Rana Santacruz

Por Ahí

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

After leaving his longstanding rock band, La Catrina, in 2002 and moving to Brooklyn, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Rana Santacruz immersed himself in the borough's vastly diverse music scene. Eight years later, his independently released debut, Chicavasco, captured his musical ambitions, and reflected the range of these influences -- Celtic fiddle music, bluegrass, indie pop, Balkan wedding music -- on the music he brought to New York -- mariachi, corrido, ranchera, and more. Apparently never in a hurry, Santacruz refined his approach over the next five years and the result is Por Ahí, an 11-track showcase that reveals a more confident integration of these sounds with the immediacy of a live performance. His accordion is accompanied only by acoustic instruments: banjo, upright bass, guitar, trumpets, violin, and percussion. While the musical energy is in your face, it only enhances Santacruz's ability to tell stories. First single "Te Quiero Ver Llorar" walks a taut line between tango, San Jarocho traditional music, and Eastern European gypsy music infused with passionate poetry. It's a tale of a love so dark and obsessive, the protagonist is outright dangerous: “Voy a amargarte las mañanas/Llenar tu vida de terror/Causarte una eterna migraña/pellizcar las entrañas y arañarte el corazón…Mo condenes mis deseos/con lo mucho que te quiero…” Despite the tension, there is a bluegrass breakdown in the middle that cracks it open and it becomes a celebratory dance -- sans hipster irony. "Lobo" underscores this notion, offering Santacruz's own wry yet smoldering take on desire from a werewolf's point of view, as the music moves between cumbia, tango, and conjunto with a dash of Celtic fiddle music kissing the mix for luck. "Cumbia de la Serpiente" melds that style with mariachi, as sweeping violins, fat trumpets, and hand percussion color the margins as his accordion highlights the explosive desire in the lyric. "El Chapaulin" is a political corrido that grafts the music's grand tradition onto swinging, late-1920s jazz. Accompanying the passionate, cinematic croon of "Lo Único Que Quiero" -- with a gorgeous backing chorus right out of Mexican cinema -- mariachi, bluegrass, and polka all play simultaneously. Underlying everything in Santacruz's songs are his stories, told with the literary assuredness of poets like Pita Amor, Jaime Sabines, and outlaw Roberto Solis -- check the Celtic bluegrass and San Jarocho stomp in "Deseos de un Hombre Muerto," where a man faces down death by making a bawdy demand of his lover. On Por Ahí, Santacruz's many stylistic influences have been woven authoritatively into a tapestry completely of his own design. HIs musical sophistication is equaled only by the narrative strength, wry humor, and, sometimes, audacious desire in his lyrics. Excellent.