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Pop Music | The $50 Guide

Three Grammy Nominees Who Take the Lightweight Out of Latin Pop

August 27, 2000|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn, the Times pop music critic, can be reached at

If the past year's commercial blitz of Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias left you cold to the idea of Latin pop, it's time to rethink your position--and the Latin Grammy nominations offer some help. Three of the outstanding figures of Latin pop--Colombia's Carlos Vives, Brazil's Caetano Veloso and the Dominican Republic's Juan Luis Guerra--are nominated in the best album category. They command half the slots in this edition of Calendar's guide to keeping up with what's exciting in pop music on an album budget of $50 a month.


Dido's "No Angel" (Arista). Dido (pronounced dye-doe), whose voice is sampled in the haunting musical refrain in Eminem's song "Stan," is a classically trained musician who dresses traditional pop structures with seductive dance-world threads. Best of all, she programs subtle twists into the lyrics so you often don't know quite where she's headed with a song until she reaches the destination. There is a gentle grace to her work that recalls the elegance of Sting and Peter Gabriel, who is one of her songwriting partners on this stylish debut.

Carlos Vives' "El Amor de mi Tierra" (EMI Latin). Don't worry if you don't speak Spanish. This singer-songwriter injects his music with such an open-hearted community spirit that you'll feel instantly at home. Much of the music--with strains drawn from Colombian folk music--is as warm and uplifting as the heart of Paul Simon's "Graceland." This is a joyous album--the kind of engaging work that makes you reach for the "repeat" button on CD players.

Caetano Veloso's "Livro" (Nonesuch). With his suit jacket in the drawing on the front of the album booklet and the shirt and tie in the accompanying photo, Veloso looks like the Brazilian equivalent of Leonard Cohen, and there are similarities musically. Though his songs aren't as dark as Cohen's best-known works, Veloso is also a poet who writes with a strong sense of character and craft. Veloso sings in Portuguese, but the booklet contains the English lyrics. Among his admirers is Beck, who joined Veloso on stage last year at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre and who has experimented with the tropicalia style that Veloso helped popularize in the late '60s. Suave.


Juan Luis Guerra y 440's "Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual" (Karen). Here's another collection that doesn't need a translation. You'll miss Guerra's social commentary if you can't speak Spanish, but the music carries its own life-affirming message. Guerra, who cites the Beatles as his early musical heroes, is a master of merengue--the traditional music of the Dominican Republic that he has both embraced and helped expand. He and his band are overflowing with ideas, painting musical landscapes that are at once sophisticated and as inviting as a lively block party.

Jurassic 5's "Quality Control" (Interscope). It's easy to be lulled into thinking there is something conservative about this Los Angeles hip-hop group because it is always lumped with the city's "positive rap" movement. But there is something refreshing and daring about the way the group stands apart from rap's endless accounts of thug life and the pursuit of riches. "Lausd," the album's centerpiece, casts a wary look at the stardom and glitter of hip-hop in L.A.

Marah's "Kids in Philly" (E-Squared). The first thing about the album that recommends it is that it's on Steve Earle's label. The second is that the four members of the Philadelphia group play as if their lives depend on it. Lead singer Dave Bielanko and his brother, guitarist Serge, write songs whose images collide with each other in a way we haven't heard since Bruce Springsteen's "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." Things get a little scattered at times, making you wonder if they know just where they are going on this musical journey, but there's enough promise and individuality to make you want to sign up for the trip. *

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