"Mis Canciones/My Songs"

World Village

A half-century of songwriting and scores of recordings notwithstanding, Venezuelan legend Simon Diaz isn't nearly as well known as he should be outside Latin America and Spain. In fact, it took the Gipsy Kings hit "Bamboleo," which is based on Diaz's "Caballo Viejo," to give him a glimpse of the international exposure he deserves.

Not that his work has gone unnoticed. Mercedes Sosa, Caetano Veloso, Placido Domingo and Ry Cooder are among the many singers who have recorded Diaz's songs, and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is another devotee. Still, "Mis Canciones/My Songs" is Diaz's first album aimed at American listeners, and it's long overdue.

The CD's 15 songs, all newly recorded, are graced by Diaz's seemingly ageless tenor and consistently reveal his lifelong fascination with Venezuelan folkloric traditions, specifically the ranch songs of the high plains -- or llanos. Primarily a sampler of Diaz's best-known melodies and lyrics -- sung in Spanish and accompanied by liner notes that include English translations -- the release wouldn't be complete without Diaz's famous September song, "Caballo Viejo": "An old horse cannot / Lose the flower he is given / Because after this life / There is no other opportunity."

But that's just one of several ballads here that vividly underscore Diaz's status as Latin America's cowboy poet laureate. A great romancer of all things rural and natural, he infuses "La Pena del Becerrero," "El Alcaravan," "Luna de Margarita" and "Clavelito Colorado" with a mixture of heartache, longing, nostalgia and wonder. Through it all his voice is framed by a soft, sparkling weave of indigenous instruments, including the tenor guitar-like cuatro and the Venezuelan harp.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday at Lisner Auditorium.

Venezuela's Simon Diaz sings of life on the high plains.