Natalia Lafourcade explores traditional Mexican music, Taylor Swift delivers a second surprise indie-folk album for 2020, and Gabriel Garzón-Montano plays arty and eclectic music inspired by his Colombian/French heritage.
Un Canto por México, Vol. 1
Natalia Lafourcade has been around for a while, releasing her solo debut as a teenager in 2004. She’s been successful in Latin America, scoring #1 albums and winning Latin Grammys, but it’s taken longer to raise her profile in the English-speaking world. Duetting with Miguel on the Coco soundtrack has helped boost her reputation. Lafourcade started as a pop-rock performee, but as her career’s progressed she’s delved into more traditional Mexican music.
Un Canto por México, Vol. 1 was released as a fundraising album – proceeds go toward the reconstruction of the Centro De Documentación Del Son Jarocho, in Jáltipan de Morelos, damaged by a 2017 earthquake. The setlist originated at a benefit concert, before being recorded in the studio. Although it’s all new recordings, Lafourcade revisits songs from her back catalogue and takes on folk standards. I don’t have any background in Mexican folk music to analyse this record adequately, but it’s lovely – Lafourcade’s voice is warm and perky, and the arrangements are authentic and soulful. Favourites include the sparse ‘Veracruz’ – the moment when the rhythm guitar enters just after the 90 second mark is magical. The flamenco guitar of ‘Sembrando Flores’ is also lovely.
I have no idea how Un Canto por México, Vol. 1 compares to other Mexican traditional music, but there are lots of great tunes.
After 2017 moribund and disappointing Reputation, I was speculating whether Swift’s best work was behind her. She’s proved me spectacularly wrong with three strong albums in less than eighteen months – Lover, Folklore, and now Evermore. Like Folklore, Evermore is an indie-folk album, with Swift again collaborating with The National’s Aaron Dessner. Evermore doesn’t feature the spellbinding vocal melodies of Folklore, but it’s enjoyable anyway, showcasing Swift’s abilities as a storyteller.
On a restrained record, some of the most memorable musical moments come from guests. Danielle and Este Haim add backing vocals to ‘No Body, No Crime’, a funky country track where the protagonist is also named Este. The National’s Matt Berninger duets on ‘Coney Island’, while Bon Iver features on standout closing track ‘Evermore’. Elsewhere Swift’s best material is clustered near the end of the record – ‘Marjorie’ is named after her grandmother, while ‘Cowboy Like Me’ references her country heritage musically. ‘Long Story Short’ features typically well-written lyrics;
No more keepin’ score now
I just keep you warm
And my waves meet your shore
Ever and evermore
Evermore doesn’t have the same musical highlights of Folklore, but it’s more than enough to sit back and enjoy a master storyteller plying her trade.
Gabriel Garzón-Montano comes from a Colombian and French heritage, born in New York City. It’s not just the naked-in-nature cover that recalls the Moses Sumney album that I reviewed a few weeks ago – they both use R&B as a jumping off point for their experimental ideas. The Sumney album has received more attention, but I prefer Garzón-Montano’s more succinct record – he’s able to deliver the pop hooks amongst his eclectic explorations.
Gabriel Garzón-Montano told American Songwriter about the eclecticism – “I’ve got three distinct piles, one being the Latino Urbano hitmaker, one being the whimsical impressionist, and then the third is the debonaire leading man.” Garzón-Montano’s an avowed Prince fan – the cover is a tribute to Lovesexy – and there’s plenty of Prince in the guitar solo in the opener ‘Tombs’. He’s claimed that he needed stimulants to record his bravado-fuelled rap for the title track – delivering the reggaeton track in Spanish. On ‘Moonless’ he’s introspective, remembering his mother’s passing when he was a teenager.
Agüita is ambitious and wide-ranging but enough of it connects to make it worth the effort.