Motown Remixed Volume 1 was a treat because it let remixers and musicians take the originals and jam them out without reinventing the wheel. King Britt turned Edwin Starr's "War" into a Fela-ish bit of Afro-beat, sure, but the Roots pretty much just jammed along with Martha and the Vandella's version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine."
Now with a Latin-themed Vol. 2, the remixers are just that, pushing the hallowed Motown two's and four's around into salsa and meringue beats which can take a little bit more getting used to. The challenge and what makes reworking such classics a thankless task is that the originals are so perfectly balanced between beat-making and songwriting that any upsetting of this can sound like heresy, or sacrilege. To hear David Elizondo taking Martha and the Vandella's "Heat Wave" and giving it the Latin shuffle is a revelation the track gets a nice little boomp-ba-bump going. But it's at the expense of the effortless, trademark swing of the original. The SPK mix of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" wisely knows when to drop out the salsa-stomp so it's the song that leads the rhythm and not the other way around.
It's when artists take the memory of the original and re-interpret (not reinvent) it that Volume 2 really lifts off. Randy Cantor turns the heave-ho funk of the Temps' "Can't Get Next To You" and turns it into a Latin house shuffle that breathes deep, while the Chosen Few's touch on Diana Ross' "The Boss" is light enough that the salsa percussion doesn't step on the simultaneously triumphant and delicate vocal.
Anything that keeps these songs in the clubs and in the ears of a new audience that'd just as soon be exposed to less-hallowed fare is certainly worth the effort; let's just hope for Vol. 3 the results are more even and more varied.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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