Ethan Johns - "The Reckoning".
Justino Aguila - Associate Editor of Latin at Billboard Magazine and music critic Steve Hochman join A Martinez to talk about new releases from several different artists. Tune in every week for our regular new music segment Tuesday Reviewsday.
Summary: Puerto Rican Latin pop singer Chayanne returns with a new album showcasing the crooner’s powerful voice, his iconic romantic musical style and a commanding illustration of vibrant music in “En Todo Estaré.”
The pop ballads, compositions and rich orchestrations on the new project prove why the singer, who began singing in the mid-‘80s in the boy band Los Chicos, continues having a thriving career with nearly two dozen albums to his name.
“Humanos Marte” is a vibrant song, uplifting in it’s fast-paced melodies that show off Chayanne’s impressive range. “Tu Respiración” also captures the essence of the entertainer’s pop appeal in romantic ballads that are also danceable.
The new album, also available in a deluxe edition, features 11 new songs and includes a variety of producers such as Estefano, Franco de Vita, Kany Garcia and Yandel—all well-known artists whose collaborations allow for the music to feel fresh as delivered by Chayanne’s smooth vocals.
Summary: Classically trained soprano Bárbara Padilla was ready to conquer the musical world with her music. Then she was diagnosed with Stage-4 cancer/Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
After recovering from chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in the middle of finishing a graduate degree in music at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music, her family encouraged the songstress to audition for “America’s Got Talent” in 2009. She impressed the judges and was picked to appear on the show.
The program allowed Padilla to perform in front of a national audience all the way to the finals. The opportunity opened the door to her debut self-titled album, which was recorded at the Capital Records studios in Los Angeles and the iconic Abbey Road studios backed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
The result is an album that beautifully showcases the Guadalajara-born singer’s ability to captivate in Spanish, English and Italian in music that highlights her mesmerizing voice—a voice that doctor’s at one point believed would be damaged with her cancer treatments. But she was unaffected.
Padilla’s debut album introduces the singer’s favorite arias, classical compositions and pop songs with a total of 10 tracks. Producers include Gregg Field and Jorge Calandrelli, who is also the arranger and conductor. The album was engineered, mixed and mastered by Al Schmitt, Mike Hatch, Paul Blakemore, Field and the late Phil Ramone.
Summary: For a while now, Englishman Ethan Johns has been a go-to producer for Americana artists — Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon and Ray LaMontagne among them — and also some rather noted fellow Brits looking for some of that American edge. You may have heard of Paul McCartney (the strong “New”) and Tom Jones (his recent gospel and songwriter-oriented albums, both wonderful), to name a couple. Only recently, now in his 40s, has he started releasing his own music. And with his second album, The Reckoning, he really shows his English side.
Ironically, or maybe fittingly, this is accomplished by the formula being flipped, with the very American Adams producing him. Not that it’s all Jolly Olde or anything. But there’s a thread through the album, primarily in such solo acoustic performances as “Go Slow” and “The Roses and the Dead” — just Johns’ finger-picked guitar and somber voice — that strongly echoes a generation of English folk that emerged in the ‘60s and ‘70s, notably that of the late Bert Jansch.
The dark, understated beauty of those make a strong foundation for other approaches. “Dry Morning” opens up melodically, with the Section Quartet’s strings coming in to accent some brighter — though still muted — tones. That continues with “The Fool,” which almost sounds like a lost Harry Nilsson demo, which is a high compliment. Each variation, each added element is applied with a nuanced hand, moving away from the folky roots.
Until “Talking Talking Blues,” where an electric slide guitar brings a very different feel. A very American feel. Johns, of course, comes by this naturally. Not only has he lived in Los Angeles since the turn of this century, but his father Glyn Johns was at the heart of some of the most iconic examples of English musicians putting their own stamps on American blues. As a top producer and engineer he helped shape Led Zeppelin’s debut, the Rolling Stones’ live Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, the Who’s Who’s Next and Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, as well as such American faves as Bob Dylan, Steve Miller and the Eagles.
That all plays even more dramatically into “Black Heart,” where the slide underscores a haunting tale before it all just explodes into shards of sounds — electric guitars, Adams pounding drums and guest Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) on Farfisa organ. This, of course, is what Zeppelin did with American folk and blues, but this is not a classic-rock rehash, but a new, personalized take on it, recreating the turbulent emotions that informed the music of the Appalachian hills once upon a time. Which, of course, was brought over in the first place from — yup — Jolly Olde.
Artist: Chłopcy Kontra Basia
Album: "Oj Tak"
Songs: “Oj Tak,” “Mam Ja Męża (I Have a Husband)”
Summary: First things first: The group’s name looks like Chłopcy Kontra Basia, but it’s pronounced Wh’opsee Kontra Basha. It’s Polish for “Boys Against Basia.” The album title, spelled Oj Tak, it pronounced more like Oy Talk, which means Oh yeah! Which was pretty much my reaction when I heard the album.
The boys are double bassist Marcin Nenko and percussionist Tomasz Waldowski. Basia is the singer, Basia Derlak. The against is the boys’ jazz roots and instincts vs. Basia’s deep connections to the village folk music of rural Poland and nearby Bulgaria. There’s not much more to it, for the most part — voice, bass and percussion, folk-derived melodies with a jazzy spirit, though it’s neither folk nor jazz, per se, though it does draw both a playful spirit and emotional depth shared by the two realms. And it all seems right at home in modern, art-heavy Krakow, where they are based.
The songs, all written by the band, have fairytale qualities, mixes of magic and death: an innocent girl betrayed by a spirit god in “Oj Tak,” a wife seeking relief from a forced marriage — perhaps by poisonous snake in “Mam Ja Męża (I Have a Husband),” spells cast both to stave off and call for the Grim Reaper, a fortune-telling cuckoo, a bear-sized man paired with a flea-sized woman… Of course, it’s all in Polish, so most of us won’t understand a word of it. But the music embodies the same elements with Basia’s nimble vocals darting around the snaky bass and skittery percussion, often in the tricky odd time signatures of the village dance music. Wh’opsee indeed. There is at times, as in the song “Lament (The Cry),” a sense of melancholy, also common territory to folk and jazz. But the default setting here is lively, playful, joyous.
As they say: Oj tak!