Juan Luis Guerra

Para Ti

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When Juan Luis Guerra took the stage at the history-making first ever Spanish-language presentation of the annual Latin Grammy Awards in November 2005, it marked the Dominican superstar's joyful return to the public eye after more than five years away from the recording studio. That night Guerra and his band, 4.40, won Best Tropical Song with "Avispas" -- no surprise for the man who once revolutionized the genre by bringing his elite training in jazz performance at Boston's Berklee School of Music to bear upon the traditional rhythms of home -- and a much less characteristic Best Christian Album award for Para Ti. While the news of Guerra's conversion to Christianity in the late '90s may have reached fewer music fans in the United States than had similar changes of heart by Bob Dylan or Cat Stevens, many nonetheless feared the worst -- that the man once hailed as the (secular) prophet of Dominican music would give it all up for God. But Para Ti is bound to make all but the most stalwartly areligious feel a whole lot better. Aside from a couple of isolated missteps involving a culturally displaced gospel choir and what sounds suspiciously like a wind machine, these are great songs, as danceable as they are devotional. Noteworthy among them are "Las Avispas" -- guaranteed to get you moving with a delightful bit of onomatopoeia and a vision of divine justice as a swarm of wasps -- and the rafter-shaking "Los Dinteles"; but even slow, straightforward ballads like "Tan Sólo He Venido" and "Extiende Tu Mano" are interesting in the way that they reflect Guerra's roots in the folky nueva trova movement of the '60s and '70s.

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