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La Cantina by Lila Downs

Though Ms. Lila Downs was born Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico and grew up there and in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she has fully embraced the music of her Mexican heritage. However, she’s no purist, treating a vital musical form like a hothouse orchid that might die if exposed to open air -- she bring influences from rock, jazz, and even electronica to the table. Her seventh album (if one includes her cassette-only albums), La Cantina finds Downs exploring and reinterpreting the Mexican traditional form of rancheras, familiar to many listeners (i.e., those not versed in Mexican forms) via the recordings & performances of Los Lobos, Ry Cooder, and the late Doug Sahm’s Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornadoes. To American Slavs (of which I’m), rancheras sound more than a little like polkas. Ms. Downs has a powerfully distinctive voice - she can sound husky, tender, bereaved, romantically reflective, and/or trill like the Queen of all She surveys. Throughout, there’s judicious use of fiery and fuzzed-out electric guitar (slightly reminiscent of Carlos you-know-who), percussion loops, and sampling techniques borrowed from wizard DJs along with brass, acoustic guitar, harp, and violin. It’s as if Downs found a time machine to bring the essence of a cantina from a century ago into our time & run it through a contemporary frame of reference. Simply put, a time-warp that guarantees a good time (no pun intended) - Downs infuses these roots-y strains (including mariachi) with passionate commitment, wry humor, and spunky, très moderne cleverness. Imagine a Mexican Laurie Anderson, or if Frida Kahlo were a musician instead of a visual artist. Hear La Cantina and imagine no more. [3 thumbs up]

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lila Downs
  • CD Title: La Cantina
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Narada
  • Musicians: Lila Downs (vocals, guitar), Flaco Jimenez (accordion), Michael Ramos (accordion, keyboards, programming), Max Baca (bajo sexto, bass, drums), many others.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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