Featured Album: A classic from Fania's Latin Soul icon Ralfi Pagan's is remastered on vinyl

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    The work of iconic singer Ralfi Pagan is revered, and his masterpiece With Love is one of the most transcendental Latin Soul LPs in the history of the genre. Released in 1971, just as Latin Soul was reaching a creative apex, the album also underscores Ralfi Pagan’s status as one of the most talented and versatile young singer/songwriters in the impressive Fania roster. Pagan died under mysterious circumstances in 1978. The reissue of this, his best album, is likely to inspire a re-evaluation of his pivotal contribution to U.S. Latin music.

    The work of iconic singer Ralfi Pagan is revered, and his masterpiece With Love is one of the most transcendental Latin Soul LPs in the history of the genre. Released in 1971, just as Latin Soul was reaching a creative apex, the album also underscores Ralfi Pagan’s status as one of the most talented and versatile young singer/songwriters in the impressive Fania roster. Pagan died under mysterious circumstances in 1978. The reissue of this, his best album, is likely to inspire a re-evaluation of his pivotal contribution to U.S. Latin music.

    Now Craft Latino has issued a remastered vinyl reissue of this classic disc. The new edition of With Love was mastered by Paul Blakemore at Concord Mastering, cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and pressed on 180-gram audiophile quality vinyl housed in a classic tip-on jacket. The album is released in hi-res digital for the first time, including 192/24 and 96/24 formats. In 1971, Fania released two versions of With Love, one was all in English, and the other was a Spanish version with six English and four Spanish tracks. Craft’s reissue features the Spanish version. The four Spanish tracks on this reissue are releasing digitally for the first time.

    Born in New York, in 1947 of Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage, Pagan was the quintessential Latin performer of his era, who absorbed the exciting hybrid of styles present in New York during the late ’60s and managed to sound equally comfortable performing feverish salsa jams and Latin Soul scorchers. There are echoes of funk, R&B, cha cha chá, mambo and jazz in his music, a sophisticated stew of influences placed at the service of his seductive vocalizing. Pagan sounds alternately vulnerable, playful and self-assured on the four albums he recorded for Fania— a small output compared to prolific stars like Ray Barretto or Roberto Roena; but in the case of Pagan, every single song he ever recorded boasts the sheen of an instant classic.

    The ten tracks on With Love juxtapose the nimble spirit of traditional salsa with the nocturnal moods of honeyed Latin Soul. Besides Pagan himself—a natural ballad songwriter—the session’s composers include none other than recording director Johnny Pacheco, producer and hitmaker Harvey Averne, boogaloo pioneer Joe Bataan and Puerto Rican master Tite Curet Alonso. No wonder every single number feels like a classic. From the patterned airy vibes and crisp timbales on opening cut “Mi Chamaco” to the lovely doo-wop harmonies of “Negrona” and the nostalgic undertones of “To Say I Love You,” this is the kind of album that demands to be enjoyed in one sitting, from beginning to end.

    Most importantly, the album includes Pagan’s greatest hit, a highly original take on the Bread anthem “Make It With You,” laced with Santana-like guitar licks, a funky bass line and silky female vocals. Pagan’s sweet falsetto did wonders with this David Gates standard, and his version of “Make It With You” peaked at a respectable 32 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1971. It also landed Ralfi an appearance on the nationally syndicated television show Soul Train—one of the first Latin artists to appear in this revered program.

    Pagan was the rare kind of artist who treated his newly found fame with respect. He kept his voice in excellent shape, delved into traditional salsa and Latin disco, and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he became a celebrity in the local concert circuit. Sadly, a trip to Colombia ended in tragedy and Pagan was murdered under unclear circumstances. The mystery was never solved and his absence from the tropical scene relegated his legacy to the memory of devoted record collectors. Now, the reissue of this extraordinary album should ignite renewed interest in the remarkable beauty of his musical output.

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