You can tell a lot about a city by the sound of its music. Whether its the molasses-thick rhythm & blues of Memphis, the every man warmth of Philly soul melodies, or the big city beats tempered with small town intimacy of DC’s go-go, music has a magical gift for capturing all the flavors and nuances of a locale, distilling it down to its definitive essence. So, it’s only fitting that New York City, the world’s largest melting pot, would boast a rich tradition of musical eclecticism and sonic fusion. Be it the boundary-pushing jazz of the Harlem Renaissance, or the frantic sound collages of golden era hip-hop, NYC has a loud and proud history of taking vintage sounds from every crevice of the globe and weaving them together into something brand new.
It is out the that tradition that The Ghetto Brothers delivered Power Fuerza in 1972, mixing and matching Latin grooves, funk rhythms, rock riffs and pop melodies into a sound every bit as progressive, dynamic and downright infectious as the city that the founding members the Melendez Brothers and their musical cohorts called home. Having run the streets of the South Bronx first as bangers, then as reformers, the brothers were intimately familiar with the tensions – ethnic, economic and geographic, that threatened to erupt. But they were equally connected to the strong families and communities which provided solace. Sonically, Power Fuerza pulls flavors from each of the melting pot’s distinct ingredients, while lyrically the Brothers savor the universal seasonings of life.
“Girl from the Mountain” is an airy pop confection, made perhaps just a little too ethnic for Top 40 radio by the ebullient bounce of congas and timbales, and a touch too psychedelic for soulpower hour sets thanks to the unbridled guitar solo that explodes out of the bridge. “There is Something in My Heart” puts the band’s Beatles influence on prominent display, with an infectious melody propelling earnestly rendered pleas of puppy love. Yet, the funky drumming behind the harmonies serves as an ass-shaking reminder that when the British invasion hit the hood, the hood fought back. The Motown sound also gets a barrio makeover, with the kinetic “Got This Happy Feeling” answering the question of what would happen had Little Stevie Wonder teamed with a burgeoning Carlos Santana in the late ‘60s. Power Fuerza rarely pauses to catch a breath, but when it does, Victor Melendez takes full advantage, flexing his song writing muscles on the blue light burner, “I Saw a Tear,” which threads the needle between doo-wop precision and quite storm passion.
Newly released by Truth and Soul Records, this deluxe edition doesn’t offer anything in the way of unearthed rarities or alternate takes, which would have been a watershed for fans, given that despite years of touring, the band never released another proper album. The release does include an 80-page booklet, detailing the history of the group and the culture of street crime and revolution that it grew out of. The story underscores that what these brothers took out of their ghetto surroundings and spread through their music was life and love; a stark contrast to many of the inner city sounds that followed.
Despite great success in New York City, The Ghetto Brothers never broke beyond cult status on a national level. Perhaps, now, in the internet era, where virtual neighborhoods span contents, their NYC steeped soul will finally resonate outside the borders of the city of dreams.