If Mexican singer-songwriter Ely Guerra has established anything over the last decade it’s that she’s not prolific. Since 1995 she’s only made four studio albums, and the first two of them came in a burst ending in 1997. Her last studio outing, Sweet & Sour, Hot y Spicy, came out back in 2004. Late last year she kept her name in the game by releasing a double-disc live album, Teatro Municipal (EMI, Mexico), that proved she’s become a solid performer.
Guerra’s best album remains Lotofire (1999), a wonderfully delicate electronics-heavy pop record that provided plenty of space and texture for her moody singing. But as often is the case when an artist makes an intimate-sounding record, if the subsequent occurs in rock clubs or even bigger venues, the artist is usually pushed to make bigger, more obvious productions. Although I have no concrete proof, I’m all but convinced that the reason Sweet & Sour seemed more blatant in its big hooks, new wave flourishes, and ringing alt-rock guitars is that that sound survives big stages and shouting fans more easily. Unfortunately, subtlety goes out the window.
While Guerra oversells some of her tunes on Teatro Municipal, most of the time the arrangements allow her to be herself, bringing careful emotional shadings without succumbing to hollow bluster. Her band provides instrumental muscle, playing hard but exercising restraint. I sure would like to hear her go small again, but as she inches closer to the Mexican alt-pop mainstream she’s managed to hold it all together. Guerra makes one of her infrequent Chicago appearances on Friday at Green Dolphin Street, which has slowly become a hotspot for Latin and South American rock and pop music.
Joao Donato e Seu Conjunto, Chá Dançante (Odeon)
Palestine/Coulter/Mathoul, Maximin (Young God)
Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, Hope, Future, and Destiny (Dreamtime)
Exploding Star Orchestra, We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey)