Afro-Cuban purists would have loved it if Rubén Blades had stuck with the type of straight-ahead salsa that put him on the map. But in the '80s, Blades felt the need to branch out and start experimenting with other Latin styles -- a move that disappointed salsa purists while earning him a reputation as one of Latin music's major risk-takers. Even though he was still considered a salsa vocalist in the late '90s, 1999's Tiempos is far from a pure salsa album. Rather, it's an adventurous, probing Latin pop effort that incorporates salsa along with Brazilian, Spanish, and Central American elements. On Tiempos, Blades is joined by the Costa Rican band Editus, whose members fit in perfectly and help the Panamanian singer provide an unpredictable, eclectic album. And Tiempos is as compelling lyrically as it is musically. Often sociopolitical, Blades' lyrics reflect on such topics as poverty in Latin America and corruption on the part of some governments in that part of the world. Though much of the album is melancholy, it isn't without optimism or hope for the future -- Blades sees a lot of suffering and hardship in Latin America, but he also has hopes for a brighter tomorrow. Of course, those who don't speak Spanish won't understand the lyrics; they'll have to settle for savoring the album's musical richness.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson