On this 1973 record, Pablo Milanés sings selections by 19th century Cuban poet and revolutionary José Martí, drawing primarily on Versos Sencillos (1891) and the posthumously published Versos Libres (1913). Although this was Milanés' first album, by the time of its release he was already an accomplished artist. Following early-'60s stints with El Cuarteto del Rey and los Bucaneros, Milanés pursued a solo career; by the end of the decade he was collaborating with Silvio Rodríguez and others, first at El Centro de la Canción Protesta de la Casa de las Américas and then as a member of El Grupo de Experimentación Sonora. Milanés began developing these arrangements for Martí's work while he was in El Grupo de Experimentación Sonora and the resulting solo debut remains a foundational recording of the nueva trova Cubana. Milanés' simple acoustic guitar accompaniment offers an evocative setting for Martí's words, but his voice is the crucial instrument; his smooth tenor captures the cadences, tone, and emotional power of Martí's writing, from its quiet, contemplative passages to its spirited, passionate flourishes. Milanés' adaptation of section one of Versos Sencillos and his stirring versions of "Amor de Ciudad Grande" and "Banquete de Tiranos" are breathtaking. Particularly noteworthy is the brief "Eramos," a rendering of a passage from Martí's famous essay "Nuestra América" which masterfully conveys the musicality of his prose. It's impossible to divorce the nueva trova from its ideological context and to separate Milanés' art from his role in Castro's Cuba. But while that political backdrop is divisive, Cubans on opposite sides of the debate, at home and in exile, embrace José Martí as a hero; likewise, whatever your allegiances, it's hard not to concede that this album is a stunning musical achievement. Pop music lyrics seldom qualify as poetry, but Milanés shows how poetry can inspire phenomenally powerful popular music.
AllMusic Review by Wilson Neate