Mercedes Peón / Ajrú
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Mercedes Peón
Discmedi (

cd cover The second release from Galician vocalist/piper Mercedes Peón may at first startle and disorient you. Its instrumental sparseness is in tension with lush, high-tech production, the traditional forms melded with a modern aural attack. Peón's voice, powerfully driven and intense, yet capable of seductive gentleness, contends for primacy on Ajrú with dynamic but nuanced and varied percussion, her gaita playing icing on the cake. Once you have regained your balance, you'll appreciate a carefully crafted and sequenced recording, tracks positioned just where you need them for dramatic effect and narrative coherence.

"Neniñué," the beginning track, fades in with polyrhythmic bongos and occasional synth whines; Peón's powerful voice keens and penetrates in a marginally dissonant introduction. Primary percussion kicks in along with a stuttering, percussive piano, Peón's multi-tracked vocals interspersed with gaita, both wonderfully shrill over insistent galloping drums and bass. Based on a traditional xota, "É Xera" is a lively rolling waltz featuring accordion, piano, and low clarinet, Peón's vocal nasal, lilting, and delicate. "Maria 2" is an appropriately frenzied evocation of lust at first sight in the club, Peón delivering an impassioned solo introduction in a reverberative distance before high-speed drums and heavy breathing get the obsession into high gear. The vocal approaches and recedes, a device used to good effect on other tracks. You may feel the need for a rest after this track, which is fortunately followed by "Ese Es Ti," a calm, dreamy waltz washed with cosmic synth waves, flute, and violin, the vocal equally languid and sweet, the lyrics satisfied, perhaps a depiction of later that night back at home.

The title track, produced in two parts, begins with a stiff waltz, saturated with varied percussion, gaita, and marimbas, Peón's voice at its ululating best. The second part features much denser instrumentation, including roaring samples and electric guitar, cryptic lyrics and Peón's declamatory delivery suggesting a magic spell. "Nanareggae" offers another dramatic respite, a sleepy reggae beat, 'conscious' lullaby lyrics, constant castanets in the background, and accordion circling around the vocal line. "Maria 1," the single most exciting track, begins with playful laughter and moderately brutal beat with two gaitas in tight harmony, the vocal echoing deep in the background, gradually approaching amidst a grinding din of percussion, the beat doubling as the gaita melody morphs and elaborates. "Ó Meu Amigo/Étnica" begins with water sounds and calm narration, a rolling beat. A background vocal fugue is soon added, the main vocal line dramatically emerging from reverb at the end of a figure, the production receding again to sparse water sounds before the sudden entry of thundering, bounding percussion.

Peón's is a voice you don't want to miss, and Ajrú makes the most of it. - Jim Foley

Note: Lyrics are printed in Galician and English in the CD booklet.

Audio: "Maria 1" ©2003 Discmedi, Spain, used by permission

CD available from cdRoots

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