Pop CD Review: Jorge Drexler’s “Amar La Trama”

Jorge Drexler

Amar La Trama (Warner)

By Fernando Gonzalez

Writing and singing pop songs about rootlessness without angst, the small gestures in the everyday life of a relationship as it unfolds, or the very weaknesses that makes us who we are, is not for everybody. Doing it with the intelligence and grace of Amar la Trama (an elegant wordplay in Spanish that might be inelegantly translated in English as “to love the process”) requires a Jorge Drexler.

An ear, nose and throat specialist by training, Drexler once described himself as “ a nice Jewish middle class boy from Montevideo,” who, he said, hadn’t written a song until 1989.  Things have changed a bit since then.

He did some singing in Uruguay and recorded a couple of independent albums.  In 1994 he was discovered by touring Spanish rocker, singer and songwriter Joaquin Sabina, who encouraged him to move to Spain and pursue a music career. Drexler did, and his music career built up steadily.

He has since released several albums of original material, earned three Grammy and four Latin Grammy nominations and an Oscar in 2005 for the song “Al Otro Lado del Rio” from The Motorcycle Diaries. It was the first Spanish language song to win the award.

Amar la Trama is his first recording of new songs since 12 Segundos de Oscuridad (12 Seconds of Darkness) in 2006.  It reveals him at a very different personal moment (the breakup of his first marriage four years ago, the excitement of a current new relationship), and as an artist whose creative vision continues to grow.

Here, Drexler also stretches his repertoire, including not only his own songs but a delightful version of Mose Allison’s “I Don’t Worry About a Thing,” sung in English. And he also expands his usual instrumentation (mostly guitars, bass, and drums) to include saxophones, trumpets and percussion, as well as Leo Sidran’s marimba and Ben Sidran’s Hammond organ on “I Don’t Worry ….”

As for his songwriting, Drexler remains a smart melodist and an exceptional lyricist.

Perhaps because he has an unremarkable voice, he favors a conversational, unpretentious, understated delivery, which allows him, in the span of a few lines of “La Trama y El Desenlace,” to get away with being a poet of the mundane, while casually mentioning filmmaker Eric Rohmer.  He embraces his rootlessness with a few words in “Tres Mil Millones de Latidos” (“Hay gente que es de un lugar/ No es mi caso/Yo estoy aquí/ de paso,” – “There are people who are from a place/ That’s not my situation/ I’m just here/ passing through”).  And he celebrates his weaknesses as part of who he is in “Aquiles Por Su Talon Es Aquiles,” (“Achilles is Achilles because of his heel”).

Finally, there’s Allison’s “I Don’t Worry About A Thing” which gets a pitch-perfect reading of the musings of a man who, well, knows that “nothing’s gonna be alright” and has turned despair into a joke on himself.

This is smart, fun, adult pop – and, no, that’s not an oxymoron.

Amar la Trama makes it clear that it doesn’t have to be.

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