Maria Ochoa, sister of the more famous Buena Vista Social Club alumnus Eliades Ochoa, hasn't started out early as a recording artist. This, her debut, comes as she enters her mid-fifties. But in Santiago she's long been a star, working live and on the radio. Her strongly developed style is miles removed from the lush sounds often associated with Cuba. No horns or piano, and no battery of percussionists. Instead it's a simpler music -- the son, in a Cuban country-style, the campesina (which in no way resembles American country music) -- that's her forte. The tres and guitar drive the melodies, with Ochoa's husky voice front and center. Brother Eliades does show up, guesting on "El Reto" and "Como Estoy Sufriendo," but that seems to be a star ploy for the American market; Ochoa's regular band work perfectly well, tightly and melodically, without him. To be fair, their strong support definitely helps Ochoa, who's not the world's greatest singer. She quavers as she holds a note, and her sense of pitch sometimes leaves a little bit to be desired. However, that comes with the rawer, stripped-down campesina style and rarely detracts from the wonderful son style of her music, where the songs themselves are the real riches, like the danzon title cut or the more formal guajira de salon of "No Te Tubas Que Te Caes." Ochoa can let herself go and then the band goes with her, which produces some spectacular results -- witness "Suena la Timba." She might not be a superstar, but Maria Ochoa brings something warm, natural, and real to Cuban music.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson