Album Review of
SALSWING! (with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta)

Written by Joe Ross
June 5, 2021 - 5:31pm EDT
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The seed for Rubén Blades’ Salswing! was planted in late-2014 when he performed Latin and swing music with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Blades’ ambitious recording project has him now singing with a cast of consummate musicians led by Panamanian big band leader Roberto Delgado. As with some of Blades’ previous work, it celebrates the cultural blending and connections between Afro-Cuban music and jazz. An 11-track album, Salswing! freely mixes salsa classics like “Paula C” and “Tambó” with jazz standards like “Pennies From Heaven,” “Watch What Happens” and “The Way You Look Tonight.” “Paula C” was a hit for Blades in the late-1970s when he was first experiencing much creativity inspired by life in New York. Besides being a lawyer and movie star, the performer even garnered 17 percent of the vote when he ran for President of Panama. 

Whether singing in Spanish or English, Blades delivers his lyrics with convincing passion and emotion. The big band arrangements are tight, and the groove is full of professionalism, feeling and danceability. Some of Blades’ earlier highly-acclaimed albums incorporate elements of rock, reggae and Caribbean music, but this project stays in fairly conservative territory with pop flavorings that will surely achieve radio-friendly commercial success. It’s especially nice to hear an artist interpret their own self-penned material like “Contrabando,” “Canto Niche” and “Ya No Me Duele.” 

Rubén Blades has been a busy, prolific, inspirational artist who has ascribed his success to having widened the audience for the music, and breaking down stereotypes. With about forty albums under his belt, Blades oeuvre is monumental and impactful. Salswing! is an enjoyable listen of tightly crafted material that features the magnetic salsero with exquisite big band accompaniment. Two other volumes in the musical set include Salsa Plus! and Swing! that emphasize tracks from those genres. If you like what you hear on Salswing!, then be sure to pick up the other two albums also.  (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)