Songs From a Little Blue House


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The success of the Buena Vista Social Club and its derivatives has obviously been en-hanced by the projects' air of apolitical nostalgia for prerevolutionary Cuba. Yet if anything, the subtle, jazzy sound of expatriate Cuban singer/songwriter/guitarist Juan-Carlos Formell is even more marvelous, his imagery-Grandma's titular house, an altar behind a door, the luscious fruits and intoxicating flowers of the countryside-even more idealized. But apolitical? Not if lyrics like When the dictatorship ends, I'm going to have a party / I'm going to dance and really celebrate / And if it doesn't end, this song will knock it down are any indication.

Although he's the son of Juan Formell, founder of Cuba's best-known dance band, Los Van Van, Juan-Carlos is more sit-down innovator than dance-floor shaker. Formell has taken the acoustic country son style and awakened its lyrical potential in songs that veil the political in the everyday. For instance, La Vaquita (The Cow) sings of the simple things-a cow, a rooster, a cat-the embargoed island's poor can no longer afford. Formell's words are no less elegant than his guitar playing, which shines in a trio of instrumentals. Whether or not you agree with his politics, Formell is asking many of the right questions in a new and thoroughly captivating manner.

FromEscape(Nov. 1999). Subscriptions: $18/yr. (4 issues) from Box 462255, Escondido, CA 92046.

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