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Pop Music | Record Rack

In 'Mundo,' Ruben Blades Mixes Up a Career Capstone

September 15, 2002|Agustin Gurza; Steve Appleford; Randy Lewis; Marc Weingarten

****

RUBEN BLADES

"Mundo"

Columbia

Every decade or so, this ever-inventive artist makes a milestone album. In the '70s, it was "Siembra," his collaboration with Willie Colon that stands as salsa's "Sgt. Pepper's." In the '80s, it was his gripping first solo album, "Buscando America," his break from the confines of Afro-Cuban dance music.

Since then, we've been waiting for an album like "Mundo" (World), the masterpiece Blades seemed meant to make his whole career (it's due in stores Tuesday). This is a sweeping, occasionally breathtaking work that ties together the diverse musical strains he's explored for decades while moving far beyond anything he's done before.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 17, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 6 inches; 220 words Type of Material: Correction
Album review--The album by the pop group OK Go should have been rated three stars (good) rather than two stars in a review that ran in Sunday's Calendar.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 22, 2002 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part F Page 2 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Pop album review--A review last Sunday of OK Go's album should have been rated three stars, not two stars.

All the elements that have made Blades so consistently appealing and inspiring are here: the imaginative storytelling, the rousing social vision, the true-grit rhythms and memorable melodies. As a whole, this album also soars with intellectual energy and the sheer exultation of making music that sounds sublime.

"Mundo" is like a ride on a hot-air balloon, sweeping across musical landscapes we once considered disparate and foreign. Unlike the world fusions that simply sample music from hither and yon, Blades reveals how cultures are connected. Sometimes, the effect is startling. A salsa piano riff suddenly emerges from a distinctly Middle Eastern rhythm. Bagpipes work in unison with bata drums.

Blades demonstrates that all music comes from a common source, like the humans who make it. One moment he's a salsa singer from El Barrio; the next he's a gravel-voiced Gypsy from nowhere. "In the Incas' quena flute I hear Ireland/Listen to Iran in bagpipes from Scotland," he says in the English translation of the opening "Estampa." The agile playing and intricate arrangements are credited to an ensemble that includes outstanding Central American musicians, including pianist Walter Flores and members of Editus, the band that has recently backed Blades.

The former New Yorker dedicates "Danny Boy," with a celestial guest vocal by Luba Mason, to the victims of Sept. 11. He follows it with his hopeful "La Ruta" (The Road), which fades out with the repeated epitaph taken from a poor grave by the side of the road: "Continue the route in my name." Always, Blades shows us the way with conviction and optimism.

Agustin Gurza

** 1/2

DISTURBED

"Believe"

Reprise

The suffering is over. Now Disturbed wants to sing, to dance, even if the subject remains dark and brooding, all bad memories and neighborhood threats.

Not that "Believe" (due Tuesday) will surprise any of the 2 million buyers of 2000's "The Sickness." Songs remain thundering storm clouds of angst, but with a new emphasis on radio-ready melodies far closer to Creed than Sabbath--nu metal for a nu day.

Little here is as sharp as the band's intense, career-making single, "Stupefy." There are some nice, grinding riffs from guitarist Dan Donegan and a strangely lilting ballad that closes the album. But the music is tuneful in a conventional way, far from the genre-expanding work of such contemporaries as System of a Down. Same volume, less detail.

The song "Breathe" begins as an attack of aimless jazzbo metal but soon kicks into sharp melodic focus, never straying from a tough, martial beat. And shouter David Draiman is forever the angry mystic, venting on the big issues and shedding manly tears. Amid the heavy beats and swirling guitars of "Bound," he warns some misguided rock chick, "Think you're a little bit closer to changing me?/You're never winning me over/you're wasting time, yeah!" He still sounds happiest when sharing bad vibes. Steve Appleford

***

THE CHIEFTAINS

"Down the Old Plank Road

--The Nashville Sessions"

RCA Victor

The historical link between Appalachian and Celtic folk music is well documented. Who better to anchor a modern celebration of that kinship than Ireland's chief ambassadors of traditional music?

In fact, the Chieftains hooked up in Nashville with a bunch of American country and bluegrass musicians a decade ago for their album "Another Country." Ricky Skaggs and Bela Fleck are the holdovers from that outing, joining bluegrass greats Earl Scruggs, Del McCoury and Alison Krauss, and such alt-country heroes as Lyle Lovett and Gillian Welch & David Rawlings on this sequel (in stores Tuesday).

The full-throttle emotionalism of Vince Gill's vocal on "Dark as a Dungeon" and Martina McBride's bittersweet take on the country waltz "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight" would be as much at home in a Dublin pub as at the Grand Ole Opry. All the transatlantic jamming develops organically, without a trace of square pegs being shoehorned into round holes.

Randy Lewis

In Brief

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