12th March, 1994

The second number one in a row to begin with lush, cinematic strings; but where Ana Gabriel's strings are opulent but generic, evoking the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema without straying from her melodic template, Gloria Estefan is going for something more specific, letting the chords arrange themselves into contrapuntal patterns like something half-classical, and recording them closely, intimately. It's the difference between shared nostalgia, Ana inviting a stadium to get caught up in her voluptuous passion, and personal nostalgia, Gloria dreaming aloud in a café, or rather in a highly polished and superbly set-dressed simulacra of one.

Four years from now, English-speaking audiences will fall in brief but highly lucrative love with traditional Cuban music because Ry Cooder told them to. Mi Tierra barely registered with that audience; but it's not spoiling anything to note that the rootsy, rock-approved Buena Vista Social Club will not be making an appearance in these pages. They were taken up by NPR, Rolling Stone, and the rest of the rockcrit establishment because their music sounded raw, authentic, and effortless; but the Latin Pop audience preferred what pop audiences always have: romantic music, aspirational music, constructed music. Glamour is an essential element of pop, and the photo-negative glamour of gritty poverty is generally only attractive to people who aren't in danger of slipping into it.

"Mi Buen Amor" ("my true love") is about as romantic as it gets: the swoony strings, the careful guitar and bass figures, even the Afro-Cuban percussion striking at a dreamy pace, while Gloria at her most coolly glamorous sings a carefully-constructed son about deathless and unforgettable love. This is her farewell bow from the Mi Tierra album (at least as far as this travelogue is concerned), and it's a lovely tableau, frozen in sepia-toned pre-revolutionary time, by which to remember her.

At least until she returns, in other clothes.

1 comment:

  1. Slight rewrite:

    Minor point: Buena Vista Social Club wasn't taken up by the rest of the rock critic establishment, not by Xgua anyway (he cited some choice tracks but didn't think it was good enough to even get an honorable mention, so presumably he'd grade it B or lower: "guitarist-producer intrusive, son worse, music mild, geezers grand ('Chan Chan,' 'Candela')"), and I wouldn't bet on Marcus or Eddy or Frith loving it either, though I have no idea their thoughts on the album and in fact haven't even heard it myself. But the rock-critic establishment can be pretty hard on stuff that gets accolades from NPR (and from Rolling Stone, for that matter), even if it ends up employed by them. The album did finish 21st in Pazz & Jop, but that's not a ringing endorsement, compared to, e.g., Cornershop, which finished 3rd that year. Also, "effortless" doesn't usually cohabit comfortably with "raw" and "authentic."

    That aside, this is a beautiful write-up, and you've definitely got my attention in this Gloria reappraisal business.