Juan Luis Guerra y 440
Reviewed on this page:
Soplando - Mudanza Y Acarreo - Mientras Más Lo Pienso..... Tú - Ojalá Que Llueva Café - Bachata Rosa - Areíto - Fogaraté!
- Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual - Para Tí - La Llave De Mi Corazón - A Son De Guerra - Colección Cristiana - Asondeguerra Tour
Juan Luis Guerra came to the US from the Dominican Republic and studied
at Berklee to realize his dream of being a jazz musician. He
returned to his country and cut one album in Manhattan Transfer style,
but when it flopped he decided to pursue the musical styles of his own
country: merengue and bachata.
Since that fateful day, Guerra's become an international success, a
singer/songwriter/producer who's blended driving merengue rhythms with
musical sophistication, Afro-pop arrangements,
gorgeous vocal harmonies and solid,
unclichéd lyrics that are often tender without being sentimental.
For several years, Guerra gave up recording and touring, preferring to
concentrate on his radio and TV stations and his evangelical church, but
came back with a new album at the end of 1998, an explicitly Christian release in '04, and occasional albums since then.
Try this Juan Luis Guerra fan site.
Juan Luis Guerra, Maridalia Hernández, Mariela Mercado,
Roger Zayas-Bazán, all vocals.
Maridalia Hernández left in 1987, replaced by Marco Hernández;
Mercado left, replaced by
Guerra's first effort sounds like a Latin American Manhattan Transfer,
and it's perfectly well done, if you like the Manhattan Transfer. However, there's
nothing as danceable as his later merengue and salsa work, or as
moving as his later bachata-ballads. Only one tune is by Guerra, "Soplando";
there's also the Roger-Washington standard "Grey Street" (here "La Calle
Gris") and several traditional numbers ("Feliciana," "Juana Mecho,"
"Loreta"). Interesting if you want to hear the group's vocal ability
in a completely different context; not a must-avoid, but know what
you're getting. Later released on CD as El Original 440. (DBW)
Mudanza Y Acarreo (1986)
Guerra switched to merengue in a hurry, and immediately hit on a winning formula with the hit romantic merengue "Si Tú Te Vas" and the
driving, soaring "Elena." There's also the rapid-fire "Por Eso Ahora" (written by Jose A. Rodríguez and Slills), and a lush, moving
ballad, "Ella Dice." Not everything works, though: side two contains a jokey, grating "Santiago En Coche" (adapted from Adalberto Alvarez's
"Bayamo En Coche") and a merengue version of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till
You Get Enough." (DBW)
Mientras Más Lo Pienso..... Tú (1988)
All the tunes (save one) are by Guerra, and there's not a loser in the bunch: urban merengue ("Guavaberry"), romantic
merengue ("¡Ay! Mujer," "Enamorao de Ella") or ballad ("No Me Acostumbro"), every track has a memorable melody and a vigorous
arrangement. The sound effects on the closing "Rock-A-Fiesta" (made up in the studio by Marco Hernández and
Zayaz-Bazán) are a bit gimmicky, but it's still enjoyable. (DBW)
Ojalá Que Llueva Café (1989)
The compositions and performances got even sharper as Guerra took on social concerns for the first time (title track).
A new Afro-pop influence appears on "Reina Mia," and he tackles salsa on the phenomenal "Razones" (with Gonzalo Rubalcaba guesting on piano).
As for his bread and butter, the ballad ("De Tu Boca") has wonderful soaring vocals, and the merengues ("Visa Para Un Sueño," about
Dominican migration to Puerto Rico and the US; "La Gallera") are his most uncluttered and perhaps his best. One cover, "Woman Del Callao" by J. Delgado. (DBW)
Bachata Rosa (1990)
His masterwork, rising to #1 in countless countries and making his name in the US. He perfected his approach to bachata (a traditional
rural dance rhythm, which Guerra has updated and crossbred with the ballad to produce love songs for slow dancing) with "Estrellitas y
Duendes," and the title song, which I still can't hear without crying. He also turns out irresistable merengues ("Rosalia," "La
Bilirrubina"), the tempo-shifting "Como Abeja Al Panal" and the incredible slice of Afro-pop "A Pedir Su Mano" (music by Lea Lignazi).
Pantaleón milks her feature, "Reforestame" - there's not one track here I'd be reluctant to play at a party. Rubalcaba turns up here
somewhere, but I don't know where. (DBW)
Another fine album, as Guerra attempts to cover even more ground, from indigenous Caribbean music (on the brief title
track) to NY salsa (the gorgeous love song
"Ayer"; the political "Si Saliera Petroleo" featuring Rubén Blades) to Julio
Iglesias-style ballad ("Cuando Te Beso" - the CD includes both a ballad and a bachata version). But he can doesn't abandon romantic
merengue - "Rompiendo Fuente" is about as good as it gets - or Afro-pop, represented by the collaboration with Diblo Dibala "El Costa De La Vida."
There are couple of dispensable tracks, though, including "Coronita de Flores," essentially a rerun of "Bachata Rosa."
Guerra's continuing search for new sounds brings him to accordion-based traditional merengue, accompanied by Francisco
Ulloa on "El Farolito" and "La Cosquillita" ("El Regreso del Hijo del Farolito") - unfortunately the songs are monotonous and unmelodic.
Elsewhere, he stumbles with his first English-language ballad, "July 19th" and the Mozart-derived "Lacrimosa." The best songs are the lively
romantic salsa "Oficio de Enamorao" and the hilarious merengue "El Beso de la Ciguatera"; there are also two more tunes written with Dibala, "Los Mangos Bajitos"
and the title track, but they're not as much fun as his earlier work in that vein. (DBW)
Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual (1998)
After four years off, Guerra's melodic and lyrical gifts hadn't
dissipated at all. The disc is bracketed with two fine merengues with
clever lyrics, "Mi PC" (the first single) and "El Primo," but the real
finds are the ballads, with simple arrangements based on acoustic guitar
that bring out warmth and sincerity you wouldn't think was still
possible in 90s pop. The clearest demonstration of the approach's
greater depth is the bonus track, a devastating remake of "Amor De
Conuco" from the third album. The usual experimentation with world beat
styles is largely absent, though there's an interesting merengue-rap,
"El Niágara En Bicicleta." The only big-name guests are Arturo
Sandoval (trumpet) and Luis Enrique (percussion), who appear on one
track each. A welcome return to form. (DBW)
Colección Romántica (2001)
A compilation of ballads; no new compositions, but four of the tunes are mellower remakes, including "Tú." (DBW)
Para Tí (2004)
This time the lyrics are all Christianity, all the time, reflecting Guerra's evangelical conversion ("Aleluya"). There's plenty of uptempo merengue in his usual vein ("Las Avispas"; title track), but the slower numbers have a strong soft-rock vibe: "Tan Solo He Venido" sounds like Train or something, and "Mi Padre Me Ama" borrows the descending bass
line from "Let It Be." Not the most striking collection of melodies he's come up with ("Soldados" is distressingly predictable), but the arrangements are sharp (the thrilling salsa "Los Dinteles") and he's tough to beat at creating a captivating mood (the slow, gentle "Canción De Sanidad").
Pantaleón is featured on "Extiende Tu Mano," and otherwise 440 sticks to its usual harmonies; the band features Guerra on guitar, Janina Rosado on piano, and the extraordinary Abednego De Los Santos on bass.
La Llave De Mi Corazón (2007)
Back to love songs ("Cancioncita De Amor"), and for once, Guerra seems short on inspiration.
He wrote, arranged and produced everything as usual, but often he's recycling himself: "Amores" (featuring El Prodigio" recalls "A Pedir Su Mano," while "Te Contarán" is strikingly like "Oficio de Enamorao." Meanwhile, the schlocky ballad "Sabia Manera" is uncomfortably close to Willie Colón's "Me Das Motivo."
Even the tunes which aren't identifiable copies lack freshness (the bachata "Que Me Des Tu Cariño").
The title dance track, present in mostly English ("Medicine For My Soul") and mostly Spanish versions, is a blast, but the second-best cut ("Something Good" featuring Chiara Civello) is a steep drop-off, and the drop from second to third (pick one) is steeper. Capably performed and flawlessly engineered as always, but not a lot of fun.
A Son De Guerra (2010)
Guerra's back with his usual mix of merengue ("Arregla Los Papeles") and bachata ("Bachata En Fukuoka")... in fact, it sounds more usual than usual: "No Aparecen" is basically "Como Abeja Al Panal"; "Mi Bendición," lovely as it is, is much like "Estrellitas Y Duendes" and other similar love songs.
Curves in the road are minor: the sticky clavinet sound on "La Guagua"; the jangling guitars on "Apaga Y Vamonos" haven't been heard since before he was born again. Enjoyable in its mild way ("Cayo Arena" is a quality dance tune), but nothing to get worked up about.
Guests include Juanes on reggae-rocker "La Calle" and Chris Botti on "Lola's Mambo."
Once more, written, produced and arranged by JLG.
Colección Cristiana (2012)
It's common to find a compilation deceptively titled to appear new, much rarer the other way around: three songs are repeated from Para Tí ("Las Abispas"), but most of the material was previously unheard including the affecting single "En El Cielo No Hay Hospital."
The album is a bit tossed-off, though: Lots of three-chord songs - accordion on the fast ones, acoustic guitar on the slow ones) with straightforward melodies ("El Quita Pena").
Though there are some points of interest - the "My Sweet Lord"-y coda of "Mi Jesus"; the incongruous calliope-sounding synth in "Como Trompeta En Si Bernol" - there's nothing much to sink your teeth into, as if the project didn't have his full attention.
Asondeguerra Tour (2013)
A live disc, largely drawn from the previous album though there are plenty of hits like ("La Bilirrubina"; "Visa Para Un Sueño").
Obviously I'd rather have a tour disc from, say, the Areíto period: live versions of "Mi Bendición" and "La Guagua" are pleasant but nothing you need to hear more than once.
And the sound is strangely thin, though perfectly clear: Every instrument is audible, but together they don't pack the punch you'd expect.
But Guerra's sorcery can be so powerful - the hook-filled, joyous "La Llave De Mi Corazón"; the gentle, deeply moving rearrangement of "Ojala Que Llueva Cafe" - I'm always grateful to hear him whatever he's up to.
Juanes appears on "La Calle," and Romeo Santos duets on "Frío, Frío."
Si tú te vas...