Canciones Para Delia
(Song For Della)
Note: The producer and artistic director of the remarkable album reviewed here, Cougar Estrada, is the percussionist-par-excellence with
Los Lobos. His father, Ruben Estrada, founded the legendary Estrada
Brothers band nearly forty years ago.
Review by Jim Merod
Click here to e-mail reviewer
CD Stock Number: Cougar Records 182199
There are so few heartfelt albums in any genre that one is compelled to remember those surmounting potential sentimentality to achieve a resonant musical plateau. Music played from the heart is music uttered with love.
Cancoines Para Deli, volume one, is an album to savor, to remember, to play again and again and again. It is precisely heartfelt...
deeply heartfelt -- an outpouring of powerful tenderness that has few rivals easily accessed. The seventeen songs here, movingly rendered, were a very special woman's favorites: songs that speak from the grand Latin American musical tradition; songs that speak to the inmost quick of life's hopes and dreams, its drama and turmoil and triumph.
Delia Estrada is the subject of this remarkable musical tribute. Delia was the mother of Cougar Estrada whose artistic direction, in this exact and passionate project, stops one's breath with delight and admiration. Delia Estrada, of course, was the wife and dearest companion of vibraphone master Ruben Estrada...
a musician without equal today in the aesthetic grandeur of his instrument. The late Cal Tjader literally defined the scope and meaning of Latin-inflected vibraphonic beauty. Ruben Estrada is the direct spiritual and musical descendent of Cal Tjader and Delia Estrada, for four decades, was the witness, facilitator, and
benefactor of that heritage.
The most important aspect of any recording is the quality of the music: the height and splendor of its performances.
Cancoines Para Deli is far more than a 'tribute' album. It is jammed, start to finish, with playing that brings you back time and again. Ruben and Cougar Estrada are joined by Ruben's brother Henry, on sax and flute, by Ruben Martinez on acoustic bass, and vocalists who add divine nuance. Major record labels should take instruction from the directness of this album's performance and production values.
This is music without reticence, aesthetic and emotional intensity without embarrassment
but with courage at every point. The music on this disc is meaningful with no evasion of any kind. Even the one slight moment of narrative excess retrieves itself as an honest reach from the heart to a place where words can never go.
My wife and I were fortunate to know Delia Estrda as she coped, with boundless faith, against the erosion of cancer. Never in my life have I seen a woman more steadfast, cheerful, and relentless in the face of death. Delia was altogether a human angel struck by the accident of random adversity. She blamed no one and nothing. She understood the absurdity of the universe and life's improbable generosity. Everyone who knew her was blessed by her example of love and and cheer even as suffering that brings strong men to their knees crept over her.
For those who did not know Delia Estrada, my words may seem irrelevant. None of us are invulnerable to life's caprice and Delia Estrada, whose life produced awe-inspiring devotion from those who loved her, is a glorious example of the spiritual depth that human commitment attains when it gives itself to those with equal love.
So it is that Cougar and Ruben Estrada's personal love has found a way to craft aesthetic splendor: a literally unique and unrivaled album. Because I know that most readers, coming to these remarks, did not know Delia Estrada -- and since testimony, such as this life-affirming album construct, often teeters at the brink of incredulity -- permit my voyage through this music.
There are many things working against such a musical occasion. Death. Sadness. Private resolutions with personal grief and memory...
and the fleeting depth of family joy. What is so utterly personal and private cannot, by definition, be public: it is not available for general sharing. Almost.
This album is an occasion in which the deepest in-bite of suffering and celebration become joyful explosions of communal celebration. Begin at the beginning: "En Mi Viejo San Juan" rolls forward from silence (darkness; nowhere) to lift awareness from distraction. We are immediately surging. Boom ! Hello ! A party is about to commence.
"Esta Tarde Vi Llover" is next, a scratchy old Victrola disc churning with unabashed romance. It reminds us of our youth... dances, long ago when we were stupid, hopeful and young, holding vast dreams of human intimacy and global solidarity. If you do not have that gene in your biological make up, punch in track three:
"Sabor A Mi" …. a song-without-which life stutters aimlessly in idle recollection of nonsense or business
trolling. In the caring hands of Cougar Estrada's magnificent band, this song holds what it truly is: a tale of life's ceaseless dreaming.
By now you've been swept into a musical heartbeat seldom heard in our calloused culture. You cannot turn back. Track four, "Green Eyes," is an amorous swoon. This immodest version of an unashamed romantic outlook refuses sleep. The mood is lush with erotic tenderness.
Few of us are prepared for such an open-hearted musical ride. These songs are driven, glistening and boastful, shy and sweet all at once. We do not hear music like this anywhere, a degree of
unbridled passion that everything in our present culture disallows: naked tenderness. Human emotion in contemporary musical frameworks is self-protected: at best ironic, at worst bombastic. Though I spend fourteen hours most days, and sometimes more, listening to music … and have done so for most of my long life, I was not prepared for the candid feeling that suffuses, and defines, this album.
"Sin Fe (Poquito Fe)" proves my point. Listen to saxophonist Henry Estrada's langorous dirge -- a call from earth to paradise. By this point a dramatic prelude has been rendered. We have been introduced (ready or not) to stark celebratory complexity.
"Besame Mucho" is a classic cancion that somehow defends itself from improbable interpretations. Here it inaugurates the "no holds barred" guts of this powerful album. If you are
skeptical about romance such as this, punch track six. Settle in. It owns you.
Any savvy listener who thinks to have this project scoped-out thoroughly will soon be foiled. What do you make of the next musical utterance,
"Verdad, Amarga"? Theme song for an exotic Riveria get-away ? Henry Mancini introducing Audrey Hepburn to the lovely young lass, Delia ? Ah, life's winsome evanescence! Do not be surprised that your normal defenses against hilarity and unadulterated faith (in something!) dissolve in the presence of this disc.
"Quisaz, Quisaz, Quisaz -- Perfidia" makes sure that you give yourself up to its relaxed, brilliant ride... for a good purpose. You'll find that you no longer care what that purpose is: just keep this music, these musicians, moving onward.
A problem occurs as you succumb to such joyful music as if you were a child again -- a child with a guilty, innocent heart too burdened with glory to turn away. That second or third most requested Latin Anthem,
"Historia De Amor," pushes forward as if it were a short story crafted by Albert Camus ("Mother died today, or was it yesterday?"). The joke is on all of us: James Dean streaking down the straight-away, Natalie Wood rooting, hoping, fearing...
(thus) one's mother and one's truest (life-long) girlfriend deserve the hush of approving recollection this version of a timeless musical masterpiece offers. There is no end to the history of love.
The remaining eight songs will own you no less. In fact more. They will own your heart with their utter sincerity of feeling. If all the music in the world were lost, and one had this disc alone, the emotional truth of music would survive.
At the deepest level of thought, where musical truth and human feeling merge, a final measure of haunted wonder resides. That is the place this unpretentious, loving album takes us. These seventeen songs, in their sincere pleadings, achieve a strange affinity. Like Steven Spielberg's haunting
movie A. I. -- a film easily misunderstood or missed altogether -- Cancoines
Para Deli may, and almost certainly will, remain an undiscovered classic.
If I write truly for someone else with useful trust, then Cancoines
Para Deli rewards such trust because its sound is vast with unutterable speech, its feeling beyond my utterance here, where only music renders what Cougar and Ruben Estrada give in
homage to their glorious Delia.