Havana Rocks - Cecilia Noël

Compass Records

A great song can survive any arrangement. Anyone who remembers Living Strings' versions of pop classics softly wallpapering the elevator can attest to that (elevators must be faster these days because you just don't hear music in them anymore). Cecilia Noël is a particularly saucy chica; a singer/actress originally from Lima, Peru. She was discovered by none other than Stan Getz and moved to New York to pursue her salsoul destiny. Through her initiation, she worked as a dancer with Jo Jo's Dance Factory and Menudo, developing her sexy stage persona. In 1989 she relocated to LA forming Cecilia Noël and The Wild Clams, an over-the-top Latin Soul Funk act that cemented her notoriety.  Recently, she was granted permission by the US government to record in Havana, Cuba. Armed with a bag full of 80s rock classics, she checked into MB Sound in La Habana intent on giving these memories a complete Cuban makeover. Havana Rocks by Cecilia Noël on Compass Records is one of those treasures you turn to for your party mix. It may not enjoy endless replays but one or two of these gems by the self-professed punk salsa singer sprinkled into the mix will leave your company scratching its collective heads in astonishment. What's truly astonishing is how well most of the tracks bear up under the big brassy, Afro Cuban arrangements. Havana Rocks opens with 'You Shook Me All Night Long'. Trivialize AC/DC all you want but he song's not just a rock classic; it's near pure pop perfection that translates seamlessly into salsa. There are many sweet surprises. Who knew that Gary Numan's sparse, robotic 'Cars' could end up sounding like an energized theme for a Latin game show? Even Frankie Goes To Hollywood's plodding 'Relax (Don't Do It)' sparkles with lightness and rhythm after a Cuban re-imagining. Of course, the converse is also true. A mediocre song won't standup to this severe rebuild. Havana Rocks illustrates how Van Halen's Jump for instance can't really get its feet off the ground without the cheesy synth fanfare or Eddie's guitar wankage. The song's really a chorus and that's it, which lays flat in a salsa style. By the way, Cecilia is married to Colin Hay from Men At Work and she pulls out all the stops for their hit, 'Who Can It Be Now'? Other 'must hear' Afro Cuban reduxs on Havana Rocks include Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys Are Back In Town' and the perfect accompaniment for Noël's fetish wear on the back cover, Devo's 'Whip It'. Whip it good!