Lila Downs has one of those vocal styles that can only be described as an acquired taste.
Jon Lusk 2008
Mexican/American Lila Downs has one of those vocal styles that can only be described as an acquired taste. Generally dwelling in the lower, huskier regions of her range, she also has a habit of shooting off into high, squealing netherzones à la Peruvian diva Yma Sumac. This can be a bit disconcerting.
Some would even call her a bad singer with a great voice, depending on their appreciation of her mannered, ventriloquial style, which regularly inhabits different personae from song to song – some somewhat bombastic. Alternating between Spanish and English is another trademark, which draws attention to her lyrics every second song or so – not all of them great. For example, the opening Little Man, with its patronising explanation that money does not necessarily make for happy marriage. Got that?
This is the latest in a long line of albums with her pan-American band, exploring both Mexican and American folklore as well as reggae, rock, country and other styless. Silent Thunder is a slightly ham-fisted venture into (Northern) Amerindian Lakota territory, which like several songs suffers from incongruous rock guitar invasions – Juancho Vererra of
Venezuela getting in touch with his roots, presumably. Husband Paul Cohen provides sax and clarinet while key member Celso Duarte plays a wide variety of types of typically Mexican instruments such as harp, violin, and jarana guitar. Robb Curto's accordion shimmer is the other key (and very agreeable) ingredient.
It’s the first time Downs has included a significant number of guest vocalists, who appear to tame her more excessive tendencies. The best is Argentinean legend Mercedes Sosa, dueting with her on the lovely Tierra de Luz. La Mari from Chambao puts a strong Spanish flavour on Ojo de Culebra. The Latin Midge Ure soundalike Enrique Bunbury makes an impression on hip hop/reggaeton/rock fusion Justicia, and Mono Blanco’s Gilberto Gutierrez relishes the snappy triple time of Los Pollos (The Chickens).
Downs briefly becomes Shania Twain on the bland power ballad I Would Never, and the English version of Lucinda Williams' I Envy The Wind scans a whole lot better than ''Yo Envidio el Viento''. Por Favor…