Compiling tracks from albums released by Pablo Milanés between 1977 and 1989, Cancionero is intended as an introduction to the work of the Cuban singer-songwriter for a non-Spanish-speaking U.S. audience (lyrics are printed in English only). This collection samples the many facets of Milanés' eclectic musical repertoire, attesting to his roots in popular forms such as the son, his appropriation of the filin style, and his tendency toward less compelling jazz-pop arrangements with ill-advised synths. Alongside Silvio Rodríguez and Sara Gonzáles, Milanés was an architect of the Cuban nueva trova and, as Cancionero shows, the poetic sensibility of that movement's lyrical approach remains at the heart of his music. Above all, Milanés brings a deeply personal sense of poetic craft to bear on political songs, in the original spirit of the nueva trova. While on simple ballads like the classic "Yolanda," Milanés works within the traditional idiom of the love song, "Homenaje," for instance, is a paean to Cuba, its people, and its revolution. The energetic "Buenos Días América" is, as its title suggests, more pan-American in its outlook. The standout track here is "Amo Esta Isla," a tour de force of shifting time signatures on which Milanés joyously celebrates his homeland against the backdrop of the Mariel boat lift. Of course, no compilation can ever satisfy everyone and it has to be said that, as an introductory overview of Milanés' work up until 1989, Cancionero is slightly flawed. It fails to include material from his first two albums, Versos Sencillos de José Martí (1973) and Pablo Milanés Canta a Nicolás Guillén (1975), which masterfully render the works of two of Cuba's greatest poets. Also conspicuous by its absence is anything from 1978's La Vida No Vale Nada, particularly "Para Vivir," arguably one of his finest songs.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Wilson Neate