Various ‘Mexico – Luz de Luna – The Best Boleros from the Costa Chica’ (ARC) 4/5

Just over a decade ago, this writer went on a extended musical journey to locate one of the seemingly hardest to find compilations of roots music, searching the southern most states that border Mexico. It was a box set on the Carasón label of the very roots of Mexican folk mu,sic and it opened up a whole new world of sounds, the magnificent son de Mexico, influenced by its Cuban brother, el son Cubano, but newly adapted to the Mexican landscape and with a pared down instrumentation. The same team that brought you ‘El Son De Mexico’ returns on this terrific updating of the anthology to take on board the bolero sounds of an isolated part of Mexico, inland from the Pacific coast and where commercial labels would not even be aware of their existence. The guitar groups and the repertoire they practice is representative of diverse ethnic and musical traditions and these include mestizos (mixed race), native Indian and the Afro-Mexican traditions. A major inspiration to all musicians is the late Alvaro Carrillo, a composer who was born in Costa Chica. All of the musicians are featured at least twice which enables the listener to gain a real flavour of what they are capable of, pride of place going to the irrepressible Pedro Torres with no less than five appearances.

Indeed, it is Pedro Torres on his requinto guitar, who opens up the compilation, interpreting a Carrillo composition, and one with a mysterious ‘eso’/’that’ (the song title) in reference to the woman in the verse that hispanophiles can debate endlessly. No less than the seminal bolero band of the 1950’s and beyond, Los Panchos covered this song. Elsewhere, families are represented such as Las Hermanas García, and they interpret the highly respected composer, Marcos Martinez, on ‘Un amigo como tú’/’A friend like you’, while on ‘Cancionero’/’Songman’, the Carrillo composition refers in fact to a self-portrait of the writer’s father. Other singers worth checking out include Fidela Pelaez and the male harmony trio, Los Tres Amuzgos.

Detailed liner notes by co-Corasón label founder Mary Farquharson, with a plethora of colour photos of the musicians in traditional costume, and in some cases, being recorded and filmed simultaneously, place the music in its rightful historical context. Full lyrics in Spanish with an explanation in English of their significance. One of the year’s most interesting discoveries of roots music. This is what compilations should be all about, finding a niche where other labels have not previously trodden (outside of Mexico at least). With the twentieth anniversary of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, you might question whether there is anyway left in the world of music to (re)discover. Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar featured bolero music from mexico in his 1987 classic, ‘The Law Of Desire’, but it passed most viewers by. Mexican roots music might just be the antidote.

Tim Stenhouse