At the time of Polo Montañez's tragic death in a car accident in November of 2002, Cuba's newest, best musical discovery had about 100 original songs up his sleeve, only a small percent of which he had time to record in the abbreviated, three-year span of his career. For the fans all around the world who had only just gotten their hands on Guitarra Mía, Montañez's second release, the news that there would be a posthumous album made up almost entirely of previously unrecorded material counted for small consolation, at least. Indeed, Memoria, as that collection was eventually called, offers up more of the high-spirited, big-hearted, and eminently danceable guajiro (Cuban country) tunes that won the former farm worker so much acclaim from the start. But for those previously acquainted with his music, it can't help but be tinged with melancholy of the day-the-music-died variety. While some tracks sound like the unpolished demos they no doubt are, there are a few fully realized diamonds in the mix. One of these, "Locura de Amor," a rollicking rumba buena, manages to subtly underscore the darker side of love's madness with haunting, virtuoso violin solos from guest musician Silvio Dusquesne, a strong presence on the album as a whole. "Con o sin Ella" has many of the same ingredients that made "Un Montón de Estrellas" -- an early hit tacked on for good measure at the end of Memoria -- so irresistible, including the singer's somewhat humorous pose as an affronted lover, a catchy melody that soars on the strength of woodblock percussion and the tres alone, and a rousing finish featuring Montañez riffing on the indignities he's suffered against the vocal backing of bandmates Gladis Pérez and Luis Romero. And "Homenaje a José Marti," a tribute to one of Cuba's most revered poets and revolutionaries -- who, incidentally, penned the lyrics to the anthemic and endlessly popular "Guajira Guantanamera" -- reveals a new dimension to Montañez's voice, a plaintively unaffected something that brings Silvio Rodríguez to mind. If you listen to the music of Montañez long and lovingly enough, comparisons to John Denver are bound to arise. And if the case were to be made that Montañez was Denver's Cuban incarnation, then "Guitarra Mía," the title track of Montañez's second album, repeated midway through this posthumous recording, would surely figure as his "This Old Guitar." One understands why it has to be here -- it's another gorgeous love song/duet between a guitar and a man who later crashed and burned -- but what's boggling about this version is that it's piled so thick with syrupy violins and other strings that the guitar can't really get a word in edgewise. Ah, well. Everyone makes mistakes. And the worst thing that can finally be said about Montañez is that he waited too long before he let his singular genius sing out.
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AllMusic Review by Jenny Gage