By this point in his career, Alejandro Fernandez was several years into his plan to conquer the world. One of the greatest ranchera singers of the '90s, rivaling and occasionally surpassing the work of his iconic father, Fernandez considered himself (and wished to market himself as) something more. The dawn of the 21st century found him alongside the likes of Placido Domingo, and the pain of hearing him outclassed by greater interpretive talents was that much greater in that it lacked obvious absurdity (e.g. Pavarotti and Bryan Adams). Fernandez' voice is expressive, instantly identifiable and technically impressive. Fernandez was also recording romantic pop, some of which had good hooks, but which tended toward overbearing saccharine arrangements and schmaltzy lyrics. Even such throwaway tracks were somehow lifted by his voice. Luckily, neither extreme of his awkward consolidation of stardom is indulged on this live double-CD. It is still a little overwrought. There is a full orchestra and choir. There are orchestral interludes during what one would hope are not elaborate costume changes. It fits squarely in that stream of releases that attempt to establish Fernandez's versatility, except here he is comfortably in his element as a romantic singer. The songs are the standards, the "schlagers" of Mexican tradition. But the sound is lush and organic. Mexico never really left the 19th century behind, and Romantic-era harmony seems fresh again in these songs. This sort of setting complements Fernandez's voice perfectly. The thrill of hearing him for the first time lies in knowing where he came from and hearing how much smoother and seductive and deeper his voice is than his father's. Fernandez's rancheras are mannered and modern. You'd feel almost embarrassed hearing him sing lyrics mentioning tequila. Moving from overt ranchera-mariachi to a classic romantic ballad setting feels natural because he has always sung romantically. Some may be put off by the sheer spectacle of the thing, but this Canto de Mexico still mines a living musical tradition with the voice of a true star.
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