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POP MUSIC | LATIN PULSE

Lysa Flores' Debut Album Has X Factor

July 12, 1998|Ernesto Lechner | Ernesto Lechner is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Few would guess from the lilting, melodic strains of Lysa Flores' impressive debut album that one of the 24-year-old singer-songwriter's chief influences was X, the seminal Los Angeles punk-roots rock band.

Yet Flores, who has been called the Joni Mitchell of Chicano rock, names X as a primary reason why she's making music.

"They were romantic yet political, and somehow I related to that," the East L.A. native says of the veteran group. "Soon enough, I started screaming around my house like [X's singer] Exene Cervenka."

In fact, Flores was such a big fan of X that in 1988 she pretended to be a reporter in search of an interview as a ploy to meet the band.

At the time, she was already singing backing vocals in the Longfields, a pop-rock outfit that has since disbanded. X drummer D.J. Bonebrake started playing occasionally with the group and he noticed how the other members rejected Flores' compositions and her desire to sing lead vocals on some songs.

Bonebrake encouraged Flores to think about a solo career, and since late 1993 he's been a member of her three-piece group.

"Here I was, watching him and thinking that he's the greatest drummer alive, and then he's playing with me," she says. "Which proves that people really shouldn't be afraid to seek their dreams, because sometimes they do come true."

Romance and politics are both present in Flores' debut, "Tree of Hope," a sparkling collection of folk-rock songs that, while mostly sung in English, often reveal her Latin origins. The mandolin-tinged title track is a meditation on the harrowing life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, where the sweetly delicate "Moms Song" is about the divorce of her parents when she was a teenager.

Although her lyrics appear to be nakedly confessional, the singer covers them with a mantle of irony and self-deprecating humor that adds depth. As she puts it, "I do some twisting around so that the words have a double meaning."

Flores gained attention last year for a supporting role in director Miguel Arleta's film "Star Maps" and for compiling the highly regarded "Star Maps" soundtrack. The rock en espan~ol collection included her own "Beg, Borrow and Steal," an anthem-like pop gem about the false promises of love. The song is also included in Flores' own album, which was released recently on her own Bring Your Love label and has been picked up for national distribution by the Virgin Megastore chain.

Flores is returning to the studio to record Spanish versions of six of her songs for an EP that will be released soon.

Though major labels are likely to beckon, Flores--who will be appearing at the Opium Den on July 26, Aug. 9 and Aug. 30--isn't sure she wants to make that leap.

Indeed, she exhibits a career independence reminiscent of Ani DiFranco, who also has avoided the traditional pop industry structure. Flores books her gigs, does her own press and has only recently hired a lawyer to help her with some of the administrative burdens of a blossoming recording career.

"This is the beginning of realizing my dreams," she says of her album. "I hope that at some time, I will be able to change the perspective of things a little bit, and open the door for other people. And it doesn't matter how long it takes me."

HIDDEN GEMS: RMM Records, long the nation's most successful salsa label, has a fascinating new series of archival albums titled "Forbidden Cuba." The 16 albums already in stores cover a wide range of genres, from cool instrumental jazz to steamy big band salsa--most of the selections by artists whose work was previously unavailable in this country.

Although the liner notes are skimpy, the series should delight anybody interested in the less familiar aspects of Afro-Caribbean music. It's a long overdue tribute to some of the unsung heroes of the Cuban treasure trove.

The two-volume "Pianoforte" collection features some amazing pianists, including Chucho Valdes, the prolific Frank Emilio Flynn and even some exquisite recordings by the sophisticated Peruchin, whose velvety touch gives his music a haunting, timeless feel.

The series also devotes considerable attention to straight forward dance music, from the lighter sound of the Grupo Afrocuba to the explosiveness of La Orquesta 440, a dynamite three-singer salsa combo whose jams are as dynamic as anything by such better known acts as Los Van Van or NG La Banda. If the series is commercially successful, RMM plans to release 16 more volumes.

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