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*** GLORIA ESTEFAN, "Alma Cariben~a"; Epic

May 21, 2000|ERNESTO LECHNER

Has Gloria been listening to Marc Anthony a little too closely? On "Por un Beso," the opening track of her third Spanish-language album, the diva imitates Anthony's phrasing to perfection, while the orchestra duplicates the Nuyorican beau's trademark staccato salsa attack.

Fortunately, Anthony is only one of the many Afro-Caribbean references Estefan explores in this chameleon of a record. The trombone-heavy bridge on "Punto de Referencia" sounds like vintage Willie Colon, while the string section of "Te Tengo a Ti" re-creates the genuine melodrama of an old-fashioned bolero. And just to make sure we're talking Latin blockbuster here, she performs lively duets with Celia Cruz and Jose Feliciano.

Producer Emilio Estefan Jr.'s slick studio gimmicks keenly play against the grit of the material. In the past, his saccharine techniques have gotten in the way of the songs, but here they create an interesting contrast--a marriage between glittering digital finesse and syncopated conga fever.

Still, it is Gloria's voice that steals the spotlight. It has gained in color and depth over time, and it sounds reassuringly at home with the material. There's nothing intrinsically wrong about disco-ish pop, but this is one singer who should devote herself solely to the beauty of her Caribbean soul.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums will be in stores on Tuesday.

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