Normally you wouldn't recommend a three-CD set as an introduction to an artist, but Antología
may be the best way to get an idea of the career trajectory of the man almost universally regarded as the greatest flamenco singer of all time. Most of Camaron de la Isla's 18 records were cut in the vinyl LP era and generally clock in at around 30 minutes; since his Spanish label hasn't gone (or doesn't want to go) the two-LP/one-CD compilation route, Antología
fills a void. The essential La Leyenda Del Tiempo
was a career turning point, but you only really hear what a jolting bolt from the blue it was when the title track surfaces after two dozen classic flamenco pieces with only guitar accompaniment. Camaron's 1969-1977 early career was staunchly traditional, as he blossomed with the equally youthful Paco de Lucía as his guitar sidekick. Actually, it's pretty much a de Lucía family affair, since sometime-second guitarist Ramón de Algeciras is Paco's brother and their father, Antonio Sánchez, served as producer, manager, and appears in the bulk of the songwriting credits. Early songs like "A Los Santos Del Cielo" and "Al Padre Santo de Roma" are marked by studio onlookers cheering him on with shouts and handclaps. The one different arrangement is "Sere...Serenito," a big band/Latin-flavored song from a 1972 Spanish film Camaron appeared in. He really hits his singing stride by the end of the first disc with outstanding performances on "Me Dieron una Occasión," "Ni Que Me Manden a Mi," and "Arte Y Majestad." "Vamos Niña Pá La Bomba" and "Moraíto Como un Lirio" come close to blues with their interplay between guitar and vocals, and the more up-tempo, driving "Samara" is pretty spectacular, the first song Camaron had a hand in writing. Then came La Leyenda Del Tiempo
and Camaron's musical world shifted. Although he would occasionally record with Paco de Lucía again (notably on the hit "Como el Agua"), the second half of his career featured mostly his own songs or adaptations, more varied arrangements, and Tomatito
as his guitar partner. "Volando Voy" became a Camaron anthem, the live "Limón de Cera" sports a killer finale, and the third disc starts on a different tack with a string arrangement and massed vocals before Camaron's forceful entry on "Calle Real." "Yo Vivo Enamorao" is sprightly pop-flamenco with its repeated chorus and straight rhythms, while the intro to "Viveré" shows some of the Arabic roots of, or influence on, flamenco guitar. Camaron suffered from health problems in the mid-'80s -- his voice is starting to strain behind the horns and strings on the slightly cluttered "Te lo Dice Camarón" and the string-driven anthem "Soy Gitano." You almost wonder if the purpose of the fuller arrangements was to mask his vocal struggles, but then comes a version of "Nana Del Caballo Grande," recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
at Abbey Road, that superbly plays his melancholy vocal desolation against the orchestral grandeur. The energetic "Potro de Rabia y Miel" and very simple final medley are a nice switch back from the orchestra and symbolic of the way Camaron extended flamenco's horizons but always returned to home base. Antología
chronicles how he brought flamenco into the modern music world without sacrificing its root essence; it's a hefty price to pay, but you'll find the musical foundation of modern flamenco here by the artist who stands head and shoulders above the rest.