Eddie Benitez and Nebula Essence Of Life/Night Life

I have Exclaim!’s reading public to thank for the introduction to Eddie Benitez. Years ago, I wrote about Latin hybrids for our Critics Cliché series. In terms of Latin rock, a post on the message board asked, "what about Benitez?” This two LPs on one CD set answers that question. The teenaged Benitez was a budding guitar hero from New York by way of Spain and his first album was a milestone for Fania Records. Fania was the hegemonic Latin label on the East Coast in the mid-’70s and crossover was on their minds. Between Benitez and the Fania All Stars records on Columbia, this was the gamut — Benitez even became the first Latino act to play CBGB. The first album, Essence of Life, showcases an astonishingly tight band, easily the equal of Santana at their best. The lyrics range from socially conscious to overly sentimental but are always delivered over hard driving grooves heavy on the Rhodes. Heck, take away the vocals and the guitar and it may as well be a Lonnie Liston Smith album. Producer Louie Ramirez contributes some overloud synth touches but at least the sounds are well chosen. Benitez’s second album was released three years later after a period of band turmoil and unfulfilled commercial promise. Night Life sounds like it was a lower budget affair: the tunes aren’t as developed as on the first record and the band isn’t as tight. There are still some nice moments, particularly as a Brazilian influence creeps in. Fania never hit pay dirt with Benitez, but out of the 20 tunes here more than half should have found a wider audience. (Vampisoul)