Juan-Carlos Formell

Cemeteries & Desire

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Count Juan-Carlos Formell's perfectly beautiful Cemeteries & Desire among those albums that, though foreign, requires no translation -- to play this disc is to fall swooningly, unblinkingly in love with it. No previous experience with Cuban music is needed, though the ability to discern its many flavors aids a listener in justifying the praise it unfailingly extracts. Unlike thundering, lust-steeped conga, mambo, or salsa -- all horns, drums, heat, and bravado -- what Formell brings to modern Latin music is Caetano Veloso-style sophistication and intimacy. Elements of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Brazil colors certain tracks, too; as influences go, jazz is clearly as important to Formell as it once was to the bossa nova legend. Where Formell differs from both Veloso and Jobim, though, is in his populist appeal, much in evidence throughout Cemeteries & Desire, as well as on the two other discs he has released in the U.S. since defecting from Cuba in 1993. As a description, ethereal does not suit Formell's singing or guitar-playing. Indigo-blue, the description of the artist's style provided in the liner notes to this disc, does. Perfectly. Formell's aim may be to establish himself as the Jackson Browne of Latin music, and here he achieves that through introspective playing and plaintive, heartfelt lyrics: "Your heart is wearing shoes/It doesn't want to touch my love," he sings, in Spanish, on "Zapatos." "Mulata" puts its lovelorn message more plainly. "Look at her, how lovely she comes/Look at her, how lovely she goes," the final lyric translates. The same could be said for this disc as a whole.

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