This album takes its name from “a members-only club that was opened in Havana in pre-Castro times, a period of unbelievable musical activity in Cuba. While bandleader Desi Arnaz became a huge hit in the States, several equally talented musicians never saw success outside their native country, and have had nothing but their music to sustain them during the Castro reign” (McMullen).
“Ry Cooder went to Cuba to record a musical documentary of these performers” (McMullen). His “name has helped bring attention to this session, but it’s the veteran Cuban…musicians who make this album really special” (Wright). “Many of the musicians on this album have been playing for more than a half century, and they sing and play with an obvious love for the material. Cooder could have recorded these songs without paying the musicians a cent; one can imagine them jumping up and grabbing for their instruments at the slightest opportunity, just to play” (McMullen).
“Reminiscent of Ellington in its scope and sense of hushed romanticism, Buena Vista Social Club is that rare meld of quietude and intensity; while the players sound laid-back, they’re putting forth very alive music” (Wright). “Most of the songs are a real treasure, traversing a lot of ground in Cuba’s musical history. There’s the opening tune, Chan Chan, a composition by 89-year-old Compay Segundo, who was a bandleader in the ‘50s; the cover of the early-‘50s tune De Camino a la Verada, sung by the 72-year-old composer Ibrahim Ferrer, who interrupted his daily walk through Havana just long enough to record; or the amazing piano playing on Pablo Nuevo by 77-year-old Rubén González, who has a unique style that blends jazz, mambo, and a certain amount of playfulness” (McMullen).
“Barbarito Torres’ laoud solo on El Cuarto de Tula is both more blinding and more tasteful than any guitar showcase on any recent rock album; a quote from ‘Stormy Weather’ and some very distinct parallels to Hawaiian styles remind us of why it’s called "world music’” (Wright).
“All of these songs were recorded live – some of them in the musicians’ small apartments – and the sound is incredibly deep and rich, something that would have been lost in digital recording and overdubbing. Cooder brought just the right amount of reverence to this material, and it shows in his production, playing, and detailed liner notes. If you get one album of Cuban music, this should be the one” (McMullen).