27th December, 1997

Our last duet was between aging superstars Juan Gabriel and Rocío Dúrcal, who were reviving the great 19th-century tradition of the son ranchero. Alejandro Fernández is quite literally of the next generation (his father was Dúrcal's exact contemporary), and Gloria Estefan, though more than ten years his senior, still plays young in the right light; the throwback tradition preserved here is the bolero of the 40s and 50s -- and Cuban bolero rather than the more noir-y Mexican version. Fernández had relied on the Estefan machine to get hits, and they came as a package; songwriter Kike Santander, producer Emilio Estefan, and La Gloria, now on her eighth appearance in these pages. (This, incidentally, now makes her the female Latin artist with the most number ones as of 1997, beating Ana Gabriel's record of seven.)

"En El Jardín" (in the garden) is a sweet song, with lovely string-ensemble decoration, and tasteful accordion and trumpet solos punctuating the proceedings. It's a love song, of course, and for once an uncomplicated one without recriminations or self-aggrandizement: things were bad, nothing gave me lasting pleasure, everything was a disappointment... and then there was You.

The transformative power of love is a perfectly ordinary subject for song, and Santander's lyrics are only notable for keeping a pretty tight leash on the central metaphor of the "jardín de mis amores" (the garden of my love), which had withered, but flourishes now under the new regime. Fernández and Estefan sell it well, particularly Fernández, whose fine voice and an excellent command of phrasing would be a pleasure in any context, but it does drag a bit, particularly when they restate the second verse and full chorus after the trumpet solo; a smart program director would no doubt have long since faded it out.

Where Gabriel and Dúrcal were presenting (even if unwittingly) something of a swan song, Fernández is just declaring his arrival, and Estefan establishing herself as the dominant female voice in the field. They respect the conventions -- but with this song, 1997 is over, and things are going to start to change rapidly.

No comments:

Post a Comment