Don't lump Jennifer Lopez into the new boom in Latin pop. Her crossover is actually much more modest--from dancing and acting to singing. Lopez, a Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent, began her career as a Fly Girl on "In Living Color" before establishing herself in Hollywood. Her best-known role, of course, was as "Selena" in the 1997 bio-film about the slain Tejano superstar. Lopez just lip-synced in that one, but singing along privately to Selena's recordings inspired her to follow in the singer's tracks.
Lopez's debut, "On the 6" (Work), is a pleasant project that's likely to get more attention than it deserves. This is partly because of the current "Latin pop" hysteria, and partly because Lopez is as hot in her own way as Ricky Martin is in his. Her voice is a much slighter instrument, however, though she's quite comfortable with slow and mid-tempo material like the Toni Braxtonish "Talk About Us."
Most of Lopez's debut falls into the pop/R&B category crystallized on "If You Had My Love," which topped both the pop and R&B charts. Produced by Rodney Jerkins (Brandy, Whitney Houston), it's an exploration of romantic doubt delivered with breathy anxiety over a supple, silky groove. Jerkins also adds light Latin flourishes to the otherwise formulaic "It's Not That Serious," which benefits more from the producer's familiar push 'n' pull rhythms.
Jerkins isn't the only big-name producer on hand to help Lopez negotiate this transition. Emilio Estefan, one of the most astute shapers of Latin pop, contributes "Let's Get Loud," a bubbly disco anthem (co-written by Gloria) with a brassy Cuban pulse, and "Could This Be Love," a subtle ballad gently propelled by Manny Lopez's Spanish guitar. Elsewhere, Ric Wake (Celine Dion) delivers the trite lover's invitation "Promise Me You'll Try" and a generic dance pop track, "Waiting for Tonight," which also shows up in a Spanish-language version, "Una Noche Mas."
Lopez also worked with several hip-hop producers: Poke and Tone of Track Masters evoke regret on "Should've Never," which details a failed relationship that lingers on. The ubiquitous Sean "Puffy" Combs conjures rippling rhythms for "Feelin' So Good," which manages to avoid "borrowing" a pretested hook but doesn't really capitalize on guest appearances by rappers Big Punisher and Fat Joe.
There are Latin flourishes to "On the 6," but only one song that could genuinely be considered Latin pop: "No Me Ames," a duet with Latin heartthrob Marc Anthony that is served up once as a languorous ballad and again with some salsa energy.
The first version is particularly strong, though Anthony is clearly the more assured, confident and accomplished singer.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
Chris Perez Band
Chris Perez--Selena's husband and guitarist--has kept a low profile since the singer's death, so it's not surprising that his debut as a leader sports the title "Resurrection" (Hollywood). What may surprise some is how the album fits so comfortably in the "rock en espanol" movement. Perez may have earned fame playing Tejano music, but like Selena, he came to that music secondhand after having grown up in San Antonio as a Mexican American.
"Resurrection" feels like an eclectic alt-rock venture in which nine of 15 songs happen to be sung in Spanish. Even in that language, earnest, rough-edged lead singer John Garza sounds like he's auditioning to replace Scott Weiland in Stone Temple Pilots. The album was produced by Julian Raymond (Fastball and the Wallflowers) and veers between jangly folk-rock with organ underpinnings and guitar-driven rock.
The latter features stylistic flourishes ranging from the Latin ska of "Annie" and the punk-metal of "Vienes o Vas?" to the Free-style guitar thump of "Solo Tu" and alt-rock ennui of "Master Plan." There are also several intriguing covers: the 1986 Maria McKee-Steven Van Zandt support anthem, "Shelter," and Love's 1970 classic, "Alone Again, Or," written by McKee's half brother Bryan MacLean. Both get additional Spanish recastings as "Refugio" and "Solo Otra Vez," respectively.
"Resurrection's" title track is a catchy hybrid built around verses reminiscent of Santana's "Evil Ways" and a yearning chorus right out of the Wallflowers' songbook. Perez co-wrote 10 of the songs, mostly with keyboard player Joe Ojeda, who was also in Selena's band.
The Selena connection is never exploited, but it's impossible to hear aching ballads like "Best I Can" and "Por Que Te Fuiste?" (Why Did You Leave?) without sensing the loss and lingering sorrow experienced by her surviving family and friends.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8173.)
CAPTION: Lopez's debut album, "On the 6," is a pleasant project that's likely to get more attention than it deserves.