Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Ralfi Pagan was a phenomenal anomaly inside Latin music powerhouse Fania Data’ late ’60s/early ’70s roster. Blessed with a stunning, ethereal falsetto tenor, Pagan was extra musically aligned with the delicate soul balladry of his apparent function mannequin Smokey Robinson than the salsa dura erupting out of East Harlem and his native Bronx. His early recordings mirrored as a lot, shifting tentatively between English and Spanish-sung soul slowies and dance numbers. However together with his 1971 hit cowl of Bread’s “Make It With You,” he discovered his area of interest – emphasizing the track’s forlorn romantic longing, quite than seduction, and ecstatically vamping in Spanish on the outro to seal the deal.

The track was a crossover smash, and the rest of Pagan’s profession at Fania would see the label try to repeat its success – even re-releasing “Make It With You’s” accompanying album, With Love, sans its Latin tracks and subbing in older soul numbers. 1973’s Ralfi awkwardly moved him in the direction of singer-songwriter territory. However 1975’s I Can See will get the musical calculus almost excellent. As its title and dramatic cowl design counsel, it’s a centered effort (simply eight songs) that returns Pagan to his chief energy, the heartbreaking soul ballad.

Take heed to Ralfi Pagan’s I Can See now.

It additionally reunites Pagan with producer Marty Sheller, whose preparations made With Love’s soul tracks such standouts. From the primary notes of the opening Smokey Robinson cowl, backed by a who’s-who of high studio gamers, all the things feels excellent. Drummer Bernard “Fairly” Purdie and bassist Jerry Jemmott (each veterans of Aretha Franklin’s touring group) lock right into a sultry groove accented by Nicky Marrero’s bongos and Frank Malabe’s congas. Louie Ramirez’s vibraphone traces shimmer, and guitarist Joe Beck’s wah-wah provides simply the suitable contact of blue mild basement friction. For his half, Pagan’s breathy, reverb-bathed efficiency is a research in beautiful vulnerability that may do Smokey proud. All through I Can See, he’s additional buoyed by luxurious backup harmonies from veteran producer/songwriters J.R. Bailey (of his personal cult traditional soul LP Simply Me and You fame), Kenneth Williams, and Mel Kent.

It’s a superb template that yields uniformly elegant outcomes on “Simply For a Little Whereas” (as in “I by no means knew that if you stated ‘I really like you’ it was…”), the Bailey/Williams/Kent-penned “Loneliest Loneliness,” and an excellent cowl of Cholly Rivera’s late ’60s single “I Might By no means Harm You Lady.” The latter contains a transient call-and-response adlib between Pagan and Bailey that speaks to the eye to element herein. Even two down-tempo funk-infused tracks, “La Vida” and “Rat Race,” work properly; Beck’s guitar builds sonic continuity whereas Pagan turns his consideration from issues of the center to broader philosophical and societal considerations.

Regardless of its apparent musical deserves, I Can See stalled commercially and can be Pagan’s remaining LP for Fania. He would proceed to document for different labels and relocate to Los Angeles, the place his Latin soul sound was beloved by Chicano audiences. However tragically, his life and profession ended far too quickly. Whereas touring Colombia in 1978, he was murdered beneath circumstances which have lengthy been the topic of hypothesis and rumor. Realizing this, one can’t assist however expertise I Can See as one thing much more profound: haunting.

Take heed to Ralfi Pagan’s I Can See now.

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