Roberto Poveda

With George W. Bush in office for another four years and Castro recovering from his fall, it seems most gringos may never know the apolitical pleasure of riding with a lover, two to a bike, along Havana's Malecón as the waves lap against the seawall and a seductive son resounds from every porch. But thanks to the hypnotizing tropical melodies on Roberto Poveda's debut Son Eléctrico, listeners can at least imagine these simple island treasures which have inspired troubadours for generations.

The Miami-based Cuban's work could well be called Son Ecléctico as it offers a smooth combination of son, bolero, rumba, timba, jazz, R&B, and rap. The singsong guitar picking on "Caminando," co-written by Colombian pop king Juanes, is like a Sunday drive into the coffee-growing highlands. Poveda pauses several times in the song to exclaim, "Dimelo guajiro!" ("Tell me about it country boy!"), and to affirm that life without love has no meaning.

On "Canciones de Amor" and "Buscala," a buzzing trumpet and Poveda's sultry voice are as mesmerizing as a slow dance in a basement jazz club. "Ella" and "Rompecabezas" are modern and urban, enhanced by a funky Santana-style guitar and singing reminiscent of Ben Harper. Sprinklings of R&B and rap separate Poveda's sound from the traditional folk-rock of the nueva trova ( new song) movement that also influences his music.

Son Eléctrico conjures up both scenes of sophisticated open mike performances at Havana's prestigious Gato Tuerto nightclub and down-to-earth world beat cafés in Berkeley, all the while provoking a longing for romance without borders ... or embargos.

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