Chavela Vargas

¡Por Mi Culpa!

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Chavela Vargas' legendary voice has always sounded like she was 100 years old, so not much is lost now that she is turning 91. She may sound and look even frailer than usual in ¡Por Mi Culpa!, but still nothing else can convey a soul in despair like her raspy, crying enunciation -- which is exactly why she has become the ultimate interpreter of the hyper-melodramatic Mexican ranchera. She may even be held responsible for singlehandedly redefining the genre for an entirely new, and often international, audience -- not unlike what João Gilberto did for the samba-canção. ¡Por Mi Culpa! is a particularly dear project for Vargas, as it was the first time she enjoyed total creative control, and thus was able to choose her recording company (Discos Corasón), producers (Mary Farquharson and Eduardo Llerenas), repertoire, and guest artists, not to mention -- at least according to Vargas -- the first time she was paid her full royalties after a lifetime of being exploited by the Mexican recording industry. Perhaps on account of Vargas' ailing health, ¡Por Mi Culpa! is an extremely succinct album, merely eight songs, seven time-honored staples by the likes of José Alfredo Jiménez, Agustín Lara, Álvaro Carrillo, and César Isella, and just one new song, the fine "¿A Dónde Te Vas, Paloma?," written by Vargas and Mario Ávila. But for one solo number, Vargas is joined on each track by an artist she admires (and who in turn positively reveres her), ranging from her loyal friend from Madrid Joaquín Sabina to her alleged heiress Lila Downs, as well as Argentina's La Negra Chagra, the United States' Pink Martini, and Mexicans Mario Ávila, Eugenia León, and Jimena Giménez Cacho. All duets are as respectful as they are moving, with a special mention of Giménez Cacho's "Un Mundo Raro." Ensuring the project's untouchable class are Vargas' regular accompanists Juan Carlos Allende and Miguel Peña, whose delicate guitar embellishments should be considered by now as integral a part of Vargas' style as her own singing. True, Vargas has recorded this same material countless times before, and it is probably fair to say that none of the versions included here can claim to be her definitive take. Even so, there can be few safer bets than a record like ¡Por Mi Culpa!, where the undisputed master of the genre revisits the standards in very good company. An impeccable release by a timeless artist.

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