Rubén Blades

Nothing But the Truth

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The first English-language album in the long and illustrious career of Panamanian salsa superstar Rubén Blades, Nothing But the Truth is a strong effort that, if less than great, is fascinating on several counts. The novelty of hearing Blades sing in English is certainly a big draw. He's a fine vocalist and he has the luxury of working with three of the English language's most eminent tunesmiths: Lou Reed (on the songs "Hopes on Hold," "Letters to the Vatican," and "The Calm Before the Storm"), Elvis Costello ("The Miranda Syndrome" and "Shamed into Love"), and Sting ("I Can't Say"). The one drawback to Blades' singing in English is that it lacks the fluidity of his native language, as each word is enunciated clearly yet a bit too slowly, as if he were reading the lyrics as he sang them. It helps, however, that the songs are topically engaging and generally in tune with their time (El Salvador, AIDS, Oliver North), so the unnaturally slow enunciation is a mixed blessing. Also a mixed blessing is the thoroughly contemporary, synth-heavy production, which screams out "1988!" As for the music, it varies from song to song and, overall, would best be tagged as late-'80s MOR with a Latin lilt. What's perhaps most surprising is the lack of salsa here -- "The Miranda Syndrome" and "Chameleons" are as close as this album comes to salsa, and even they're far removed -- and the abundance of foregrounded electric guitars (musically, "The Calm Before the Storm" is all blaring electric guitar and larger-than-life drums). Such oddities are a significant part of Nothing But the Truth's appeal, for better and for worse.

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