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Albert Zamora
El Soltero
Haceinda 2000 (

cd cover Tejano/Norteņo music is quite a popular form in the American Southwest as well as Mexico; the common practice of labeling songs by style testifies to well-developed rules and conventions. Accordionist/vocalist Albert Zamora adheres to them sufficiently to court popular acceptance, but his high spirits and technical prowess preclude his being limited by them. His varied accordion work dominates "El Soltero (The Bachelor)," but the music is as much shaped by playfully snide drums and bass, adding over-the-top ornamentation to relatively simple rhythms, but so good-natured and insistent as to win over the most reluctant listener. Zamora's voice is a variable instrument, pleasing but uninspiring on some songs, soaring and emotive on others.

The title track bounces to a characteristic four-four ranchera rhythm, bass on the downbeat, snare on the upbeat, Zamora's light, pleasant tenor sauntering above a baroque background of active, staccato accordion and acoustic guitar with tightly choreographed drums and bass, the recurring instrumental refrain adding an odd harmonic instability between accordion and guitar, edgily suggestive of a center about to stop holding. On "Borracho de Gusto," Zamora's accordion is even more hyperactively decorative between verses, and percussive effects evoke gunfire. Zamora's vocal also hits its stride here, emotional and intense, and the closing jazzy freak-out is a surprising treat.

A raucous take-off on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," "Duelo de Tejas" revels in the band's gift for looming but eluded chaos, accordion locked in musical rivalry with a wild, wiggling Cajun-style fiddle, spoken lyrics growled by a devilishly deep, but uncredited, voice. Dense, swinging percussion, replete with cowbell, adds a rustic edge to "Burra Tuerta," Zamora's vocal once again finding extra emotive traction, supported by a sweet backing chorus. The song is almost cartoonish, but so soulfully performed as to emerge archetypal, a kids' song for adults.

Sometimes it seems as if Tejano/Norteņo just don't get no respect. A careful, open listen to Albert Zamora's amiable creativity on El Soltero will not only change minds, but brighten spirits. - Jim Foley

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