Diverse, Thoughtful Pan-American Sounds from Maria Cangiano

by delarue

Eclectic Argentinian-Italian chanteuse Maria Cangiano has established herself as a brilliant interpreter of the Piazzolla songbook, most notably on her 2010 debut album Ballads for My Life and Death: Tribute to Piazzolla. But she’s also a strong songwriter in her own right. On her new album Heart of a Woman/Corazon De Mujer, she’s teamed up with two similarly eclectic and virtuosic musicians, Argentinian guitarist Quique Sinesi and percussionist Quintino Cinalli for a collection of songs that sound vastly more lush and dynamically charged than you would expect from an acoustic trio. Cangiano is an expressive singer with extraordinary range and power: you wouldn’t expect a contralto to be able to deliver such stinging high notes. But she’s not just about power, she’s about nuance, which pretty much defines the camaraderie between the musicians here.

Some of these songs feature Cangiano’s own lyrics; others set text by Alfonsina Storni, Gabriela Mistral or Maria Fernanda Hubeaut to intricately rhythmic arrangements. Although Cangiano’s background is classic tango, she ventures far afield of that style here: the tropical lilt of many of the melodies contrasts with the stately intensity of the lyrics. The opening track, Dolor (Pain), utilizing a Storni poem, is characteristic. It’s an altered zamba (a melancholic Argentinian plains style), harplike layers of guitar, waterdroplet percussion and Cangiano’s vocals blending for a memorable bittersweetness.

Frase (Phrase), also with a Storni lyric, is one of the more unabashedly intense numbers, blending elements of flamenco, gypsy music and what could be an ancient British folk tune behind Cangiano’s pleading, arioso delivery. The catchiest track here is Mi Voz (My Voice), a dark waltz anchored by hypnotic tabla, with a long, soaring vocalese interlude. Resistencia, utilizing a lyric by Hubeaut, is more pensive, with both Brazilian and Mexican folk tinges, while the most lighthearted song here, La Gracia (a Mistral poem) sets carefree vocals over carnaval-esque percussion.

The title track is a tango at heart, with samba overtones, a philosophical inquiry that gives Cangiano a chance to air out her low registers. She follows that with Riqueza (Richness), whose Mistral lyrics get an understatedly bitter delivery. Another Hubeaut poem, Soy un Ser Feliz (I’m a Happy Soul) becomes a clinic in subtle sarcasm but ends with a jaunty whoop, a trajectory that Cangiano follows somewhat similarly on the closing cut, Queja (Complaint), a reggae-tinged Storni ballad told from the point of view of a woman who simply won’t settle for less. For fans of Cangiano’s previous work, there’s also a rich, bandoneon-spiced version of Piazzolla’s No Quiero Otro (I Wouldn’t Want Anything Else), Cangiano elegantly leading the long crescendo out. While this album was obviously recorded for a Spanish-speaking audience, Cangiano’s graceful phrasing draws the listener in, regardless if your first language is Spanish or not: this will resonate with pretty much anyone in the mood for something intelligent and emotionally compelling.