Luis Miguel has built a sizable catalog since the early '90s, providing a variety of Latin pop albums that have ranged from excellent to merely decent. The Mexican superstar has recorded his share of gems, although at times, he has played it safe and coasted on his considerable talent. But there is no coasting on México el la Piel (Mexico in the Flesh), which is undeniably one of the finest, most enriching albums of his career. Unlike much of his catalog, this 2004 release isn't strictly an album of Latin pop; Miguel favors a more classically Mexican approach this time, embracing well-known Mexican standards and celebrating the country's rich mariachi and ranchera heritage. Miguel, in fact, is joined by none other than Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, a Mexican institution that goes all the way back to the late 1890s. Over the years, the mariachi powerhouse has had numerous lineup changes -- and all of the original members, of course, have long since passed away. But then, Mariachi Vargas at this point is really about a sound, a culture, and a tradition rather than individual members; they have long functioned as Mexico's finest repertory band, and the 2004 edition of Mariachi Vargas is a definite asset for Miguel on Mexican standards like José Alfredo Jiménez's "Un Mundo Raro," Federico Méndez's "De Que Manera Te Olvido," and Alvaro Carrillo's "Luz de Luna." Miguel really soars on those gems as well as on "Paloma Querida" (another Jiménez classic) and a stunning performance of Consuelo Velásquez's "Que Seas Feliz" that has been used as the theme for Apuesta por un Amor, the telenovela (Latin soap opera) that replaced the popular Rubí on the Univision network after it concluded. Among non-Latino audiences, "Que Seas Feliz" isn't as well known as "Besame Mucho." But the song is a longtime favorite in Mexico, and Miguel has no problem doing Velásquez's poignant lyrics justice. Miguel has every reason to be proud of México el la Piel, which is definitely among his most essential releases.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson