Believe the Buzz

"No se parece a nada" mixes son and guaracha in an upbeat, danceable tune, punctuated with the kind of trombone and trumpet blasts typical of "the Miami Sound." Like the splashy opening track, "Que manera de quererte," which slips from son into a sort of fast bolero and was heard earlier this year on The Specialist soundtrack, the title song evidences the fusion of Albita and her group's exceptional Cuban musical background with the seamless technology of an Estefan production. These songs, while certainly catchy, seem a little slick, a little too homogenized to one accustomed to witnessing the organic quality of the band's acoustic rhythms and Albita's exceptional vocal range at her live shows.

"Que culpa tengo yo" definitely loses some of its emotion when translated from stage to CD; but then really only a live recording could capture the passions of a roomful of screaming exiles. Here, "Que culpa" comes off a bit timid, although its transitions are beautiful, with Abal's flute accompanied by a chorus of "oh-lo-lo-le." That softer mood continues in "Bolero para nostalgiar," a romantic ballad written by Albita and Sierra that's distinguished by acoustic guitar and soft percussion. "Solo porque vivo" ("Just Because I'm Alive"), originally chosen as the title track, follows. While not as commercial as "No se parece a nada," it's the song that perhaps best encapsulates Albita's particular philosophy on life and music, one basic tenet of which holds that she always will perform Cuban music, while another declares her sexuality is nobody's business. Musically complex, "Solo porque vivo" is basically a punto guajiro that incorporates son, guaracha, and Afro-Cuban chanting and percussion. This time the horns form a wall of sound that supports Albita's chanting voice. The lyrics are written as decimas, the rhyming verses on which guajira songs are based, although the words evince a sensibility more typical of the self-affirming protest songs of Cuba's Nueva Trova movement.

Several songs carry on in this vein, with looser arrangements highlighting individual musicians' soloing talents. For example the Albita-penned "Para que me beses tu" showcases Sierra's enormous abilities on the tres, the Cuban guitar with three pairs of strings. Meanwhile "Un solo beso," written by Estefan, Albita, and Juanito Marquez, emerges as the most improvisational track; heavy on percussion and piano, it leaves Albita room for some playful vocal gymnastics, giving listeners a taste of the azucar of her live performances.

While admirably performed, the album's last song, "Mi guaguanco" (composed by Randall Barlow and Roberto Blades A Ruben's brother), a homage to the Afro-Cuban sound, sounds trite A a sort of guaguanco lite. And yet it's appropriate for No se parece a nada, an essential primer of Cuban contemporary music from some of the best teachers around.

"You never know where your work is going to get you," Albita muses philosophically. "I'm so tired right now that my eyeballs are green. But I'm happy because I'm working in what I like the way that I like. I just hope to keep working, working, and working. I'll use this experience to figure out what to do next. The important thing is that the result keeps on being Cuban.

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