"Andan Diciendo por Ahi" ("They Go Around Saying"), a guaguancó written by Albita Rodriguez, denounces gossips and affirms the Cuban singer/songwriter's resilience despite speculation by busybodies about her professional and personal life. Funny and menacing, the rowdy rumba chastises liars with the threat "I'll cut your tongue off" and warns that "bad things end up in the hole in the bathroom."

With her new album Hecho a Mano (Made By Hand), Albita shows that she'll take no more crap from anyone. A declaration of independence, the album features only original songs -- some of which had been on ice since 1984 -- and Albita's own arrangements. In fact Hecho a Mano is good enough to erase the memory of her wayward recordings and much-hyped (at least in Miami) rise and fall with Emilio Estefan's Crescent Moon label.

Albita's perceptive songwriting mines personal experience with emotion and humor, turning out poetic love songs, pleas for understanding, and feisty comebacks to naysayers real and perceived. Her arrangements make the most of her deep connection to diverse Cuban music styles, showcasing the fine musicianship of the five members of her band as well as Albita herself on guitar and small percussion. The sound is acoustic and loose: the soul of trova and guajira decimas buoyed on the improvisational groove of contemporary son and jazz stylings.

Unfortunately, as on all of the singer's recordings to date, Albita's throaty voice eludes a faithful, or even a fair, reproduction. Here it can sound overwrought, and even in the best moments has a melodramatic timbre that will come on too strong for some listeners.

But Hecho a Mano is still the album Albita fans have been waiting for. On this heartfelt return to her roots, Albita stands out not only as an artist with gumption, but, if there was ever any doubt, as a truly talented composer and musician.

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Judy Cantor