Isabel Pantoja

Donde El Corazón Me Lleve

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In the ghetto that is Yankee pop culture, we toss the word "diva" around for virtually every female pop singer who is popular. C'mon...Aretha Franklin -- yeah. Celine Dion? Mariah Carey? No way. In any case, given our complete desecration of the meaning of that term, we no doubt never consider what it might mean in world terms. Go to Spain, Italy -- heck, anywhere in Europe, Latin America, or Asia -- and drop the name of Madrid's most popular citizen, Isabel Pantoja, and the "D" word will roll off the tongue with reverence, awe, and admiration. Pantoja is the authentic article, a singer's singer for whom passion drips from every syllable. Like Edith Piaf, she is gifted with the ability to deliver her songs powerfully, but without adornment, just unadulterated emotion. Given that we are on this side of the Atlantic, it is technically impossible to figure out exactly how many recordings Pantoja has issued since 1974, when she began a career marked by tragedy as well as success. And without going into detail, this woman knows what it means to sing about lost love. Donde el Corazon Me Lleve is a kind of transition for Pantoja. While all of the traditional Spanish elements that are her trademark are in evidence here -- the gorgeous bandoneons and single-button accordions, strings, guitars, castanets, etc. -- postmodern production techniques courtesy of Roberto Livi have been employed, giving Ms. Pantoja's music an edgier feel in places such as on the punched-up, horn-driven son of "Fuego." Elsewhere, such as on "Qué Tai Me Va Sin Ti," a string orchestra washes over the guitars and percussion, allowing the diva's voice its full space to soar above the mix and express the bottomless well of emotion of which she alone is capable of articulating. The wonderfully atmospheric synthesizers paired with a flamenco guitar in "Y Mañana Qué" are adorned by strings; Pantoja splits the lyric open with alternating whispered and wailed lines. In the grain of her voice is the entire history of love, devotion, surrender, and heartbreak and grief. In the slum of white-trash pop culture, we have no recordings like this; we have to import them from elsewhere. We simply cannot entertain the honesty of emotion and expression that albums such as Donde el Corazon Me Lleve communicate honestly and without pretension. This is a brilliant album by a singer who deserves to be every bit the legend Aretha Franklin or Billie Holiday is. It is simply breathtaking, brilliant, and beyond any gauge for excellence we have in America.

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