Draped in campy melodrama and echo-soaked swirls of psychedelia, the Balada music of 70s Latin America left a mark on everyone in its sway. On his second high-concept tribute recording (the excellent Look At My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul was released in 2018), Austin wunderkind Adrian Quesada (producer, guitarist, Black Puma) again makes his own distinct kind of studio magic. Balada became an obsession for Quesada two decades back when he happened to catch the group Los Pasteles Verdes hit “Esclavo Y Amo” on AM radio, and was immediately pulled into the song’s emotional gravity. His obsession with the song (he re-records it again here with vocalist Natalia Clavier) gave genesis to the idea for this long-planned tribute; the pandemic gave him time to actually pursue it. Quesada cast his net wide for collaborators, and many of them brought in ideas of their own. Initially conceived as a covers album, Quesada soon found his own knack for writing boleros, so the album is a hybrid of covers (of songs by Omara Portuondo, La Lupe, Jeanette, and others) and originals. The originals make up Boleros‘s front half, and this is where the album soars. Former Calle 13 vocalist iLe brings an operatic intensity to “Mentiras Con Carino”. Gabriel Garzon-Montano’s ultra-smooth crooning on “El Paraguas” is transfixing, interspersed with Quesado’s fluid guitar riffs. “Hielo Seco” brings together Beasties DJ Money Mark and guitarist Marc Ribot. Laced with high points, the album’s unifier is Quesada, who, as his many collaborator’s emails came into his shutdown studio, crafted his aural magic. Creative and unique, Boleros will fascinate devotees and newbies of the genre alike. In many ways, it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of music he’s making. He’s had the knack since his early Octote Soul Sounds work with Martin Perna, and it only improves with each project: Vintage keys, slinky grooves, powerhouse vocals. Quesada’s vibe elevates it all.
Review by Jeff McCord