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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1382

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Marta Gómez: Cantos de Agua Dulce
by George Graham

(Chesky Records 281 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/17/2004)

The growing audience for World Music has inspired a lot of interesting musical hybrids, often from artists who have moved from the Third World to the First World. Still, for most Americans, World Music usually implies danceable sounds from Africa, the Caribbean or Latin America. This week, we have a fascinating and delightful recording by a South American artist living in the US that defies ready stereotypes about music from south of the border. It is by Marta Gómez, and it bears the Spanish title Cantos de Agua Dulce or "Songs of Sweet Water."

Marta Gómez was born and raised in Cali, Colombia, and began her musical career performing as part of a choir in her hometown. In her teens she moved to the Colombian capital of Bogotá. There, she got into doing recording for radio and TV commercials, but set her sights on bigger things. In 1999, she applied for and was accepted by the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she won a so-called "best achievement" scholarship. She released her debut CD, Solo Es Vivir last year, and it gained a good deal of praise by the local Boston press. And it was also apparently released in Colombia.

Now, on Cantos de Agua Dulce she has received some national distribution in this country, and it is most deserved. Her music is a delightful blend of various less-heard South American influences, ranging from the Andean folk music of Peru to more upbeat sounds from Colombia and Argentina, in a laid-back setting of often just acoustic guitar and some hand percussion. But what makes this CD so enchanting is Ms. Gómez' remarkable voice. She shuns the sometimes overly dramatic sound of Latin American ballad singers for a pure, almost vibrato-less sound reminiscent of the style of Brazilian women singers like Monica Salmaso. Ms. Gómez sings in Spanish throughout, though in her style often one would expect to hear the Portuguese of the Brazilian vocalist. The material is mostly original, and she is joined by an intimate and sympathetic group of Boston-based South American natives, most from Argentina, including Julio Santillan on guitar, Franco Penna on percussion, Fernando Heurgo on bass, and Alejandra Ortiz on backing vocals. All are also associated with Berklee, either having graduated from the music school or teaching there.

I have always been attracted to this style of singing, which combines great beauty with an almost detached, aloof quality that disguises the deep subtleties in the performance. Ms. Gómez has that rare quality and uses it to great effectiveness on this CD. Even if the listeners know no Spanish, one can't help be taken up by Ms. Gómez' gorgeous vocals and the simple, yet powerful sound of the album.

Though the lyrics are in Spanish, Ms. Gómez provides English synopses in the CD booklet and translations on her website. She also lists the names of the particular indigenous musical influences that go into each track. So in a way, this is a kind of South American folk album, except for the music being mostly original. And the influences are not what you would expect, neither much of the dance-oriented Brazilian beats, or the pan pipes and tiny guitars of Andean folk music, thought there is a bit of both. Lyrically, Ms. Gómez is in the mold of singer-songwriters, singing about her life and relationships, with a special emphasis on her country, with a certain wistful homesickness expressed.

The CD begins with one of those reminiscences, La Finca, or "The Farm," recalling memories of the farm on which her family lived as she was growing up. The piece conveys a great joy, with the accompaniment evoking the South American setting through a rhythm Ms. Gómez describes as a combination of two Peruvian folk styles. <<>>

Following it a beautiful ballad called Eso Pido Yo, or "That's All I'm Asking for." It's a love song for someone who is absent. The piece, with its starkly simple accompaniment serves to illustrate Ms. Gómez' remarkable vocals. <<>>

Sounding more like typical Andean folk music is Canción de Cuna or "Cradle Song," whose protagonist is an expectant but impoverished mother who is considering the world in which her child will enter. Ms. Gómez describes the style as "carnivalito" from Bolivia and Argentina. <<>>

Canta, which translates as "sing" is a song Ms. Gómez wrote after the terrorist attacks in Spain in March of 2004. The song has an oddly joyful quality. Ms. Gómez writes in her notes "There are times to sing ands times to cry. Fortunately, the Spanish have learned that beautiful ability to do both at the same time." The piece naturally has a little flamenco influence. <<>>

Perhaps the music distinctive piece lyrically is called Deleta, or "recipe." And the Spanish lyrics are just that, a list of ingredients, along with the presence of one's significant other that make for tasty experience. <<>>

There are a couple of non-original tracks, both old songs from South America. One is Tonada de la Luna Llena, or "song of the full moon." The piece is a striking one with Ms. Gómez singing a cappella and then with only percussion accompaniment. She fully rises to the occasion. <<>>

Latin American music can get a little overly sentimental at times. About as close as Ms. Gómez comes to the typical Latin ballad is Bolero, which is based on a Cuban rhythm. It's a love song, and about the only time the CD lapses into clichés. Still, it's well done. <<>>

Of the ballads, the highlight is Confesion, or "confession," which lyrically is some straight-out homesickness for Colombia. Ms. Gómez subtle vocal performance is especially memorable. <<>>

Marta Gómez' new CD Cantos de Agua Dulce is a thoroughly delightful recording of very pretty Latin American folk-styled original songs sung by a superb vocalist, one who combines a clear direct style with remarkable subtlety. With an intimate but very tasteful acoustic backup group, the CD brings out the best in both Ms. Gómez vocals and her songs. She is one of those voices one can keep listening to all day, even after the fairly generous 53 minute CD is over, and even with the lyrics in Spanish.

Our grade for sound quality is an "A." The CD was released on Chesky Records, originally founded in the LP days as an audiophile label, a philosophy that persists, with very good dynamic range and the recording done in a high-bit-rate format. Producer David Chesky also likes to make his recordings in a church in New York using the natural acoustics there for the sound, and this one is no exception. It gives the CD a distinctive sound, though with the arrangements as subtle as they are, the reverb that the church supplied reduced the intimacy of the recording a bit.

Colombian native and Boston resident Marta Gómez has created a one of those wonderfully unexpected CDs that is yet another reminder of what a joy world music can be.

(c) Copyright 2004 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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