Picks and Pans Review: Buscando America (searching for America)
Rubén Blades y Seis del Solar (Six From the Tenement)
Salsa is growing beyond even the exuberant bounds of the quintessential style exemplified by Machito and Oquendo. Witness Rubén Blades. A popular Panamanian singer and composer who has collaborated with Willie Colon on three best-selling albums for the small Fania label, Blades has just released his first major-label disc. Do we smell "crossover"? Yes, but not in the usual sense of an artist abandoning his roots to woo a mainstream audience. With the broad distribution and promotion Blades will presumably have now, a mainstream audience may be enticed to cross over to him. It would be worth the trip. Blades is expanding Latin music, while preserving its rhythmic heart, by experimenting with instrumentation (vibraphone, guitar and synthesizer), opening up tight song structures and writing social and political lyrics devoid of rhetoric and slogans. When he enters Harvard Law School next fall, Blades will also be working on an album of songs based on eight short stories of the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Blades' lyrics here are already condensed narratives about individuals—a priest gunned down with his altar boy while giving communion; a philanderer who gets his comeuppance; a rightist police agent's banal morning, drying himself after his shower with a towel that reads "Disneyland." In Desapariciones (Disappearances), a neighborhood fills with the sounds of gunfire, speeding cars, marching boots. In one apartment, people, not daring to peek outside, huddle, watching a soap opera. Blades is a gifted melodist, and his musicians play with inspiration and skill. The album flies, as uplifting as it is ambitious. (Elektra)
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