Up With Downs

Lila Downs y La Misteriosa en Paris - Live a FIP
Lila Downs

Lila Downs y La Misteriosa en Paris – Live a FIP (World Village WVF479027, 2010)

Words like “eclectic” and “versatile” don’t begin to describe the sound of Lila Downs. Born to Mexican and Scottish parents and having been equally keen on studying both anthropology and vocal music at the University of Minnesota, you’d expect as much. But even expectations don’t count for much in Downs’ case. Her albums (six to date) are loaded with songs ranging from stark border town ballads and fiesta-like romps to free-spirited excursions that start with jazz, blues, rock, cabaret, hip hop, reggae or Latin foundations and build to unpredictable heights that Downs’ remarkable, almost supernatural vocals either reign in or send even higher.

If you could foresee anything about her music, I suppose it would be that this, her first live disc, is a topflight sampling of what she’s accomplished up to now. Recorded before an appreciative audience at Radio France, Live a FIP shows Downs and her players (who wield standard instruments like guitar and bass as expertly as non-standard harp and accordion) in prime form.

Perfectly capable of setting the place on fire by tearing into a rocker like “Minimum Wage” or the highly charged rhythms of “Arenita Azul” and the finale “Perro Negro,” both singer and musicians here can also cool the pace for the aching sparseness of “Paloma Negra” and “La Llorona,” seemingly without failing to keep the crowd engaged for so much as a second. But it’s not just shrewd pacing or a highly polished performance that makes this album so vibrantly alive.

Downs’ alternately sensual, stinging and shape-shifting voice sounds just as good onstage as in studio and she’s got herself a band that matches her many colors while creating a few of their own. I’ve never seen Downs in concert, but if all her performances are even half as mighty as the one captured here, I’d better make it tops on my to-do list.

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