Lila Downs wowed audiences as the tango singer in Salma Hayek's Frida and won a Latin Grammy for Best Folk Album for Una Sangre (One Blood), which blended Mexican folk music with hip-hop and world beats from the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East. The arrangements on La Cantina: Entre Copa y Copa . . . are less eclectic, but just as riveting, and may introduce the beauty of Mexican rancheras -- pop songs about lost love and spiritual desolation -- to an audience unfamiliar with the form. "Tu Recuerdo y Yo," a standard by José Alfredo Jiménez, one of the great ranchera composers, is the story of a man drinking himself to death because his lover has forsaken him. Downs opens the tune with an a cappella segment delivered with her patented heart-rending power, and then the band comes in riding a hip-hop beat to lay down some aggressive fuzz-tone guitar fills behind her vocal lamentations. "Pa' Todo el Año," another Jiménez song of lost love, is given a traditional reading, just acoustic guitar and Downs delivering the lyric with an almost primal force. On the lighter side, "La Cumbia del Mole" gives you the recipe for one of Mexico's signature sauces, in both English and Spanish. When Downs tells you to "grind it, grind it," and the screaming electric guitar kicks in, you'll be forgiven if you think she's got something besides cooking on her mind.
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