Ana Laan - Oregano
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Ana Laan
Nardis (

cd cover This little gem of a recording pops up unexpectedly from a label known more for lounge and funk jazz than world music, perhaps as a result of Laan's alter-ego success as Spain's Rita Calypso. The aural mise-en-scene of Orégano is certainly redolent of Brazilian lounge music; Laan is frequently compared with Bebel Gilberto. But there is far more here than Laan's pleasant, light vocals and sunny melodies. Even producer Leo Sidran reaches successfully beyond his accustomed funk base, contributing a tang, at once playful and threatening, to Laan's compositions that suggests the darker depths of her lyrics, even to listeners unfamiliar with the Spanish of all but two of the songs.

The opening title track immediately attracts attention, Laan accompanying herself in multi-tracked chorus, Sidran's percussion and programming and Jorge Galemire's loopy ebows adding a wistfulness to a tale of the quotidian married life ("where is the oregano, and is the kid asleep?"). "Para el Dolor" is more bossa-nova, swinging acoustic guitar and restrained salsa-jazz piano supporting a very Brazilian tune about the black sorrow of life and the small consolations, including song, that render it bearable. The sound of "Viene" is more representative of its lyrics, a stiff common-time beat with muted electric piano and drums, Laan's vocal almost sing-song, but with interesting harmonies, all to warn us that "it's coming," and those who say they know it know nothing. Won't you guess my name? "Llamaste" heightens the drama, a simple, repetitive, cumulatively trancy melody, a call that cannot be refused.

The most arresting track, "Hidra," begins with a driving bass beat and arabesque synth-strings, leading to a soaring melody, as close as Laan's gentle vocal comes to a cry, her multi-tracked self-chorus filling any voids left by Sidran's instrumentation, fading on a triumphant tone. And what's it about? "I am your hydra, I am your brown beast, and I fix my fingernails in the ice of your skin." Yow! Not for the timid! "Marigold" is the sole English song, a short a cappella round about insistent insouciance. "Blanco" is the most obviously dark track, shuffling percussion, simple reverberative piano, more harmonic choruses, even a brief operatic intrusion, a litany of the white, the empty, and the target, pun and innuendo en Español. "Uti Var Hage," a very plainly but effectively produced a cappella piece, hints at Laan's Swedish background.

Orégano is one of those rare recordings that is pleasantly likeable, "nice," at first, but grows in stature with familiarity. English translations of the liner notes would have been a nice touch, but perhaps that would be letting Ana Laan's lyrical cat out of the bag. - Jim Foley

Listen to some samples

CD available at CD Baby

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