VARIOUS ARTISTS

"Women of Latin America"

Putumayo

MARIANA MONTALVO

"Piel de Aceituna"

World Village

Putumayo, the enterprising world beat label, has compiled recordings by 11 vocalists for "Women of Latin America." Each of these artists is deserving of greater exposure, and some of the performances immediately invite repeat plays.

For example, you won't find a lyric that better sums up the sensuality and pride on display here than "Yo Me Llamo Cumbia," sung by Colombian diva Toto la Momposina: "No hip can keep still wherever I may be / My skin is brown like the skins of my drum /And my shoulders are a pair of maracas that kiss the sun."

Chile's Mariana Montalvo, on the other hand, leaves a soulful impression. Shaded by the sound of a cane flute, her dusky voice creates a haunting interlude with the ruminative ballad "India Song." Then again, much the same could be said for "La Frontera," a ranchera beautifully rendered by the Mexican American singer Lhasa.

Among the better-known artists represented are Peru's Susana Baca and Mexican American Lila Downs, who deliver performances poetic and poignant by turns. Brazil's Belo Velloso, the niece of Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethania, is also here, softly singing "Toda Sexta-Feira," a celebration of life in Bahia set to an undulating bossa nova beat: "Everyone is dressed in white / Every skin is black, and everybody sings." Handsomely packaged with English translations, "Women of Latin America" easily ranks among Putumayo's most rewarding and revealing anthologies.

"Piel de Aceituna," Montalvo's new CD, opens on a familiar note, with the reggae-inflected "Sud' Americano," and it frequently reflects the time the singer has spent in France since the rise of the Pinochet regime in her native Chile. The blend of contemporary and traditional influences is as smooth as it is evocative, with Montalvo's alluring voice frequently casting a spell of its own. Among the CD's highlights are "Encuentro," a duet featuring Congolese vocalist Lokua Kanza, and a touching, wonderfully atmospheric version of Jacques Brel's "La Cancion de los Amantes."

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at Lisner Auditorium.* To hear a free Sound Bite from "Women in Latin America," call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8129; to hear Mariana Montalvo, press 8130. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)