Florent Pagny ‘Habana’ (Capitol/Universal France) 3/5

florent-pagnySummer conjurs up heady tropical adventures for some and, in the case of French singer Florent Pagny, a long-time cultural and linguistic affair with Latin American Spanish, this has resulted in this new album, produced by close collaborator, Colombian Julio Reyes Copello, who is known for his Latin pop productions. If the overall sound verges on the overly sugary slick for this writer’s personal taste, then the vocals, primarily in Spanish, are authentic and well delivered. Perhaps the issue here is that previous singers have covered Cuban music more specifically and pan-Caribbean more generally, and have come up with a more convincing overall interpretation. Manu Chao as a bilingual speaker of French and Spanish (with other languages to boot he expresses himself in) and native Spanish speaker Gloria Estefan have between them covered a whole gamut, even if politically they are poles apart. It is difficult to imagine how Florent Pagny can break into that wider international market, but that is not to say other Latin countries will not warm to this altogether poppier reading and, in fairness, this album has thus far been well received in his native France. In his defence the original songs are not without their merit, most notably the moody bolero of the title track that eventually morphs into a samba groove and this is likely to be the song that receives most radio and even club play. Glitzy brass greets the listener on the uptempo, ‘Voz de bolero’, and there is quasi-symphonic accompaniment to the opener, ‘Donde va la vida’. Florent Pagny has observed the Cuban music scene from the vantage point of Miami, but one cannot help but feel that had he instead enlisted the support of Cuban folk musicians, the result would have been altogether different. Be that as it may, this is an album for pop fans who like their music with a touch of Latin exotica.

Tim Stenhouse