Vicente Fernández

The Living Legend

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With his booming operatic voice, matinee idol looks (he bears an uncanny resemblance, mustache and all, to Burt Reynolds), and over the top flamboyance (no one looks better in a sombrero, or owns more of them), Vicente Fernández has been Mexico's leading ranchera singer for some four decades. He's also a major star within the Mexican-American community -- he's got a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame (Fernández has appeared in dozens of films in Mexico) and routinely sells out large arenas throughout the U.S., where adoring fans (particularly females) have been known to faint at the mere sight of him, holster on his hip, fronting a super-sized strings-and-horns orchestra and belting out his hits. Unfortunately, despite a discography numbering upwards of 100 albums, Fernández, when he's considered at all by the mainstream American press, has been derided as a camp act and has received little recognition outside of media serving his core audience. Astoundingly, this is the first comprehensive box set devoted to the singer's work, really the first serious survey of his recordings, and if there is any justice, it will spur a reconsideration north of the border of this icon's contributions. Its 36 tracks were hand-picked by Fernández, whose intention was to showcase the diversity of songs, and emotions, in his considerable repertoire. Its three discs are divvied thematically -- México Lindo y Querido (Pretty and Wanted Mexico), A Tu Salud (To Your Health), and Mujeres Divinas (Divine Women) -- to emphasize Fernández's ongoing connection to the people of Mexico and their everyday thoughts, feelings, and concerns. With his larger-than-life baritone, he wrings the last drop of melodrama out of every song, covering the waterfront from love to loss, tragedy to triumph. A single-disc version of The Living Legend is also available, but the more in-depth boxed collection (which includes excellent biographical liner notes by Ramiro Burr and dozens of wild photos) is worth the commitment if one really wants to understand why Vicente Fernández is so revered, such a phenomenon, that at home he's called "the Mexican Sinatra."

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