Grupo Fantasma – ‘American Music Vol. VII’ (2019)

Most bands that have been around for as long as Austin-based Grupo Fantasma are content to rest on their legacy. Luckily, the Grammy award-winning band’s new music is as vibrant and powerful as their live shows. 

American Music Vol. VII, Grupo Fantasma’s seventh release in 19 years, continues to push forward. Working with the versatile Carlos “El Loco” Bedoya, the band has added new textures to their vast sonic spectrum.

“The Wall” deserves repeated listening. Featuring members of Ozomatli, my second favorite live band, and the hard-charging group Locos Por Juana, the song challenges the concept of illegal immigrants and a divisive federal government which has a warped definition of what ‘we the people’ really means. The social message ties into a hard-hitting Latin-meets-hip hop groove which reflects the duality of the world that Grupo Fantasma lives in. The combination of the brass, and the Spanish and English vocals makes a powerful case for this as is one of the band’s best albums.

“Que Mas Quieres Del Mi,” the first single from American Music Vol. VII, hits just as hard but in an entirely different way. Grupo Fantasma’s rhythm section is a thing of legend. Their nuanced playing is tied to one of the strongest vocals on the album, and the results are unforgettable. There is nothing this group of musicians can’t do. Even with this slow groove, you want to get up and dance.

The album-opening “El Fugitvo” combines many of the elements Grupo Fantasma does so well into a cohesive, creative and effective story. The song’s march-like mid-section conjures up vivid images of who we are as a people – yet the song-ending accordion/percussion breakdown makes you wish the jam didn’t stop. 

“LT” is a rarity among Grupo Fantasma songs. The guitars duel with slinky, melodic parts before the bass and horn section punch through with authority. The groove is smoky and infectious. The vocals are in English, an uncommon thing for this band – and they match the slyness of the groove. The congas, blocks and trapset all conspire to create another great grove which is so seductive that the vocals are almost lost. Check out the mid-Eastern guitar textures laid over the groove to tremendous effect.

“Let Me Be” gives nasty guitar and cowbell riffs a soulful foundation. Guest vocalist Tomar Williams from Tomar and the FC’s provides a soulful lead and Hammond-style organ sounds. The wall of backing vocals provided by the Soul Supporters almost seems out of place on a Grupo Fantasma album yet recalls the 2018 release, Look At My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul, by Adrian Quesada.

“Cuidado” continues the soulful feel, with its distorted melodic guitar theme and a jumping horn opening. The drums and horn section act as one in creating a city vibe. The baritone sax solo is old school at its best, before the entire horn section kicks the song up a notch.

The album-ending “Sombra Roja” proves how versatile Grupo Fantasma is, but that’s stating the obvious. If you didn’t know by now how multilayered this band is, “Sombra Roja” will bring you full circle with its samba feel and flirty groove.

If you’re already a fan of the band, American Music Vol. VII is for you. If you a fan of any of their offshoot groups (including Brownout, Money Chica, Black Pumas …), then this is a must buy, too. More than that, however: If you a fan of great contemporary music, then you must give Grupo Fantasma’s new album a listen.

‘American Music Vol. VII’ is out now on Blue Corn Music.