugliuzza.  The melody is tailored to Charo’s strengths, and boasts some lovely Spanish-style guitar, too.  Though Charo herself is a flamenco guitarist, she’s not among the credited musicians on the LP, but that’s hardly a liability considering those who did play on Cuchi-Cuchi.  Among this list of Philadelphia all-stars: Earl Young and Charles Collins on drums, Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman on bass, T.J. Tindall and Bobby Eli on guitar, Ron Kersey on keyboards, Larry Washington on percussion and Don Renaldo leading the string section.

What extras will you find on BBR’s reissue?  Hit the jump!  Plus: the scoop on Loleatta Holloway’s Queen of the Night! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 31, 2014 at 09:36