He was one of the most soulful and criminally underrated singers in the landscape of Afro-Caribbean music. Venerated by salsa aficionados to this day, Ismael Rivera shone both as the lead sonero with the pioneering combo of bandleader Rafael Cortijo and also as a prolific solo artist.

Now, Fania pays tribute to Rivera with the latest installment in the prestigious Man And His Music series. Subtitled ‘Maelo’ after the affectionate nickname bestowed on Rivera by his fans, the collection includes the stunning amount of 45 tracks on two discs. The first disc focuses mostly on the seminal sessions that Rivera recorded in the ’50s and ’60s. Rather than focusing on the expected hits that already appear on countless compilations, this set emphasizes the breadth and richness of Rivera’s catalogue with a number of key album tracks. A tropicalized version of the Italian pop hit “Volare” has aged beautifully, whereas the Bobby Capó composition “El Negrito De Alabama” showcases Maelo’s one-of-a-kind phrasing.

The last 10 tracks on this disc take us into the late ’60s, when Rivera traveled to New York to launch a solo career through classic LPs such as De Colores and Lo Último En La Avenida. Disc 2 explores the albums that Rivera made while the New York salsa explosion of the ’70s was reaching its peak. Instead of imitating the soundscapes of the moment, Maelo continued recording excellent sessions in his inimitable style: no frills salsa with small ensembles, focusing mostly on superb song selection and the chocolaty texture of his vocal chords. Also included here is a concert version of Bobby Capó’s “Sale El Sol,” recorded with the Tico Alegre All Stars and released in 1974. Tracks from the singer’s last few albums bring us up to 1980 and Maelo’s biggest solo hit, a poignant recording of the Tite Curet Alonso composition “Las Caras Lindas.”