Black Flamenco

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Estrella's second album is an assured step toward building the singer's artistic and commercial persona. While Estrella has always declared her goal to be the symbiosis of her flamenco roots with her love of soul, blues, and rhythm & blues, it is immediately apparent that when she says "soul," she (or her producer, Noel Pastor) has in mind the newer generations rather than the classics -- more Beyoncé or Amy Winehouse than Aretha or Dusty. In fact, for large sections of Black Flamenco, Estrella sounds like Winehouse's long-lost cousin from Andalucia -- albeit with a much healthier lifestyle. Almost the entire album is built around the same formula: a steady urban R&B groove of electronic drum and bass accompanied by tasteful (if often unobtrusive) flamenco rasgueado rhythm guitars, punctuated here and there by horns, often evoking Arabian music. The flamenco/black contrast is also present in the voices, which often oppose a soaring lead vocal that ends every other phrase in typical flamenco serpentine fashion against a blues/gospel call-and-response chorus. It is an original formula, very well realized, and very striking at first -- but when the songs turn out to be good rather than great, it eventually wears itself thin. If the same amount of care applied here to layering the tracks would have been devoted to good old songwriting, Black Flamenco would be a resounding artistic triumph. As formula takes over substance, it promises more than what it actually delivers -- which is not little, anyway: taken individually, several tracks such as the bluesy "Aquí Seguiré" and "Si Me Sientes" will immediately and forcefully grab the listener's attention, as will Estrella's passionate singing. Not the revelation it purports to be, but still a very good record by an artist eminently worth keeping an eye on. Black Flamenco was nominated for three 2009 Latin Grammys, including, bafflingly, as is often the case with this category, Best New Artist -- for someone who had released her debut album back in 2006.