So "Mi Tierra" was an uptempo dance song. More in line with traditional American pop practices than with Latin ones, La Gloria's second single off the album is a ballad — or at least it's taken at a slow tempo, which isn't quite the same thing. It's still unmistakably tropical, with a back-and-forth beat that seems to fall halfway between Cuban son and Dominican bachata, with gorgeous guitar filigrees by legendary Mexican guitarist Chamin Correa that draw together two continents' worth of guitar tradition, bossa nova and tejano and trova and blues and flamenco and milonga all blinking out of the spaces between the notes.
Her performance is almost as supple and fully as tender. No virtuoso in terms of technique, for most of her career she's been notable as a vocalist mostly for her enthusiasm and brio rather than the elegant carefulness of her phrasing. But here she tackles a song whose melody is structured like traditional pop, the sort of song a jazz singer would take up, and draws the emotion out of it by sheer force of personality. I've taken to reading along with the lyrics while listening to the song, and I was tearing up by the second chorus, both the sentiment and her performance were so pitch-perfect. That shouldn't be a surprise; nothing gets to me like nostalgia.
And this is a very nostalgic record; arranged by the great Cuban jazz bassist Cachao, it uses great swaths of Hollywood strings like Max Steiner, arranging emotions in cubist friezes while Estefan's plaintive voice runs through a lyric not all that far away from the Luis Miguel entry it replaced at the top of the chart. "Con Los Años Que Me Quedan" means "with the years I have left," and the phrase is the first half of a vow, the second half of which is "demostraré cuánto te quiero" ("I will prove how much I love you"). The impulse to exaggerated displays and promises of affection is a familiar one to us from previous ballads, but the implicit acknowledgement of mortality is a new note, which is to say, of course, a very old note. Very little of this travelogue has ever concerned itself with looking backwards; as is proper to all pop, Latin Pop is concerned with the present and the future, and it takes someone of Estefan's stature and confidence to make what is essentially a 1950s torch song set in a Havana café still resonate with enough people long enough to take up residency at the top of the Latin chart for several weeks.
She wrote it with her husband, as she has most of her hits since 1984, and as with "Si Voy A Perderte," it's an entirely different song in the English-language version, which is less intimate in its emotions and more of a conventional "someday-we'll-be-together" study in deferred romance. Same melody, same backing track, different songs — this sort of two-for-the-price-of-one song will become increasingly common the closer we get to the present, as the Latin market increases in clout and visibility in the US, and as more Latin stars try to cross over in the other direction. Gloria Estefan, who's been playing both markets off each other since 1977, just had a head start on everyone else.