Album Review: Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson

By Ernest Barteldes

Michael Jackson might have been a controversial figure as a man due to his eccentricity and sometimes bizarre behavior, but nobody can deny his musical genius. Jackson was a performer and songwriter who entertained us for decades beginning with his early years as a child performer with his brothers all the way to the glories of albums like “Off The Wall,” “Thriller”  and “Bad,” to name a few.

Since his untimely passing in 2009, countless tributes and posthumous recordings have surfaced (including a gorgeous collaboration with Queen), but few of these  – especially when we talk about tributes – have done justice to the music.  I mean, Sheryl Crow did a nice job with her 2010 recording of “I Want You Back,” but did she really come up with anything new?

Which brings us to “Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson,” (Universal Latino) a project spearheaded by Peruvian-American producer and arranger Tony Succar, who brought together a team of performers to recreate some of the music with a salsa-inflected tinge. I found it to be a very interesting album after listening to it a couple of times.

The best tracks are the ones in which the artists do not try to emulate Jackson’s trademark hiccups and screams – veteran singer  Tito Nieves (who was also part of a Beatles tribute album many years ago)  takes ownership of “ I Want You Back,” a tune that lends itself to Latin beats incredibly well. Obie Bermudez and Jennifer Peña share a close duet on the soft ballad “Todo Mi Amor Eres Tu,” a beautiful Spanish-language take on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” and Jon Secada croons his way into “Human Nature.”

I wasn’t too crazy about Kevin Ceballo’s interpretations of Jackson’s tunes because he came a bit too close to the songs’ creators original enunciation, but I must admit that he does find his voice on “Black or White”  as he improvises around the melody, which ends with a tongue-in-cheek homage to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”  I also fully enjoyed “Sera Que No Me Amas,” an up-tempo version of “Blame on The Boogie” that had me busting moves on the street.

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