Lila Downs

Shake Away/Ojo de Culebra

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

Lila Downs' Shake Away is easily the most polished and refined release since she released Ofrenda in 1994. By turns, it is also the most ambitious. Co-produced by Downs, longtime collaborators Paul Cohen, Brian Lynch, and Aneiro Taño, these 16 songs (13 plus three bonus cuts) are a wild mix of cumbias, folks songs, rancheras, blues, and rock tunes that are originals and covers. The latter include an excellent and wildly unusual reading of "Black Magic Woman" with songwriter/guitarist Raul Midón. There is a fine version of Paul Buchanan's (of Blue Nile fame) "I Would Never," and a stunning version of Lucinda Williams' "I Envy the Wind" (offered twice -- in Spanish and in English) with a fine muted trumpet solo by Brian Lynch. Her jumping take on the traditional "Los Pollos" is sung with Mono Blanco's Gilberto Guiterrez, and on "Justicia," Downs is joined by Spanish rocker Enrique Bunbury. The great Israeli-American jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen also helps out on three cuts. Rubén Isaac Albarrán Ortega (also known as "Ixaya Mazatzin Tleytól" of Café Tacuba) helps out on her original "Perro Negro" ("Black Dog"), a mystical, folk-drenched polka that references corrupt leaders in Latin America -- but could stand in for them anywhere. That said, the most rewarding collaborative effort on the set is the duet between Downs and the great Mercedes Sosa on Downs' "Tierra de Luz." But duets and collaboration aren't the only focus of this album; in fact, it's a sprawling set of tunes whose reach is almost limitless: "Silent Thunder" employs both reggae and funk but combines them with traditionally informed Mixtec chants. The skittering, scattershot blues of "Minimum Wage" offers a new element in Downs' recorded vocabulary -- with great guitar work by Ken Basman and Juancho Herrera. Downs' band, a sextet that includes Paul Cohen on saxophones and clarinet, the great Mexican multi-instrumentalist Celso Duarte, Rob Curto on accordion, Herrera on guitars, bassist Booker King, Chilean drummer/percussionist Yayo, and Columbian percussionist Samuel Torres prove an international cast of players who all speak Downs' ambitious multi-textural, trans-genre brand of music that, at this messy juncture in history, blurs all the lines to offer a massively appealing aural entity. Despite her wide-reaching compositions, and the referencing of American and British pop artists, Downs is no less political, and makes no compromises. One listen to her originals confirms and underscores this. This is the record we've been waiting for from Downs; it succeeds on all fronts and deepens her canon immeasurably.

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