Una Sangre [One Blood] (Narada 72435-76757-2-7, 2004)
The U.K. magazine Songlines recently included Lila Downs‘ 2000 release Tree of Life as one of “50 World Music Albums You Must Own.” It was an odd choice, justified because of the quality of the music but offbeat due to the disc having been rather overlooked in some similar publications. Tree of Life was full of fragile songs reflective of Down’s Mixtec Indian heritage, sung in Spanish to sparse, moody accompaniment.
Her follow-up, 2001’s Border (La Linea) knew no borders. It mixed Mexican and American folk strains with electric/acoustic arrangements, pan-American rhythms, surprising turns and pure attitude. Then there was Downs’ voice, one of the most unconventionally beautiful in all of music. She possesses
considerable range, though her voice isn’t technically perfect. She doesn’t so much sing songs as embody the characters whose point of view is expressed in those songs, tailoring her delivery to any necessary point between a whisper and a veritable scream.
That voice remains in full bloom on Una Sangre (One Blood), a set of adventurously structured and sumptuous tunes that pick up the vibe of the last album and carry it further. It’s a boldly glorious work throughout, seeing fit to not only take the familiar “La Bamba” and connect it with African roots scarcely explored before, but also re-thinking “La Cucaracha” (yes, you read that right) with a cumbia/reggae/hip-hop arrangement that leaves quaintness in the dust. And that’s just the tip of it.
Downs and her multinational band lay down one title track full of bluesy longing (“One Blood”) and another (“Una Sangre”) that struts with militant elegance, along with chiming traditional pieces like “Cielo Rojo,” groove-centered tracks (“Viborita,” “Brown Paper People”) and an unyielding sense of abandon and experimentation. Once again, Downs assumes many voices -rebel, restless spirit, mystic, seductress, etc. – and sings authoritatively with each. Wonderful singer, great variety of music, lots of power and beauty. Those are the things that make this cd exceptional, and those are precisely the reasons to get it.