(Universal Music Latino - Universal Music Latino)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007



There's no question that Juanes's "La Vida . . . Es un Ratico" ("Life . . . Is a Moment") will sell millions, get multiple Latin Grammy nominations and even a few of the non-Latin Grammys, too . . . but, er, I'm listening to it for the umpteenth time, and I'm reading all the advance on the disc, and . . . are we listening to the same record?

Everybody's trying to tell me what a breakthrough this is, and how Juanes continues to explore fusions of rock and Colombian idioms. But for "Tres," which has a nice little mountain feel to it, the emphasis seems to be on rock and, specifically, rock guitar. Which is fine -- why make any more of it? Especially when Juanes's compatriots Aterciopelados and Carlos Vives, to name two out of so many (Colombia's particularly abundant with amazing musicians these days), have done so much more interesting work.

Oh sure, "Me Enamora" is a superb single -- all coltish and fun. Nice little guitar riffs, all jangly and puckish. I could listen to this one all day, especially in the car. Especially on a warm, sunny day. And "Gotas de Agua Dulce" has a sweet beat that provides a wonderful bed for Juanes's boyish, plaintive voice. And "Minas Piedras," the collaboration with the terrific (and underappreciated) Argentine rocker Andres Calamaro, is both an anguished cry and a continuation of Juanes's campaign against land mines. Everything's perfectly competent, it's just that it's also all perfectly familiar. Yes, there's a lot of energy here, and Juanes's confidence is measurably greater. But the brash, fresh young man who threw us up against the wall with the furious and fascinating "Fijate Bien" in 2000 seems to have disappeared.

-- Achy Obejas

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Me Enamora," "Tres"


Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

It could have been the most awkward musical first date since Dolly Parton and Sly Stallone in "Rhinestone": Several years after meeting cute at a Lead Belly tribute concert, starling-voiced bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and crotchety metal god/blues enthusiast Robert Plant have paired for a folksy covers collection, "Raising Sand."

Overseen by roots-rock high priest T-Bone Burnett, "Sand" is high in pedigree and low on genuine thrills. Split between solo tracks and duets, with too many songs featuring too little interaction between Plant and Krauss, it's somber and stately and tasteful -- a good album that could have been a great one.

"Sand" mostly sticks to '50s folk, country stomps and blues, drawing upon not-quite-obscurities from the Everly Brothers (the nervy, modified rave-up "Gone Gone Gone [Done Moved On]"), Tom Waits (the spare, awkwardly syncopated Krauss showcase "Trampled Rose") and Doc Watson (whose transcendently lovely "Your Long Journey," with its clear and perfect harmonies, is the most affecting thing here). "Raising Sand" is unfortunately prone to dirge-y ballads with murky mixes, as if muddiness were a signal of authenticity.

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