Hey, Pedro Luis Ferrer, I’ve got the first three lines of the first song on your album stuck in my head. Should I ask you to take them out? You see Mr. Ferrer—Pedro—I like them. I like them so much that I’m not tired of them, even now, even after listening to them 20 times over in my brain, but they get in the way of everything else.
In fact, I’m not supposed to be reviewing this CD at all. It’s still a little way down my list. I’m supposed to be reviewing an Egyptian called Sheikh Sayyed Darweesh who was The Soul of His People. How can I review Darweesh when I’ve got your claves going tok, tok-tok (the way claves do) and the tres guitar (sharp as a pin) and your voice singing (forthright, masculine), and then your daughter Lena’s voice (strong, direct) singing as well? You know how some albums will start with a loud noise to get the audience excited while other albums will start with a mysterious intro: a teasing trickle of sound, perhaps, or chords gradually rising, making cunning promises and luring people in? You don’t follow either of those routes. I admire you for that.
I admire you because you start your album like an honest man, without tricks or promises or loud bangs. You set the scene with a few seconds of strumming and then we’re in. Your voice is direct and clear. There’s a tone in this opening that I can’t accurately describe. It’s friendliness, but not soppy friendliness or overeager friendliness or even huggy-huggy big-hearted overflowing friendliness. It’s fellow-feeling.
The song is telling me a story about a group of women having a party, relaxing, smoking pot, and growing Martian antennae, but I can’t understand the words because you’re Cuban, and your story is in Spanish. You could be singing about drains for all I know. The whole album might be about drains. The English translations might not be translations at all, they might be inventions, and none of it is really about love or sinners or seeds or women or coffee or resentful one-armed men or ingrown moustache hairs—but drains. If it’s about drains then I can stop wondering if those lines about liking chicken on a guava stick are a reference to sex or a genuine culinary recommendation. I’m going with sex, but I’ll keep my mind open.
Your “Repeticiones” has a rhythm that suits its name, but the way the two voices (yours, your daughter’s) tie loops around the repetition gives the song a dryly funny, self-juicing engine. “Taitaíto” is as simple and infectious as a nursery rhyme. “Dime” has a romanticism that suggests a Portuguese influence. Who’s the singer? Either I’m missing something, or she hasn’t been credited.
The drums in your “lullabye for a mother”, “Anana Oye”, coupled with the simple chorus, remind me of those Pacific Islander choirs that accompany themselves with the rounded, hollow notes of bamboo percussion. I confess, I’m not crazy about the softer parts of the album. I like the deciveness of songs like “Vida Me Da”, the ones that put their foot down.
I’m going to stop here. I need to get back to Sheikh Sayyed Darweesh. Tell me Pedro Luis Ferrer, do I want those three lines out or not? I think I’ll keep them.
// Notes from the Road
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