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Vanguard Records (www.vanguardrecords.com)

cd cover The album title is an appropriate one for a band who've been honing their chops for 10 years now. Based in Los Angeles and utilizing Afro-Latin/blues/rock elements atop a foundation of Mexican folkloric music, Quetzal continue to break new ground on record and in their passionate live performances. Worksongs was produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos (whom Quetzal have been called the natural successors to) and bears the marks of a band maturing and taking chances. They could have easily made another disc like their last one, Sing The Real, a lively and layered work that had plenty of sonic and lyrical substance though it was the grooves that grabbed you first. In comparison, Worksongs feels darker, more brooding and somber. Even uptempo songs like "Time to Go" and the tightly-wound "Decide" come across as hiding some kind of deep sadness. There are stompers such as "Luna Sol" that break the spell from time to time, but introspection seems to be the order of the day here. So am I complaining? Not in the least. The more serious tone (and the sparse, sometimes icy production values that Berlin employs in service of it) works well and highlights some of the band's key strengths, including the lead voice of Martha Gonzalez. She can sing it like silk or steel in both Spanish and English, has the range to sound solid on all fronts, and when she's teamed with her brother Gabriel's less polished but finely heartfelt vocals, the combination is tough to beat. With songs addressing city life, self-worth, disillusionment and striving to feel fulfilled, Worksongs is Quetzal's most personal work to date, and it's exactly on that level that it succeeds. Because there is work to be done, this disc encourages looking within and determining how best to contribute to the accomplishing of it. Quetzal's contribution is making music that has a lot to say about the human condition, and no one should be put off by the fact that it's not always bright and sunny. -Tom Orr

Available at cdroots

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