NEW YORK — Jose Feliciano doesn't mind riding some coattails back into the spotlight. At Carnegie Hall recently, he praised the newest Latin-American hit-makers and added, "All these wonderful artists are reopening the door for me."
Feliciano, who is Puerto Rican, took his version of the Latin tinge to the U.S. Top 10 in 1968 when he remade the Doors' "Light My Fire."
With lightly plucked Afro-Cuban guitar syncopations behind an imploring vocal, the record was a few minutes of ardent virtuosity amid the psychedelia. His U.S. hit streak lasted only to 1974, but he has a loyal international audience for his songs in Spanish. He plans to release an American album early in 2001 called "I'm Back, Jack."
The concert fondly recalled Feliciano's American commercial heyday. He sang hits from the late 1960s and early '70s by the Temptations, Bill Withers and Santana. Guest musicians — Paul Simon, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) and Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) — shared '60s songs with him, including "Homeward Bound," "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and "Soul Man," as Feliciano made folk rhythms lilt and flex. His rhythmic enhancements had Simon dancing with his hands in the air when they performed "Late in the Evening."
Feliciano didn't restrict himself by era or style. Trading solos with the Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, he played the romantic boleros that started his career and American pop songs like "The Shadow of Your Smile." He played hard-strumming three-chord rock ("La Bamba"), easygoing pop-jazz (an instrumental version of Orleans' "Dance With Me") and a modern Latin pop ballad recorded for his next album.
He has always been an eclectic musician. His guitar technique pulls together the pinpoint attack of flamenco, the insinuating chords of bossa nova, the linearity of jazz and the blues inflections of rock lead guitar, and he can sing with the dramatic inflections of a bolero singer or the floridity of a soul belter.
At Carnegie Hall, however, his versatility sometimes left him sounding simply like a mimic, and his fingers were so fast that he tended to favor flashy guitar filigrees over melodic lines. He was never less than skillful. But only a few songs — the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes hit "If You Don't Know Me By Now," some boleros with Sandoval and a still-impetuous "Light My Fire" — translated technique into heart.