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Pop Music Review

Juan Gabriel Shows He Has Hoarse Power

Despite Vocal Problems, Mexican Singer Pulls Off Emotional Mother's Day Concert With Help From Friends

May 11, 1999|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Juan Gabriel's peak years are far from over. But his voice, a highly expressive and extremely sensitive instrument, has given him more than his share of trouble in the last decade.

The Mexican singer's vocal problems came dangerously close to ruining his sold-out and highly anticipated Mother's Day performance at the Anaheim Convention Center.

"I've been working nonstop since May the 5th," he said apologetically after the introductory songs made it apparent the quietest of numbers brought a painful strain to his vocal cords. "I haven't been this hoarse in many, many years. I hope you'll help me tonight."

Ever a gentleman, Gabriel kept bringing up the painful issue at hand with disarming sincerity, asking the audience to chant along with the anthemic "Querida" and even admitting to musical director-guitarist Daniel Lopez that the band sounded much better than he.

Fortunately, Gabriel is much more than just a singer. He has composed an endless string of hit singles, released albums of pop and mariachi music, and has even helped launch the careers of protegees Ana Gabriel (no relation) and Spanish diva Rocio Durcal.

Somehow, the vocal problems of Gabriel the singer created an opportunity to showcase the Midas touch of Gabriel the composer. Stripped to their essence without a bravado vocal performance to enhance the lyrics, the melodies were exposed as timeless pop gems.

Catchy choruses are Gabriel's specialty, whether they belong to carefree bubble-gum pop or to dense, heart-wrenching torch songs.

Just when the singer's voice was about to hit rock bottom and the show would reach a premature but justified end, Gabriel was bold enough to usher in a mariachi ensemble, gather new strength from its wailing violins and perform an additional half hour, which included an extended tribute to ranchera composer Jose Alfredo Jimenez.

At that point, one almost felt as if the crowd were carrying Gabriel on its shoulders, giving him the strength to finish the evening on a good note.

The finale came with the gorgeous "Te Sigo Amando"(I Keep Loving You)--one of the singer's latest and finest compositions; it's the theme song to the popular soap opera of the same name--and the painful strain of the performance showed on Gabriel's face.

Ultimately, rescheduling would have allowed for a more professional and satisfying show, but it also would have taken away from the sheer emotionality of the Mother's Day event.

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