RJ plus 1 equals a 24-track album
Friends and friends of friends make up businessman-musician Ramon Jacinto’s plus-1s in his groundbreaking “RJ Duets” double CD, and the kinship is unmistakable.
Most of these collaborators are guitar players like Jacinto, and all are seasoned performers. So the vibe is one of self-assurance and ease, and that’s always a good thing for the listeners.
The roster reads like a sellout retro pop-rock concert lineup, with foreign artists to boot—The Ventures, John Ford Coley, Bobby Kimball (Toto), John Claude Gummoe (The Cascades), Marty Grebb and Dennis Tufano (The Buckinghams)—who have gamely tweaked some very familiar hits.
We happily note that the outstanding tracks are those duets performed with Jacinto’s local guest stars, here rated from hand-in-glove fit (high) to must-hear-them-together-again
(definitely ear candy): “Lonely Teardrops,” a Jackie Wilson original, with Nyoy Volante; “Nosi Ba Lasi,” attributed to Sampaguita, with Imago’s Aia de Leon; “Sugat ng Puso” (Jacinto’s best composition, in our estimation) with Noel Cabangon; “Presyo,” with Ely Buendia; and “Ligtas,” with Raimund Marasigan, who also wrote the song.
Hotdog’s Rene Garcia brings to the mix two veritable cult anthems that Pinoys never seem to tire of—“Bongga Ka ’Day” and “Manila.” Jose Mari Chan shows off perfectly honed pipes with “Afterglow” and “Constantly.” He gets our vote for rediscovery of the season.
Similarly, on account of “Don’t Let Go” and “Muli,” we are listening to Sitti with a fresh attitude.
We’ve heard some wonderful things about Richard Poon, and Jacinto need not verbalize his opinion of the hardworking young crooner. It’s apparent in their work on “One and Only” and “Missing You” that Jacinto is very comfortable with him, although their styles, understandably, could use a little more fusing. “Sad to Belong” with John Ford Coley is not a happy compromise, either.
But hey, Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise” with Andrea Bocelli in the former’s “Duets II” album doesn’t work as well as may be expected. In that same collection, Bennett’s “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” with Aretha Franklin is something close to a misadventure. Fantastic individual artists, less than fantastic results.
Invariably perceivable is the connection that Jacinto has, musically, with some of the artists more than the others—for instance, Volante, Marasigan and Cabangon. Voice-wise, these
three are also the closest to Jacinto’s range and tone.
The constant leveler in “RJ Duets” is the guitar-playing. It’s skillful, mindful, but earnest and unhurried. Most of it is done by Jacinto using his own brand of guitars. He is lightly supported in this department by Marasigan, Volante, Buendia; also Garcia, Jonathan Catacutan and Owin Cardenas on bass.
Ernie Vinoya very expertly heads the keyboards corner, with Catacutan, Alexie Corvilla (playing on most selections), Carlo Gaa and Pierre Grill.
Duets albums are a bright and timely proposition. The selection of performers tends to be a personal endeavor on the part of the lead artist, and not a single one of them carries solely on his shoulder the burden of ensuring marketing success. That they therefore do their parts as naturally as these come to them is communicated to audiences as an intimate offering, handed over with a smile and a playful note.
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