Every so often a voice emerges whose distinctive color, texture, and passionate conception defy easy characterization. Lila Downs combines formal vocal training in the Minnesota university setting of her father with study in Oaxaca, Mexico, tapping the indigenous Mixtec traditions of her mother. She covers the vocal waterfront, from the tense-throated nasal vibrato of Lydia Mendoza and Lucha Reyes to the nueva canción sensibility of Mercedes Sosa, with the chops of Linda Rondstadt, the sassiness and inventive range of Sarah Vaughan, and the sweetness of Tish Hinojosa.
Downs sings mostly in Spanish, with two haunting Mixtec offerings. On two cuts, the muddy brass sonorities of the Tlahuitoltepec Music School children's band transport the listener to a public plaza somewhere in Oaxaca. Her backing group (piano, clarinet, tenor and baritone sax, guitar, bass and percussion), equally at home in the idioms of jazz and Mexican traditional song, seamlessly complements the genuine and original voice whose arrival La Sandunga proclaims. — Michael Stone
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