Lila Downs

La Cantina: "Entre Copa y Copa..."

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Mexican-American singer Lila Downs, who grew up shuttling between homes in Minnesota and Mexico, caught the attention of the general public with her performance in the film Frida. Those who turn to this album for more of what they heard there won't be disappointed, but they may be a little bit startled by the rhythm loops and subtle electronic effects that weave in and out of the traditional instrumentation over which she sings this wonderful program of Mexican ranchera songs. Downs' dark, smoky voice is the perfect vehicle for these songs, which juxtapose the deep emotion of fado and mariachi music with norteño and tejano influences (notable especially on those songs that feature the legendary Texas accordionist Flaco Jimenez). Everywhere you turn there are deeper complexities lurking beneath the already complicated surfaces of the songs: the quietly wailing clarinet that follows the distorted guitar solo on "Agua de Rosas"; the ska-funk inflections that are constantly hovering around the edges of "Tu Recuerdo y Yo"; the dubwise phase-shifting effects on "Cumbia del Mole" (a song that explains how to make one of the more popular Mexican sauces, and which is helpfully performed in both Spanish and English versions). On "Arboles de la Barranca" the horns are over the top even by Latin standards, but so what? Over the top is half the fun. Very highly recommended.

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