With the release of El Cantante, the music of Hector Lavoe and early salsa has been garnering a lot of attention. Capitalizing on the buzz, July saw the release of both the El Cantante soundtrack featuring Marc Anthony singing Lavoe's greatest hits and a compilation release of Lavoe's original, remastered recordings. The second album is named El Cantante: The Originals.
What's The Difference?
The El Cantante soundtrack contains 10 tracks; 9 of them are of Marc Anthony singing songs made famous by Lavoe. There are versions of 7 of Lavoe's hits on both albums but this one also has great renditions of "Escandalo" and "Quitate Tu". The last track is of Jennifer Lopez singing a Nelly Furtado song, "Toma De Mi". I'm not sure what the final track has to do with anything. I guess it's a "bonus".
El Cantante: The Originals comes with 14 tracks. In addition to the songs the two albums have in common, this version additionally offers "Periodico De Ayer", "Tu Bien Lo Sabes", "Plato De Segunda Mesa", "No Hay Quien Te Aguante" and "Paraiso De Dulzura". There's also a Louie Vega EOL remix of "Mi Gente".
Turning to the 7 tracks that both CDs have in common, I made a playlist with both versions, back to back. Listening to the playlist was an eerie experience. Marc Anthony has done an outstanding job of studying and imitating Lavoe's style to the extent that, in songs like "Que Lio" with it's plaintive cry of "ayudame" (help me), I literally had to go and see which of the two versions was playing. The mimicking of the instrumentation, orchestration and early salsa style was equally commendable (and quite amazing). Talking about the differences is a thankless task, they are so small.
Imitation as Tribute
The Originals version of "El Cantante" has an extra 4 minutes of instrumentals and Lavoe & Co. seem to be having a little more fun with "Mi Gente"."Che Che Cole" and "Que Lio" are remarkably faithful to the original. "El Dia De Suerte" is heavier on trombone in the original while the soundtrack plays up Yomo Toro on cuatro. "Todo Tiene Su Final" and "Aguanile" are the two numbers that require singing all-out and here it's more difficult to confuse Lavoe and Anthony.
The question comes up: should Marc Anthony have been more himself rather than trying to duplicate Lavoe?
Hector Lavoe was just singing songs in a genre he loved. Marc Anthony was portraying a music legend. What a burden! Anthony's personal tribute to Lavoe was his imitation of not just Lavoe's style, but his voice, his delivery, his timing - well, it was quite amazing and true to Lavoe. While Anthony could have incorporated more of himself into the music, it would have been a disservice to an audience unfamiliar with Lavoe or to Lavoe fans who welcomed a chance to spend a couple of hours with a hero no longer with them.
Which CD To Choose?
Given the similarities between the two album - and the excellence of both - that's a tough question.
If you're a big Marc Anthony fan, if you value the slight edge in clarity that a newer technology brings or if you already have many of Hector Lavoe's previous albums, the El Cantante soundtrack is probably the way to go.
If you're just (re)discovering Hector Lavoe or are interested in the extra songs available on El Cantante: The Originals, then Lavoe's version is a great deal.
Personally, I own both.