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Tommy Guerrero - Soul Food Taqueria

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Artist: Tommy Guerrero

Album: Soul Food Taqueria

Label: Mo' Wax

Review date: Jun. 3, 2003

Like Sweet Smoke

There is something freakishly comforting about Tommy Guerrero’s latest album Soul Food Taqueria, and that’s a surprise coming from an ex-pro skateboarder – a sport largely encompassed by bone crunching punk, adrenaline spiked hardcore, or neck breaking hip hop. But this was all realized after his first full length, A Little Bit of Somethin’, dubbed by many as an essential recording in 2000, while others claimed Guerrero’s music stretched itself to thin into a lifeless piece of pop-trip-hop. Perhaps Guerrero listened to the criticism, or maybe it was just plain artistic growth, but Soul Food Taqueria is filled to the brim with body and life in a way that few albums can claim.

For the most part, Guerrero’s approach to making music is very similar in comparison to Somethin’ – the tracks are usually anchored by his trademark guitar while drums and other instruments flourish in the background – only this time the sonic components co-exist and mingle with much more efficacy. The appropriate album opener “Abierto” reveals this newfound maturity in all its glory, as low bass lines allow for a contrasting guitar solo to slither its way throughout the piece, while bells jingle modestly with drums that sound better than anything on Somethin’. In fact, just about everything on Soul Food is an improvement over its predecessor, whether it’s through the instrumentation, the sequencing, or just the simple mixing of the final product, everything sounds much more polished and in tune with their surroundings.

And just like on Somethin’, Guerrero’s guitar is the star here, using chord progressions and four note melodies that, alone may seem rudimentary, but meshed with everything else surpass any expectations of their promise as nimble and colorful pieces of musical texture. It’s not like Guerrero uses the same formula either; each song takes on different forms and breathes new sonic qualities. The funk-fused “Tatanka” is a meticulously crafted vision of guitar riffs cut with delicate harmonics, while a track like “Thin Brown Layer” offers a lackadaisical showcase of Latin rhythm and flare. Hip hop, soul, acid jazz, blues, and folk all make similar contributions, making Soul Food an experience that jams with nearly every mood.

While Guerrero is at his best creating such eclectically fused moments, a couple of occasions feature guest vocals that allow Guerrero to take a backseat. Gresham Taylor is featured on “It Gets Heavy,” contributing a slick layer of melancholic lyrics that has more in common with John Secada than anything else, but Guerrero’s sexy backing soundscape allow it work. Contrastingly, Lyrics Born delivers a fiery blend of emceeing and singing on ‘Getting’ it Together,’ albeit a bit of a departure from his Latyrx material. Still, many producers, as great as they may be, always try to find reasons to squeeze in vocal tracks, and more often than not, it tends to disrupt the fluidity of their efforts. That’s not to say that these two tracks are not welcome, but their purpose is definitely marred by the buttery surroundings.

All in all, Soul Food can pass within the blink of an eye, and it’s hard to determine whether that’s good or bad. Individually, the tracks function as beautiful, sometimes surreal moments, but collectively their purpose becomes a lot less clear. Upon completion it’s even hard to remember what made the experience memorable, but perhaps that’s just a sign of seamless production. It’s a phenomenon that’s rather hard to explain. Just listen to ‘Falling Awake,’ the perfect title for the perfect closing track. It’s seductively good, it slaps you around and reminds you just how great simplicity can sound.

By Brian Ho

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