Released in 1971, With Love underscores New York native Ralfi Pagan’s status as one of the most talented singer-songwriters on the Fania roster. This reissue features lacquers cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and is pressed on 180-gram vinyl.
With Love is a masterful album that combines cool salsa grooves with Latin soul balladry, boasting powerful compositions by a notable gallery of Latin legends.
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 on 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.
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 sessions' 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 will probably ignite renewed interest in the remarkable beauty of his musical output.