HIGHER OCTAVE MUSIC
Blessed with one of the most gorgeous voices on the planet, Raul Malo can stiffen those little hairs on the back of your neck. His stirring quaver does exactly that on "From Hell to Paradise" and "Siboney," tunes found on the Mavericks' From Hell to Paradise album and Los Super Seven's Canto, respectively. So I was disappointed that the Cuban-American singer/songwriter scales no such emotional peaks on this, his much anticipated solo debut. That said, the lack of one or two home runs hardly diminishes this appealing collection. Emphasizing his Cuban musical heritage rather than the Mavericks' alt.-country, Malo's wide-ranging, richly textured voice is propelled by irresistible Latin rhythms, percolating horn lines and warmly strummed Spanish-guitar riffs. Malo and producer Steve Berlin have created a rather schizophrenic album, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. On the one hand, slow, emotional ballads of longing like "Every Little Thing About You" and "Let's Not Say Goodbye Anymore" threaten to rip our lovelorn hearts out. But just when we're ready to slit our wrists, Malo and his merry men—including keyboardist/arranger Alberto Salas—uncork upbeat, dance-inducing numbers such as the title track or "I Said I Love You." Apparently, Today—which includes four songs sung in Spanish—suggests we cry, party or do both. Maybe we should even have sex, as Malo and guest Shelby Lynne suggest in their flirtatious duet, "Takes Two to Tango." Raul may have gone solo, but he's still a maverick at heart. (John Roos)
EL MÁS GRAN HOMENAJE A LOS TIGRES DEL NORTE
Los Tigres del Norte
You don't have to be a chúntaro to appreciate Los Tigres del Norte, whose songs of open borders, class consciousness and immigrant struggles have made them one of the most progressive bands in any language in the past quarter-century. Unfortunately, the Latin Grammy junta has convinced non-Mexicans that any music with a 2/4 beat is lamer than . . . well, a Latin Grammy. So only the most attuned or unassimilated audiences are familiar with the legendary conjunto norteño. With this in mind, Fonovisa has released a rock en español tribute album to bring their music to a more diverse crowd. A strictly Mexican affair when it comes to the artists featured, the album nevertheless includes a dazzling mix of the Tigres' lyrical canon and the various styles of Latin alternative. No one has compromised their integrity or that of the original songs. As such, each song is paradoxically the artists' and Los Tigres'. So while Maldita Vecindad's chilango take on "El Circo" sounds like their usual aural anarchy, the song's message of political corruption still comes through. Ditto for Julieta Venegas' melancholy version of the already melancholy "La Jaula de Oro" (The Golden Cage) and Ely Guerra's delightfully oomph-pha "La Tumba Falsa" (The False Tomb). Winner for best cover, though, is Titán, whose dreamy Hollywood-by-way-of-Bollywood remake of "Pacas de a Kilo" is so hypnotizing you forget the song's incendiary condemnation of Mexican politics. A great tribute to Mexico's alternative music scene and los jefes de jefes alike. (Gustavo Arellano)
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