“Ride,” the debut album from New York City-based band Caramelo, has global ambitions worthy of its name. The opening track, “The Girl is Gone,” sets the tone for the rest of the album when Jewish singer Sara Erde trades smooth fly-girl R&B vocals with flamenco artist Alfonso Cid. While Erde’s voice is immediate, alternating rapidly between English and Spanish, Cid’s is bombastic and distant.
The twin voices suggest two different approaches to Latin American music. In Erde’s hands (and vocal chords) flamenco music is a starting point. She quickly shifts between stylized salsa swings and sounds (of course, there are many “ay, ay, ays”) and funky, bending R&B vocals that suggest she’s been studying Janelle Monáe and taking notes. She code-swaps smoothly, rhyming: “Que rico, the sugar in your soul / Despacito, the way you lose control.” Cid’s vocals are more traditional, creating distance linguistically, stylistically and in the mix, where we hear him in echoes and reverberations.
The eclectic approach works for Erde, who was born in a heavily Spanish-speaking part of Brooklyn and spent six years living in Seville, Spain. Because Erde embodies her different influences so effortlessly, sometimes the rest of the album has trouble keeping pace. This is particularly evident on tracks like “Brooklyn” and “Peligroso,” which attempt to incorporate Eastern European accordion riff clichés. These never rise above the level of pastiche, and one has to wonder if they were included to simply stuff the album with more sounds.