The last time most Americans laid eyes on Uruguayan composer Jorge Drexler, he had a vaguely sheepish look about him, sitting next to his then wife, the singer Ana Laan, at the 2004 Academy Awards after Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana had just butchered his lovely, improbably Oscar-nominated song, "Al Otro Lado del Rio," from "The Motorcycle Diaries." There wasn't exactly a cloud of warmth enveloping Laan and Drexler, but all thoughts about that evaporated when he got up to accept the statuette and saved his composition by forgoing speeches and singing it a cappella for the millions watching. It was a classic Drexler moment: elegant, understated, actually pretty.
After that -- after his last album, the rich and imaginative "Eco," was quickly reissued to include Oscar's choice -- it might have made sense for Drexler to exploit the moment and release a happy commercial follow-up.
Instead, he has delivered "12 Segundos de Oscuridad," which, even in this meditative artist's catalogue, can only be described as . . . well, reflective. It is far darker, more revelatory, more vulnerable, than anything Drexler has produced before. It's both lament and confession.
Chronicling the finale of his 10-year marriage to Laan, there is plenty of pain and anxiety over the beginnings of something new. There is musical restraint throughout.The album requires repeated listenings to make an impression, but it's ultimately quite devastating. (There are two covers, Titas's quietly incendiary "Disneylandia" and Radiohead's "High & Dry," the only song in English; both interrupt the overall arc of love lost and commenced.) Highlights include "La Infidelidad en la Era Informática," about a betrayal discovered in cyberspace, with Drexler's voice a whisper over the electronic hiccuping and stepping, and the wisely hopeful "Sanar," a song worth listening to after a heartbreak.
Drexler will perform at Lisner Auditorium on March 10.
-- Achy Obejas
David Bromberg The times they are a-changin'? Not so much in David Bromberg's world. Witness the first new recording by the veteran folk singer and multi-instrumentalist in nearly two decades. As if awakening from a slumber worthy of Van Winkle himself, Bromberg sounds hopelessly out of sync with the age of iPods and "Idol" chatter on "Try Me One More Time," his first release since 1990.
Which surely will come as good news to listeners who have always appreciated Bromberg 's distinctly laconic take on folk, blues and seminal country tunes. Certainly fans couldn't have asked for a more intimate session: It's strictly a solo affair, with Bromberg singing and playing a collection of mostly familiar tunes by Robert Johnson, Elizabeth Cotten, the Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell and Bob Dylan, among others.
Bromberg's voice is deeper now, his delivery droll as ever, and his acoustic guitar work is unfailingly crisp and expressive. The covers of "Kind Hearted Woman" and "Windin' Boy" don't recall the original recordings so much as the '60s folk revival, when these and similar songs inspired recordings by the likes of Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Tom Rush and Geoff Muldaur.
In fact, "Try Me One More Time" could easily pass for an album recorded in 1965 -- 25 years before Bromberg shelved his recording career and took up violin-making in Chicago. Still, it's good to have something new from him even when it doesn't sound remotely new.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Kind Hearted Woman," "Big Road"
-- Mike Joyce
However, the new album's also a lot longer, and despite several good songs (and a couple of great ones), it tends to strain one's patience at more than an hour. Of the great, the irresistible strum-'n'-coo fests "Take a Chance" and "Runnin' Out" are perfectly suited vehicles for the Internet-imposed (and album-cannibalizing) second coming of singles.
Elsewhere, the gorgeously downbeat "Let Somebody In" and "Boy" take great advantage of the brothers' and sisters' sweet vocal interplay.
Yet "Slow Down (the Way It Goes)" comes off as ephemeral soft rock, and if the wordless harmonies of "Carl's Song" make up for the go-nowhere structure, as Beach Boys' tributes go, it's pretty by-the-books stuff. The lovely "Goodnight" was destined to close the disc, but as the gentle track fades out, you get the impression that a little trimming and a tighter pace would have made the whole album more engaging. As appealing as most of the CD may be, too often it dares you to dismiss it as background, a challenge disappointingly easy to accept.
DOWNLOAD THESE:"Take a Chance," "Let Somebody In"
-- Joshua Klein