Robi Draco Rosa

When singer/songwriter/producer/performer Robi Draco Rosa needed to think about his new album, he knew it would be best done blazing down the Pacific Coast Highway in a new ride with serious tunes popping from his speakers. “I’ve always had vintage cars,” reflected Rosa. “So I leased a brand new BMW 740 IL, and I took it out on the road and started playing the remastered version of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. That’s when I knew what I had to do, what it would sound like.”
The result is Mad Love, 13 songs that reflect the chaos, the darkness, the love that came out of that moment when jazz became rock became a revolution in sound. It’s also a testament to the love of his life, actress/director Angela Alvarado. “I’ve always been kind of a romantic, but I reached another level in our relationship and it was just when I was diving into this album. So I just committed to that and I said, ‘Let me just go full-on and make beautiful love songs.'”

The enigmatic Rosa, who has four solo albums under his belt, is best known for three things: founding and fronting alt rock/funk band Maggie’s Dream; crafting hits like “Living La Vida Loca” and “The Cup of Life” for his one-time Menudo-mate Ricky Martin; and his late-’90s Latin rock classic, Vagabundo, which contained several songs based on the dark poetry of Baudelaire. Bilingual, bicultural, a painter and poet, it’s as if Rosa has the full range of artistic endeavor within him.

“I never feel like I’m going to plan to play rock today, or I’m going to plan to play reggae,” said Rosa. “I just want to do what feels right. I go by the adrenaline or the heartbeat. I just try to keep the spontaneity, which is what I thrive on.”

Produced and written by Rosa, Mad Love is overflowing with spontaneity, passion, and emotion, from the spacey, ethereal crescendos of “My Eyes Adore You,” to the bluesy, rippling guitar work in “Lie Without a Lover,” and the sexy smooth groove of “Dancing in the Rain.” The spirit of flamenco and Iggy Pop & the Stooges lurk in the background, and seemingly everywhere are those freaky muted trumpets, a testament to Miles Davis cool.

Rosa’s creative method reflects the free-flowing atmosphere at the house he built, Phantom Vox Studios in West Hollywood. Within these funky walls, Rosa staged collaborations with session musicians like guitarist Rusty Anderson and drummer Vinnie Coliauta, Patrick Warren (keyboards), Paul Bushnell (bass), Carla Azar (drums) and producer/arrangers Walter Afanasieff, George Noriega, and the legendary Van Dyke Parks. It’s also a place where Rosa will invite a roomful of flamenco musicians from Spain or a 20-piece string section.

“The album was two years in the making,” explained Rosa. “At first I was working with a touring band I had put together. We had tons of material, about 60 plus songs. But after recording all these songs, I realized I didn’t think I had an album I felt was worth putting out.”

Rosa backtracked to Puerto Rico, the ancestral place where he had lived his adolescence and maintains a home, and realized he had to go in a new direction. Back in L.A., he bought the new wheels, heard the Miles, and decided to look up producer/songwriter George Noriega, with whom he’d worked on Ricky Martin’s breakthrough 1999 English-language debut. They put together a song called “Como Me Acuerdo” (“How I Remember”), Mad Love’s only tune in Spanish, and took off from there.

“I realized I could work with George when we worked on ‘She’s All I Ever Had’ for Ricky,” said Rosa. “I called him up and we’d go to Venice Beach to write songs.” Rosa, who hits a stunning falsetto climax on “My Eyes Adore You,” also credits Noriega with helping him come out of his shell with his singing. “For years people have been saying man you should sing more, you have a really nice voice. So George said, ‘Listen, man, you gotta sing. Don’t hide behind a stack of vocals.'”

Rosa won’t hide behind the artificiality of being a spoiled pop star, either. A long-ago session with a high-flying guitarist drove him to seek out undiscovered musicians to play on his projects. “I’m not going to deal anymore with these guys with big cars, big money, big records they played on,” said Rosa. “They’ve forgotten that every track is a new day. I’ve learned so much hanging in a local scene in Spain, Brazil. There are cats I’ve come across in Milan, guys that write beautifully, who just live in an apartment and have a job down the street, and I just bring them to the party.”

In addition to the aforementioned raucous session with Spanish musicians at Phantom Vox Studios Mad Love features local musicians recorded in Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Spain. In New York, he recruited legendary tres player Nelson Gonzalez. “Nelson played on ‘Crash Push.’ I said to him, listen man, you’re playing for Miles!”

With its California flow and Rosa’s unabashed love for gnashing guitars and pounding drum kits, you could call Mad Love a great rock album, but in order to do that, you have to reassess your definition of rock. “Who’s rockin’? Marvin Gaye was rockin’. Marvin rocked hard,” said Rosa. “I remember running into this ‘rock’ thing when I was doing Vagabundo and I was trying to keep it clear of that ‘Yo, man, I don’t care to be in your club of rockers.’ I’m just doing my thing.”

Whether you think of Baudelaire, or you’re reminded of Jim Morrison, Maxwell or that anonymous troubadour you caught in a little caf¨¦ on your last tropical vacation, you can be sure that this Robi Draco Rosa thing called Mad Love will get you through a thousand restless nights. You know, the kind when you need to get in your car and drive and drive until the sun finally comes up.

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