Where The Girls Are

When asked to name one of the most versatile and commanding female vocalists of the day, many will quickly point to Magos Herrera. This native of Mexico has cultivated a legion of fans in the U.S. and throughout the Americas that expands exponentially with each artistic triumph. Her latest venture, He for She (Sony Music), is a partnership with Spanish flamenco guitarist Javier Limón. Herrera’s voice is amber-hued and supple – the perfect instrument for the program of ballads she handpicked. A small cast of noted accompanists that includes Swiss harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret and New York-born clarinetist Oran Etkin adds further luster to a production that’s the definition of an intimate recital. The informality of the session is underscored by the effortless integration of several special guests. On “Yo Vengo a Ofrecer Mi Corazón” and “Al Lado del Camino,” the tunes’ composer, Argentine rock star Fito Páez, is featured in a duet with Herrera. Elements of the flamenco style are evident here. Another guest, Colombian singer Chabuco, adds his free-spirited vocalizing to Cuban nueva canción composer Pablo Milanés’ “De Qué Callada Manera.” The program also includes several enchanting original compositions and revered works by other famed Latin American composers. An accompanying DVD of the live concert is an added bonus.

 A singer, composer and guitarist the New York Times lauds for having “an ear for music of both folkloric and pop intention,” Camila Meza has made quite an impression on Big Apple audiences since arriving from her native Santiago, Chile seven years ago. On Traces (Sunnyside), the young musician asserts herself as someone with the confidence and artistic gifts necessary to become a force in the expansive and ever evolving world of multi-idiomatic music. There’s more than a bit of improvisational character in Meza’s style; on the title tune, sung in English and powered by jagged, rock-influenced rhythms, she injects a fluid electric guitar solo that demonstrates her command of jazz fusion. Switching to classical guitar, she explores her country’s storied folkloric traditions in a touching reading of the late Victor Jara’s “Luchín.” The plaintive ballad was first recorded in 1972 just months before Jara was murdered by the Chilean military dictatorship. Meza is an emerging talent that impresses on many levels.

A release you should rush to acquire is the stunningly lovely Fado da Vida (self-produced) by a true anomaly on today’s music scene – a born-in-the-USA exponent of Fado, Portugal’s emotionally-intense and richly-poetic national style. Ramana Vieira was born in San Leandro, California to Portuguese immigrant parents. She grew up listening to and developing a deep personal passion for this hallowed style. Vieira wrote music for and plays piano on four of the date’s 10 tracks and sings in both English and her parent’s native tongue. Her emotive vocal style is most effective on slow-paced works like “Cabo Verde,” one of the singer’s self-penned works and one of the session’s most entrancing performances. The spare arrangement, featuring acoustic guitar and cello, perfectly frames Vieira’s heartfelt vocal. “A Fadista” is autobiographical, flirtatious and festive. “Bailinho da Madeira,” with an accordion in the mix, suggests a broader stylistic community that extends through various European folkloric and Gipsy-esq traditions to Tejano conjunto sounds.

Vivacious Brazilian singer, composer and guitarist Tamy Caieira offers a stylistically fresh update on her country’s celebrated MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) tradition – a highly evolved style of pop music that effortlessly combines samba and other native rhythms with sophisticated arrangements and jazzy touches. On her eponymous U.S. debut (Zip Reports), it’s impossible not to sway to a tune like “Te Esperei,” a haunting love ballad backed by accordion fills and spiced with howling accents from a cuica (a friction drum used in carnaval). “Dava Pra Ver” ventures into more contemporary sonic realms, with rock-style guitar work and driving backbeat rhythms. “Eu Tô Com Você” is a quintessential Brazilian pop ballad – dreamy and melodically lustrous. Accompanying Tamy are many of Brazil’s best musicians, featured on cello, bass clarinet and other instruments not commonly used in pop music. Those fond of such Brazilian artists as Gal Costa, Bebel Gilberto and Caetano Veloso will find Tamy Caieira much to their liking.

 By Mark Holston