By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
I'm into poetry. I wrote a few lines. Don't worry, I offer just a few. This one details the passing of time: "The past is thirsty, and the present is an athlete with no feet." Do you like it? How about this one? "In the branch of hell there are no windows." It's about a kidnapped girl in a dark room -- her "hell," which has no windows, because it's all dark. Get it? And "the girl doesn't know that God also makes mistakes," because the kidnapped girl doesn't know that God, well, He's only human.
You don't think my lines are all that original? Well, don't blame me. I didn't write them. I lied. It comes from Guatemala's Ricardo Arjona, an excellent guitarist and singer, and potentially a great songwriter. He gained notoriety in 1990 with a song that started with the narration, "Jesus tuned up my guitar." The song and album were named Jesús Verbo No Sustantivo (That's "Jesus Verb, Not Noun" in English). Arjona's ballads are predictable, his rockers Jurassic, filled with corny '80s guitars and synthesizers. Yet the state of Latin pop is so troubling, someone like Arjona can sell millions and be embraced by the masses and a sizable portion of the music elite.
Arjona has even drawn comparisons to Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, the symbols of Cuba's post-revolution Nueva Trova movement. Now they're beginning to call him "the Latin-American Dylan." Poor Bob. Milanés even invited him to sing a duo with him on one of his records. But Arjona definitely ain't no Silvio. Santo Pecado is nothing more than the latest in the Arjona "good intentions" series. Ironically, the best moments take place when Arjona doesn't try to say anything. When he gives up the pretentious "let me say something here" bullshit, he's a fine artist. "No Sirve De Nada," a ranchera rock with strings, is a plain love song. The result is almost as good as the groundbreaking Spanish version of "El Ultimo Adiós," Paulina Rubio's only worthwhile song.
All Arjona needs now is to say goodbye to Eurovision-like hymns and his other catchy festival throwaways and dedicate a year to reading the sublime lyrics of others. Then there's hope -- maybe.