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Olga Tañón

Reviewed on this page:
Cada Vez Con Más Clase - Sola - ¡Que Bién! - Mujer De Fuego - Siente El Amor... - Nuevos Senderos - Llévame Contigo - Te Acordarás de Mí - Olga Viva, Viva Olga - Yo Por Ti - Sobrevivir - Una Nueva Mujer - Soy Como Tú - Exitos En 2 Tiempos - Ni Una Lagrima Más - Una Mujer - Olga Tañón y Punto - Senderos De Amor - On Fire - añón Pal' Combo Es Lo Que Hay

Olga Tañón came from Levitown, Puerto Rico, to become the queen of Dominican merengue in the 1990s. Merengue is a very restrictive form: the sameness of the fast 4/4 rhythms, arpeggiated horns, eighth-note piano vamps and three-chord tunes can drive you crazy after a while unless the melodies are marvelous, and/or the performer has a lot of personality. Her voice is indeed remarkable - dramatic and strong in her remarkable low register and bell-clear when she soars up high - and from the first she's worked with top arrangers and songwriters. She's long been known for controlling every aspect of her career, and has moved into the producer's chair. Her most daring move was cutting an album of ballads, and it was commercially successful though artistically trivial; since then she's mostly returned to merengue with occasional forays into Latin pop. Her lyrics stick to romantic themes but generally reflect her assertive independent stance ("Contigo O Sin Tí," "Es Mentiroso"); her voice isn't as distinctive as La India's, but whose is? The only problem I had with Tañón was the "¡Auuu!" (Spanish for "Owww!") she insisted on injecting into every fast tune; she's backed away from that, though she's beginning to rely on "¡Que lindooooo!" to fill the same function.

Tañón sang with Las Nenas de Ringo y Jossie and Chantelle before going solo; I have the Chantelle discs but I'm still looking for Las Nenas. (DBW)

Merengue Con Un Toque De Clase (Chantelle: 1989)
Tañón fronted this all-female group, backed by Daly Fontanez and Sandra Torres, but none of her talent is audible on this cloying, cutesy debut album. (DBW)

Cada Vez Con Más Clase (Chantelle: 1990)
I don't know who else was in Chantelle at this point, but it's not Olga singing the 440 imitation "La Jaula De Cristal," for one. Alex Mansilla produced and arranged most of the disc, and he flirts with calypso ("Paraiso," present in two mixes) while keeping the focus squarely on dancefloor-ready merengue ("En Mil Pedazos"). Other producers include Steve Deutsch and Luis Pisterman (the ballad "Eres Todo Lo Que Quiero") and Tommy Villariny, whose funky "La Lluvia" is the high point of the album: it's imitation Sergio George, sure, but I'd rather hear imitation Sergio George than genuine almost anybody else. Perfectly pleasant if pedestrian; you won't hear the personality of her solo work, but if you've already got all that, this won't be a letdown. (DBW)

Sola (1992)
Tañón's solo debut is made up of energetic if sometimes anonymous merengue, like the title track, with a particularly prominent güira (the percussion instrument that looks like a cheese grater but sounds like a shaker). But her voice is anything but anonymous: huge and often treated with echo, when she's belting out her tales of love the musical backing is just icing on the Creamsicle. ("Me Cambió Por Ella"). There's also some variety: "Fragmentos" is melodic and a trifle slower, in the Juan Luis Guerra mold of romantic merengue. "Besame Agresivamente" is Tañón's entry in the short-lived meren-rap subgenre, with an R&B-sounding vocal hook and a brief, surprisingly effective rap. Most arrangements are by Juan Váldez (no connection with the Wilson & Alroy song); two are by Manuel Tejada, including the unpredictable, exciting "No Te Das Cuenta (Oye, Oye)"; Pochi Familia arranged "Aventurero Amor." Note: if you like Tañón but find the "¡Auuu!" irritating, this is your dream disc. (DBW)

¡Que Bién! (Chantelle: 1993)
Although Tañón had moved on by now, one of her compositions appears ("Transcendental") and most of the vocals are hers, albeit uncredited (thanks Jeanne!). It's largely interchangeable uptempo tracks produced and arranged by Elvis Cabrera ("Eso Yo Lo Quiero Ver"); "Siento Rabia" is the high point, with exciting horn crosstalk and her trademark don't-mess-with-me vocal delivery. The weirdest moment is a brief 50s sockhop homage in the middle of the otherwise pedestrian "Amar Sin Barreras." "Transcendental" was arranged by saxophonist Freddy Miranda, but after a downbeat opening it's much like any of Cabrera's cookie-cutter cuts. Not quite as bad as the rating indicates; I bumped it down because any of Tañón's other albums has more individuality and impact. (DBW)

Mujer De Fuego (1993)
Variety is out the window, as Tañón set out to make a no-bones-about-it powerhouse dance album, every track running about four and a half minutes at the same rapid tempo. The melodic, swinging "Contigo O Sin Tí" sounds like Guerra at his most boisterous - especially the half-whispered backing vocals - and that's one of the mellower cuts on the album. Two songs by Raldy Vázquez, "Muchacho Malo" and "Piel A Piel," are so percussion-heavy they're a bit harsh, with horns used for punctuation rather than melody. The one unusual arrangement is "Pero Siempre Regresas," with inspired piano comping, unusual chord changes and jazzy horn lines. On "Prisionera" Tañón sticks to her lower range, and could easily be mistaken for a man - the effect is disconcerting but not unpleasant. The single "Presencié Tu Amor" is one of the few Tañon compositions to make it onto one of her albums; that tune and three others were arranged by Tejada - Váldez arranged three, and Jaime Querol arranged four. Start with a less singleminded effort, but this is still far above the average merengue disc. (DBW)

Siente El Amor... (1994)
More of the same; this time even the romantic numbers are sped-up ("Desesperadamente Tuya," "Amores Extraños"), so there's no break in the action - or the monotony, depending on how you look at it - until the concluding "Entre La Noche Y El Día," which sounds I swear just like a Whitesnake power ballad, right down to the guitar solo. "Receta Del Amor" has a children's chorus, but it's brief and bearable. The two big-deal hits were "Ya Me Cansé" and the amazingly repetitive "Es Mentiroso," both female-empowerment numbers of a sort. There's also another Tañón original, "Unicornio." Five tracks arranged by Tejada, four by Querol, and two by Váldez; the Tejada tunes feature Chichi Peralta on congas, and 440 members Marcos Hernández and Roger Zayas on vocals. Her voice sounds great and the tunes are adequate, so there's no need to avoid this if you're a big fan, but it's my least favorite of her early merengue discs. (DBW)

Exitos Y Más (1996)
Greatest hits, some unreleased material and a couple of "megamixes." (DBW)

Nuevos Senderos (1996)
It's naptime. Produced and almost entirely written by Mexican superstar and Los Bukis founder Marco Antonio Solís - I might as well admit right here that I consider Mexican pop possibly the least interesting genre I've ever heard in my life, combining the bathos of ranchera with the vacuousness of Andy Williams-style proto-Adult Contemporary dreck. Slow tempos, keyboards imitating accordions, endlessly trilling acoustic guitars. But if you're going to listen to lifeless string-heavy ballads that sound like the soundtrack to a bad telenovela, you might as well listen to Tañón singing them - her voice is authoritative as always ("Basta Ya," her first Billboard Latin #1). The reggae "Mi Perdón" breaks the monotony somewhat, and "Me Subes, Me Bajas, Me Subes" (another single) is a bit more energetic than the others. I'm not familiar with any of the musicians; I'm assuming they're Solís regulars. (DBW)

Llévame Contigo (1997)
Tañón returned to the driving merengue that made her name, with a new attention to detail (she produced). Arrangers include Tejada, Valdes, Dionnis Fernández and Jaime Querol, and there are lots of nice touches like ranchera-style belting on "Llegó El Amor," dueling percussion on "Que Bailen Los Niños," and popping bass on "Serpiente Mala." Meanwhile, the melodies kick butt (title track, "Despierta Corazón," the Juan Luis Guerra-style "Porque No Te Encontré"). And her vocals are hair-raisingly enthusiastic, making lines like "yeah yeah yeah yeah" sound anthemic (the hit single "El Frio De Tu Adiós")... If you like merengue at all, this should keep you dancing from start to finish. (DBW)

Te Acordarás de Mí (1998)
Just as quickly, she abandoned merengue again for a mix of overwrought love songs ("Engáñame"), Gipsy Kings-style dance/flamenco hybrids (leadoff single "Tu Amor"; "El Niño"), and synth-pop ("Cómo Pude Haber Vivido Sin Ti," which is silly fun, with 440-style backing vocals). "Escondidos," a hit duet with Cristian Castro, brings back bad memories of some 80s power ballad by the lead singers of Loverboy and Heart. On the brighter side, there's "Un Hombre Y Una Mujer," a beautiful pop song with an anthemic chorus and a clever horn arrangement, and the lone merengue, "Hielo Y Fuego." Produced by Rudy Pérez; the many musicians include pop stalwarts Michael Landau (who plays his usual overemotional solo on "Dialogo Mudo"), Paul Jackson Jr., Neil Stubenhaus and Freddie Washington, with Betty Wright adding backing vocals. (DBW)

Olga Viva, Viva Olga (1999)
A live record, drawing on all the genres she's worked in: there's merengue (three tracks from Mujer De Fuego), pop ballads ("¡Basta Ya!"), even a Willie Colón cover ("Ah Ah Oh No"). Just to drive the point home, "Mi Amor" is performed as a nine-minute "mix" in which the song is rendered as merengue, salsa, rap, techno, and ballad, all done semi-seriously - a cross between a true "megamix" and the Beatles' "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)." Tañón has riveting stage presence, and her voice is more powerful than ever, so she mostly manages to keep the record from sounding like the stylistic grab-bag it is. "Mi Eterno Amor Secreto" is more sparsely arranged and energetic than the Nuevos Senderos version, but the goodwill is immediately dispersed by an excessive six-minute running time. The new songs aren't much: a boogaloo medley (built around the annoying novelty hit "Bang Bang") drags, "El Papel De Malo" is a forgettable ballad with reggae guitar. Best is the studio bonus track "Viva La Musica," a listenable bilingual knockoff of "I Like It Like That" by Angel "Cucco" Peña. Still, the breadth and performance quality are impressive, and with only one song repeated from Lleváme Contigo, it's a good companion to that set. A Grammy-winner in the merengue category, though most of the songs are in other styles; produced by Tañón. (DBW)

Yo Por Tí (2001)
This is the kind of work your elementary school teacher graded "Satisfactory": nothing to complain about, but nothing really outstanding either. Tañón didn't write or arrange anything this time (though she produced as usual), and it's mostly merengue with a nod to other styles. Manuel Tejada produced much of the merengue ("Quiero Que Tú Me Quieras," title track), and he sticks to the middle of the road, crisp but lacking any hint of innovation ("Como Olvidar," another Latin #1 that's also present in a ballad version). And for some reason, her voice doesn't come across as well, lacking some of its usual immediacy and passion. Peña produced the high-energy salsa "Pegaíto" (written by Manolín) and the middling ballad "Prohibido El Paso." The opening "Miénteme" is pleasant merengue romantica, with a guest appearance by bass legend Salvador Cuevas (though he's not really audible). The low points are the Eric Figueroa production "I Wanna Have Fun," an incredibly irritating would-be party record along the lines of "Bang Bang," and the similar, Peña-produced "Me Gusta" - both flowed from the dubious pen of José Nogueras. Another Grammy winner. (DBW)

Sobrevivir (2002)
Another mix of merengue, ballads and salsa ("Así Es La Vida," another #1), with none of her own compositions, and it's another step down, with only a couple of really fun tunes (the merengue "Ojos Negros" and the salsa "Caramelo" - both produced by Tejada). The ballads are simultaneously overwrought and lightweight (title track; the pseudo-ranchero "Mentiras"), and the dance tunes are obvious: "Por Tu Amor" is packed with dramatic pauses, but they're all easily anticipated and thus lose their effect. Worst of all is the drippy duet with Luis Fonsi Aparece, "Quién Diría," written and produced by Alfredo Matheus. Humberto Gatica or the team of Kike Santander and José Luis Arroyave produced most of the tracks, and they don't have an original idea among them, but more importantly, they don't show any talent for finding a decent tune. At least there's no grating party record - though there is a vapid "dance mix" of "Caramelo" - and Tañón's voice sounds great. (DBW)

In 2003 Tañón recorded the single "Ah Ya Albi" with Egyptian singer Hakim - as if the mix of cumbia and Arabic pop wasn't unusual enough, she also raps on the track. (DBW)

Una Nueva Mujer (2005)
The New Woman still likes to sing the Same Old Merengue, and she's doing it better than ever after a couple of years out of the spotlight. There are some differences, though: the tempos are slowed down two notches, from finger-crampingly rapid to medium-fast, and rather than detract from the excitement, the pace gives you time to appreciate the melodies ("Abre Tu Corazón"). The compositions are very strong, largely by Tañón alone (the rousing "Vete, Vete") or with producer José Luis Morín A. (the driving single "Bandolero," presented in merengue, cumbia and "pop" versions). Morín manages to mix up the arrangements without interfering with the music's basic pulse, with interesting details like fiddle and harmonica on the slow intro to "Abre Tu Corazón," or sitar and a gong (!) on the intro to "Bandolero (pop version)." He also gets good mileage out of guitars, electric (a groovy solo on "Dime Si Tu Me Puedes Querer") and acoustic ("Muero De Amor"), and background vocalists, thickening the sound so that while Tañón's full-bored voice is always prominent, it's never the only thing to listen for. Arroyave uses essentially the same approach on his "Desde Que Llegaste A Mi." Familiar face Manuel Tejada helmed a few cuts, including the title track (not the song Chantelle had recorded in 1990) and "Dámelo Todo," unremarkable except for a guest rap by Willie Torres. Just two ballads: "Maldito Seductor" and "Sin Ti No Puedo Vivir," an affecting inspirational number with duet vocals from an uncredited child (hers, I'm thinking). There are a ton of musicians, but the most frequent lineup is Richard Bravo (drums), Cuevas (bass), Leonardo Quintero and Morín (guitars), Milton Sacedo (piano), and Luis Aquino, Ángel Hernández and Ángel Torres (horns). (DBW)

Soy Como Tú (2006)
Without personal pronouns, what would Tañón do for album titles? The best tracks are up to the level of the previous disc (the smashing salsa "Duele Duele"), and the arrangements and performances are strong but most of the song material is thin (the merengue "Angeles") to obvious ("Vive Tu Vida"). Tañón wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes, but didn't have much in the well this time. She's such a compelling singer that she can pull off the bathetic ballad "Desilusionarme," but then she pushes her luck by also inflicting salsa and duet (with Tony Melendez) versions on us. Again, the best tracks are produced by Morin ("Maria"); Sergio George contributed two disappointing tracks (the semi-reggaeton "Sigue Moviendote") and Tejada produced the empowerment tune "Flaca O Gordita." (DBW)

Exitos En 2 Tiempos (2007)
Tañón puts her stamp on songs that were hits for other artists - though she wrote the bachatas "Soy Otra Mujer" and "Presencié Tu Amor" (slowed down from the original 1994 incarnation). There aren't very many different tunes, though, because there are two different versions of "Se Nos Rompió El Amor", three of Juan Gabriel's "Amor Eterno," and a mind-boggling four trips through "Hoy Quiero Confesarme." It's the same pattern as Wing's 2007 release - is this some kind of new trend I should be worried about? Anyway, I don't know any of the songs in their original incarnations, and I'm willing to assume that Tañón gets as much out of them as anyone can, but most of the tunes are unexciting the first time around, let alone the third or fourth... "Amame En Camara Lenta" (originally by Valeria Lynch) is a happy exception. And oddly, the disc is sequenced with six straight slow numbers at the beginning of the disc... if you last through those, things get a bit better afterwards. Both takes on "Cosas Del Amor" are duets: Jenni Rivera on the torch ballad version and Milly Quezada on the lively merengue. Ceferino Cabán is the primary producer, with other tracks from Peña ("Decisión"), Tejada and Bob Benozzo. (DBW)

Fuego En Vivo Vol. 1 "Live" (2008)
By now Tañón has had so many hits she can't fit them onto two discs, so she crams a bunch of tunes together into mini-medleys of two or three songs ("Me Cambió Por Ella"/"Aún Pienso En Tí"/"No Te Das Cuenta"). Plenty of ballads, merengues and everything in between, covering every stage of her solo career, but this volume is clearly inferior: it draws too deeply from the subpar 2007 release ("Hoy Quiero Confesarme"), and includes most of her less remarkable singles ("Así Es La Vida"). Jenni Rivera guests on "Cosas Del Amor" and Tito el Bambino raps on the studio recording "En La Disco"; otherwise it's Tañón's show all the way. Mixed and mastered by Morín; Cabán is musical director and keyboardist. (DBW)

Fuego En Vivo Vol. 2 "Live" (2008)
Most of her best known (and best) hits wound up on Disc 2, including "Basta Ya," "Entre La Noche Y El Dia," and the astonishing eleven-minute "do men suck or what?" medley "Bandolero"/"Es Mentiroso"/"Ya Me Cansé"/"Ahora Soy Mala"/"Serpiente Mala"/"Muchacho Malo." Put that together with the high-energy presentation and Olga in exceptionally good voice, and you've got yourself a killer live album and a fine introduction to Tañón. I'd still rather have complete songs than medleys, though, and it would be nice to hear the band showcased at least a bit. Quezada turns up to recreate her 2 Tiempos guest spot, and Gloria Trevi duets on "Lo Que Te Toca," but they're redundant since anything they can do, Tañón does better. (DBW)

4/13 (2009)
Basically an EP - two telenovela themes ("Amor Entre Tres" and "Pasión Morena," each in dance and ballad versions), one Christmas song - plus a DVD with three medleys of hits from Fuego En Vivo. (DBW)

Ni Una Lagrima Más (2011)
Tañón hasn't come up with much new material since 2005's magnificent Una Nueva Mujer, and this meager nine-song set continues that trend. The quality is respectable, though, and at least the disc isn't cluttered with multiple iterations of the same tunes. She doesn't stray from her bread and butter, so the merengues are lively ("La Receta"; "Ay, Ay, Ay") and the love songs are enjoyably overwrought ("Muero Por Tí"). The title track - a slow duet with Samo of Mexican chartoppers Camila - kicks into a midtempo coda that provides the album's only unexpected moment. For all the small pleasures ("Arco Iris De Colores," in her JLG gear), it's the fifth consecutive forgettable placeholder release - counting the two live releases as one set - so I'm becoming concerned. (DBW)

Una Mujer (2013)
Tañón seems more motivated than she's been in a while, writing five of the tracks and bringing in a bunch of duet partners, both current hitmakers - Elvis Crespo ("A Celebrar"); Fernandito Villalona ("Fue Tanto El Tiempo") - and legendary stars Johnny Ventura ("Pura Sabrosura") and Oscar D'León ("Que Bonita Eres"). I'm assuming Maffio produced his guest shot, "Una Mujer Como Yo," and it's a fresh mix of merengue rhythm section and EDM keyboards. When she sticks to her standard belted merengue ("De Que Me Sirve La Vida"; the single "Mala") the results are solid but unspectacular; she stretches a bit with a shifting arrangement on "Mi Corazón Lloro," one of her better torch numbers. Not her best batch of tunes ("Todo Lo Que Sube Y Baja") and generally in her comfort zone, it's still a strong statement that Tañón isn't content with a long slow slide into irrelevance. (DBW)

In 2016, Tañón released "Llegó La Fiesta," which I think was Puerto Rico's theme song for that year's Olympics. Monica Puig brought back Puerto Rico's first gold at those Games, so Tañón's contribution certainly didn't hurt.

Olga Tañón y Punto (2017)
There's no band called Punto, far as I can tell, but otherwise there's nothing false about this long-awaited resurgence. There are no flat-out merengue burners, but Tañón uses everything else in her toolbox: leadoff single "Así Es El Amor" (with Wisin) is reggaeton; Several tunes pack a deliberate midtempo punch ("Mira Pa'l Cielo" featuring Pirulo, with heavy bass, chanting and riffing horns recalling Havana D'Primera; "La Gran Fiesta"). "Decirte Que No" ranks with her - i.e. with anyone's - best power ballads; the bachata "Vuelve A Mí" with Fernandito Villalona isn't quite at that level but does have a winning twining-guitar arrangement. Public Service Announcement: You can pay respect to Leonard Cohen by covering a song other than "Hallelujah." That said, Tañón does sing the hell out of it, and keeps the background uncluttered. (DBW)

Since 2017, Tañón has released a bewildering number of one-offs, remixes and EPs - I'm only starting to make sense of them. In 2018 she released two versions of "Como En Las Vegas" (yes, it references the stale catchphrase), plus "Todo Pasará" with Abraham Velasquez and Alex Zurdo. In 2019 she guested on Gabriel Pagan's meren-disco "Como No Amarte" and collaborated with J Alvarez on "Que Fluya." In 2020, she released "Alexa," a wrenching, stripped-down lament for a trans woman who was murdered earlier that year; a new ranchera mix of "Flaca O Gordita"; and two versions of "Esta Loca" - the ballad I could live without, the merengue is killer, with stuttering syncopation on the verses.

Senderos De Amor (2021)
Sort of a sequel to Nuevos Senderos, this EP is made up of Mexican pop songs, mostly midtempo ("Te Llamo"). If you're like me, you'll find the brass arrangements, strummed guitar and accordion kitschy and corny, and the compositions instantly forgettable. But she may be singing better than ever: she has the same raw power and delicacy of shading, but she's now using them to act out scenes and play different characters, so each song is almost a mini-opera. The album playlist of the album on her official YouTube channel shows a remake of 2001's "Como Olvidar" with Jay Wheeler as a bonus track; take that with a grain of salt, though, as the original 1996 recording of "Basta Ya" is on the same playlist.(DBW)

On Fire (2021)
A couple of months later, Tañón released what amounts to a strangely titled single, "La Otra," the power ballad "Mi Forma De Ser," and a medley of the two. Have you ever seen a two-sided single which isn't named for either song? I don't think I have. Discographic gripes aside, it's pure merengue - even the "¡Auuu!s" are back - and hellaciously satisfying: "La Otra" has so many arranging gimmicks and sound effects you can't believe she's pulling it off; "Mi Forma De Ser" is subdued by comparison, as it only features a rapid-fire rapped middle and a fire engine (!). (DBW)

Tañón Pal' Combo Es Lo Que Hay (2021)
Tañón's third (or so) release of the year is a tribute to Puerto Rican legends El Gran Combo. I'm not going to lie to you, I barely know their music, and I can't tell you whether she does it justice. In addition to the merengue version of "Brujería" there's a "Club Mix" - I doubt clubs are playing this sort of minimalist technomerengue, but if they are I might need to get out to one, Omicron be damned. Shortly after this she released "Brujerí Con Chilli: On Fire, Episodio 2," which is just "Brujería" and "Achilipu" run together - maybe On Fire is a curated series of two-song medleys? (DBW)


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