'As well as losing her short blonde locks for brunette waves, Albita has switched from...
Chris Moss 2003
As well as losing her short blonde locks for brunette waves, Albita has switched from upbeat pop and salsa rhythms to a more folky, unplugged sound for Hecho a Mano (Handmade). At 40 the Miami-based, Grammy-nominated singer is re-tapping her early years as a member of the Cuban nueva trova movement - guitar in hand, she takes on the tormented troubadour role with flair and to the fore is her strident, tremolo-free voice.
With five-piece backing instead of a big, horn-blasting band, she gives her songwriting, storytelling self space - and the result is powerful and pained. The long spoken narrative of "Son Sin Concepto" portrays a moral twilight of downtrodden women, drunken fathers and bogus notions of identity, and though she turns the lyrics round towards the end, the mood is cynical.
Elswhere, on "Yo quisiera", "No me niegues verte" (a 1984 composition she is recording here for the first time) and "Por el amor de dios" she is yearning, lamenting, demanding. Congas and bongos keep up a gentle background son or danzón beat, but trumpet and sax, which kick several songs off swinging or with a moodier Latin jazz lilt, are often quickly reined in.
Fans of a richer, rhythm-based Cuban mix may find the raw emotion and free-roamingvoice jarring at times. Similarly, those who have luxuriated in the bittersweet angst of nueva trova master Silvio Rodríguez might miss his poetic complexity and emotional range.
Still, the strong Cuban tradition of guitar-based heartfelt protest songs informs Albita's arrangements and her tales of love and learning are strangely addictive - when the fusion of salsa chorus, percussion and piano with throaty, passionate vocals comes off, the effect is mesmerising. Son and salsa have their dark side and the message here is: if you can't dance out your angst, let Albita's voice do it for you.