Albita: Una Mujer Como Yo

Una Mujer Como Yo
Crescent Moon/Epic

THE BIOGRAPHICAL GLITTER wrought by Albita Rodriguez has unfortunately outshined the splendor of her music. In 1993 she caused a political uproar by defecting from Cuba via a casual border stroll from Mexico into El Paso, and sent Miami's Little Havana into a frenzy with her guajiro-son musical hybrid. Since then she's systematically seduced the swank Versace-Paloma-Cindy-Crawford-South-Beach fashion crowd with her androgynous flair--Madonna postponed her birthday party so Albita could be on hand. But Una Mujer Como Yo, Albita's third North American CD, offers the most conclusive proof to date that the 35-year-old vocalist is more than mere gossip fodder.

The album retains many aspects of her cultural identity: All 10 songs are sung in Spanish, and the record is dominated by the polyrhythmic spunk of Cuba's salsa forerunner son. Albita has de-emphasized the folkish guajiro style of her youth (both of her parents remain guajiro performers in Cuba), and allowed other Latin styles such as Dominican merengues, Colombian cumbias, and Puerto Rican bombas into the grooves. The result is perhaps the most buoyantly kinetic music you'll hear this year.

Forget pacing and subtlety: From the flaming son-salsa swirl of the opening title track onward, Una Mujer Como Yo (translated as "A Woman Like Me") wants to party. The flutes and acoustic guitars filtering through Albita's two previous discs are mostly supplanted or overwhelmed by brass fanfares and chordal keyboard fills that will swivel your hips more persuasively than anything this side of P-Funk or James Brown. Never a delicate singer, Albita's alto accommodates the arrangements with resplendent fervor, creating a wall of sound as shiny, angular, and imposing as a postmodern skyscraper; her voice is beveled and riveted more than trilled or inflected. Sometimes, as on "Ta'Bueno Ya," the groove is repetitively stoked into a high-pitched bonfire, adorned with a trumpet solo from Teddy Mulet.

Set against these conflagrations, tracks like "El Amor Llego," offer a deft, circular sway that becomes more taut as the tempo intensifies, with trombonist and signature soloist Jorge Dobal, capping the roundhouse chorus. If I heard just about any of these tracks on American Bandstand, I'd give them a 97 and note that you can definitely dance to it. Then I'd point over and let you watch Dick Clark's face melting.

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