Lila Downs

Using different languages and musical styles as vehicles, Lila Downs's new album, Una Sangre (One Blood), is an emotional journey undertaken to show us our similarities. While cultural exploration is undoubtedly her focus, poetic social commentary and themes of empowerment lie under the rich tapestry of music. On "Dignificada," subtle breakbeats and Downs's entrapping voice handsomely conceal a tribute to a female lawyer murdered in 2002 for fighting for human rights. But weighty concepts don't keep her from having fun. Creative and intriguing renditions of "La Bamba" and "La Cucaracha" give you a reason to dance while absorbing her other, more profound themes.

In spite of her praiseworthy ideas, the main attraction of Una Sangre is Downs herself. Hovering somewhere between Celia Cruz and Dinah Washington, her voice is gorgeous and amazing, and she easily transitions from the bluesy growl of songs like "Mother Jones" and "Paloma Negra" to the fluttering airiness of "Yanahuari Nin." She proves the lofty thesis of her album title by crafting cohesion out of a plethora of styles, sounds, and languages. Una Sangre is a wonderful offering.

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Christopher Sanders