Recorded in Havana in 1959 for the Sonotone label, this 17-song set captures the great Cuban singer and pianist Ignacio Villa (whose stage name was Bola de Nieve, which translates, ironically, as "Snowball") in an intimate setting: it's just him and the piano. These sons and mambos are alternately hilarious, deeply romantic, sad and melancholy, or full of the passion associated with Cuban music from its golden era (between 1947 and 1960) -- but each song is only as good as the singer delivering it. "Ay Amor," locates de Nieve deep in his romantic voice, a voice that influenced many singers as disparate as the great Miguelito Valdes and Cuban '90s hitmaker Rey Ruiz. De Nieve kept the canon alive throughout his career, playing songs from the turn of the 19th century alongside modern mambos. His folk songs are as moving as those by his contemporary, the legendary Estanislao "Laito" Sureda Hernandez and Rolando "Rolo" Martínez. De Nieve is something else, though, a bit of an elegant showman as well as a sophisticated musician. His influence is so vast that he has been compared to Louis Armstrong in his homeland. This music, beautifully transferred and stripped down, shows the elegance of style, the seemingly effortless nuance, and the deep soul of de Nieve. The hinge pieces that occur in the middle of the album -- "No Quiero Qué Me Olivides," "Por Qué Me la Dejaste Querer," and "Alma Mia" -- are a devastatingly moving triple threat, and these three alone are worth the album's purchase price. But there is so much more.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek