When it comes to musical exports, Colombia takes the whole bakery. Carlos Vives. Sofia Vergara. Shakira. Gabriel García Marquez. But right now, none is as relevant as Juan Esteban Aristizabal, who delivers Mi Sangre (My Blood), arguably his finest work to date. While 2002's Un Dia Normal conquered the hearts of Latin rock/pop loyalists worldwide with its elements of emotional transparency, vocal prowess, vivid lyricism, guitar fluency, Colombian folklore, and social commentary, Mi Sangre does all that as well as pleasantly surprise with new themes and sensibilities.

The Fifties rock and roll-styled lead single, "Nada Valgo Sin Tu Amor" ("I Am Worthless Without Your Love"), is a sweet, but predictable, offering. Though currently the number one song on Billboard's Latin Pop Airplay chart, it doesn't quite anticipate the album's creativity. But with "Dámelo" ("Give It To Me"), we hear, for the first time ever, a mischievous Juanes. With its funky electric guitar licks and slow-rolling drums, the song evokes smoke, sweat, and shades of purple; a scene Jimi Hendrix would probably call sexy. Add Juanes's playful adlibs, which almost sound like rapping, and a series of sustained "oohs," and you've got one potent aphrodisiac.

"Sueños" ("Dreams"), a song about all those things Juanes longs for in his beloved country, like the end of war and kidnappings, is a compelling display of the artist's revolutionary soul. With a Prisioneros-esque urgency and nasal vocals à la Enanitos Verdes' Marciano Cantero, the track is a brilliant exercise in Eighties nostalgia. On "Camisa Negra," he draws as close to his roots as he's ever gone. "Tengo la camisa negra y debajo tengo el difunto" ("My shirt is black and underneath it lies the deceased"), he says while poking fun at his own heartbreak with one metaphor after another. A lover of Colombian lit, he finds time to pay homage to Jorge Franco, author of Rosario Tijeras, in a beautifully somber song bearing the same name. Through his lyrics, Juanes tells the tragic tale of Franco's heroine with the same compassion and care as the writer did himself.

What makes Mi Sangre Juanes's most impressive work to date is the masterful blend of the expected and the unexpected, the old with the new. Though it openly defies pop, it still gives fans exactly what they want: some of the best music ever to boast "Made in Colombia."


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