Mexican torch songs

Heartfelt warmth and sorrow-filled tracks from Eliseo Robles and Rosendo Cantu

There's something about the poetic heartbreak of traditional Mexican music that compels los hombres que no deben llorar to break down and beg for forgiveness in verse, if only because they were too stubborn to do so in person. These slow waltzes and melodic rancheras give voice to such unspoken emotions, and for those facing similar circumstances, they provide solace and suggest that brighter days are ahead.

Recent releases from norteño veterans Eliseo Robles and Rosendo Cantu (who recently played an impressive, late-night set at Noche Caliente) do just that, without pretense or schmaltz. Both artists stay true to tradition by playing corridos primarily, interspersed with some baladas and cumbias, but free from synthesizers and studio overdubbing characteristic of some of their more innovative and experimental contemporaries today (not to mention the plastic sounding pop groups dominating the airwaves). This is roots music at its core - acordeón, bajo, batería y voz - from two of the genre's stalwarts.

Eliseo Robles, formerly a vocalist for Ramón Ayala, sings with a heartfelt warmth reminiscent of the legendary musician. On the 12 tracks of Por las Calles de Chihuahua, he combines bravado and vulnerability as he remembers past loves - and who's to say that his lament for the death of El Tuerto, his cherished, worn-down horse, isn't a metaphor for the slow disappearance of a way of life?

CD Spotlight

Por las Calles de Chihuahua
Eliseo Robles y Los Bárbaros del Norte

Qué Lastima
Rosendo Cantu y Su Grupo
Cantu's Qué Lastima is a real gem - the sort of album which bears repeated listenings long after the last embers of an old relationship have gone out, where you find yourself on the cusp of starting over. Selections like "Arreglame El Corazón" and "Moriré por La Herida," with their expression of suffering, separation, and prideful apologies, could easily be be criticized for ironic excess, if not for the sincerity of Cantu's voice and the smooth accordion accompaniment. Optimists will appreciate the title track simply because of how well it captures the electrifying feel of a new romance. In that slow number, Cantu laments that the night lasts so long, if only because that is the amount of time he must wait before seeing the object of his affection once again.

Throughout the disc, Cantu achieves a vocal expressiveness on par with he best classically trained singers. Though charged and raw, his vulnerability comes through on these sorrow-filled tracks. Taken in combination with Edwin Sandoval's melodious, moving accordion playing (listen to his simple yet beautiful riffs on "Nomás Por Celos") the sound of Cantu's tremulous voice cracking, as if he were on the verge of tears, conveys the songs' sentimiento perfectly, with no translation necessary.

By Alejandro Pérez