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During a live DJ performance, Hex Hector tends toward familiar songs, new and especially old, and he plays effortlessly with each song as only a good DJ could. Though he occasionally gets carried away with mixing, hearing him live is always an invigorating experience, a rare display of true musical prowess.
Now, finally, he’s put it all on record. Hector’s first dance compilation hit stores earlier this summer. Remixology deserves all the hype accorded Junior Vasquez’s Earth and then some. Both are high-concept dance remix albums intended to emulate the club-going experience with splendid combinations of accessible and cutting-edge sounds simmering to a boil in about eight minutes. This CD ought to give Hector a big push to Junior’s legendary heights.
A skillful, Grammy-winning remixer, Hector doesn’t include many of his own remixes here, and none you’d likely recognize by name. But they are the true standouts. Basstoy’s “Runnin'” pulses with energy and a simple chord refrain that’s immediately familiar. Right away he establishes a rock steady, Chicago House retro groove, with his surprisingly low-key Vibe Mix of Angie Stone’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” — not the HQ2 Main Mix we’re used to hearing.
The few familiar songs here sound nothing like the original remixes, nor typical Hector, who is far more inventive than you’d imagine. Including tracks with authentic Indian and African rhythms and chants used in a very non-Survivor, non-gimmicky sort of way? He’s earned that Grammy. For this, he deserves another.
Hector’s label, Ultra Records, released its first Ultra.Dance volume in January, and it instantly established itself as a worthy franchise for club fans of nearly all musical tastes. This second volume proves it wasn’t just a fluke. With Ultra.Dance 02, DJ Encore offers fewer Top 40-esque remixes than did DJ Johnny Vicious on 01, yet his compilation is surprisingly more accessible. Where Vicious gave us a sophisticated, eclectic collection, Encore’s is an almost near-total focus on trance-y Europop. Dido’s here, as is ATB and Kylie’s sister Dannii Minogue (you can hear the resemblance). There are also several bad covers here, though of course by now you already know the worth of DJ Sammy and Yanou featuring Do’s “Heaven,” a cover of Bryan Adams’ forgettable hit.
Why make a two-disc set when only one will get repeated playback? That’s the question to ask Ultra Records. DJ Encore does a better job than Vicious did, but disc two still loses energy less than halfway through. It’s idling on fumes by the time we get to Masters At Work (after the truly atrocious “Open Your Box”). But Jamaicans Puppah Nas-T & Denise rev up the engine in a hurry; their “Work” is a truly inspired song from a truly working-Master album, “Our Time Is Coming,” released earlier this year. Presumably an ode to the work of a “yardman,” we know what Denise is really talking about: “Ladies, you know when I look for a yardman/He’s got to be a ha-a-a-rdman.” In the chorus, it gets nastier: “Throw your body in it, work it hard and long, I wan’cha to go downtown: go down, go downÂ…come up, come up.” The song of the summer, if not the year, and certainly worth the purchase of any dance compilation that features it. Even if it’s stuck at the end of a one-too-many two-disc set.
A border girl won’t get very far el norte by emulating Mariah Carey. Fortunately, Paulina “Golden Girl” Rubio mostly understands this and checks herself accordingly. Her first English-language album, Border Girl, follows Cher and Kylie in style, and suffers only one Mariah moment — the yawning vocals, bland beats and pandering rap of “Stereo.” Rubio aims to please as wide an audience as possible on Border Girl, hedging her bets as a Latin pop star seeking followers in English. In the liner notes she calls the album her “Miss Cocktail of dance, chill out, ambient, mex-hop, trip-hop, hip-hop, drum & bass jungle…,” as if a cocktail that convoluted would be any good. Border Girl is quite a cocktail, but you don’t really hear all of these ingredients.
Instead, what you hear is sonic bubble gum as Rubio sings open-mouthed as if in between chews. She has a good voice, and this is actually quite a tasty confection if you can focus on it. No song lasts longer than “I’ll Be Right Here (Sexual Lover),” whose two-year-old Spanish original is still ubiquitous on Latin radio and at nightclubs south of the border. Then there’s the sing-along “The Last Goodbye,” with its mariachi melody and her angry delivery. You don’t feel her anger in English as much as you did in the Spanish original, though, which is unfortunate. And if only she had given us more of the true house sound of “Fire (Sexy Dance),” mixed here by the one and only Hex Hector.
Rubio has many gay Latino fans, and she’s asserted that “Border Girl” could become a gay anthem. But that’s quite a stretch, not least because the lyrics don’t really make enough sense to be anybody’s anthem. Not even hers: She’s not the U.S.-Mexican Border Girl she claims, having been raised in Mexico City by her popular, Mexican actress mother while performing in a co-ed, Mexican version of Menudo.
Marc Anthony, owner of perhaps the greatest male voice in all of pop music, is known as the reigning King of Salsa, the popular Latin-style of dance music that originated in New York of Caribbean descent, as with Anthony himself. If only he’d stick to it — his two English albums to date have featured very little salsa, and they are far inferior to any of the Spanish salsa albums he’s produced over the years. In English, on Mended, Anthony whines his way through sad love songs that never make the shift halfway through from slow-jam to up-tempo revelry that’s a staple in the best of his salsa songs. On “Everything You Do” he seems to consider making the shift, as the bridge introduces us to salsa’s standard five-beat clave rhythm.
But here we’re dealing with off-brand salsa, so instead the song becomes a mild but incredibly thick version of an ’80s heavy-metal ballad. Does Anthony think his English listeners can’t handle the spice of real salsa? That we’d rather gag on Diane Warren’s style of clichÃ©d love syrup? At least there are some shining examples of Latin-inflected pop: “I Got You,” “I Swear,” and “Give Me a Reason,” where hip-hop meets Latin pop in seamless fashion, and Anthony’s supple voice complements the jerky staccato beat, even overshadowing it in sheer forcefulness. “I should have worked a little harder just to show you love,” he sings — if only he always worked this hard and sounded this great.