14th March, 1998

Bolero, which originated (as a romantic music, anyway; the rhythm is originally Cuban) in the low-life cantina scene of Mexico City in the 20s and 30s, grew into a lot of different permutations as it became the standard pop language of Latin America from the 40s through the 60s; bolero costero (coastal bolero), bolero habanero (Havana bolero, fused with son, rumba, or U.S. rhythm and blues), bolero ranchero. Ranchero stars like Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete — icons of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema in the 40s 50s — sang boleros too, but with a ranchero, or pop-country, flavor.

All of that (limited understanding of) history is what comes to mind on the third single from Alejandro Fernández' Me Estoy Enamorado. The rhythm is definitely a bolero, but the horns erupt into the mariachi cadenzas typical of ranchero, and the sweeping strings belong to both traditions. As a committed fan of even the most banal musical cross-breeding, I was going to like this anyway; but Fernández' performance is exceptional. Big-voiced (naturally), but with uncommon sensitivity around the edges of the floridly sustained notes on the chorus. He's not quite at Luis Miguel's level, but (at least for the moment) he's not a bad replacement.

The song itself lets him down a little. Sure, it's got the appropriate sweep and holds together well melodically (you wouldn't expect anything else from Kike Santander), but the lyrics aren't top-shelf. "No sé olvidar como  lo hiciste tú" (I don't know how to forget the way you did it) isn't eternal love — or rather heartbreak — poetry, though the following image ("tú has quedado clavado en mi pecho como si fuera ayer," you are still stuck in my chest as if it were yesterday) is at least memorable. It hardly matters, of course, with that swaying rhythm and those swirling strings and the plaintive guitar lines and those pealing horns and above all Fernández' masterful voice ... but third singles are third singles for a reason.

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