Omara Portuondo, The Delgados.

OMARA PORTUONDO, Buena Vista Social Club Presents (World Circuit/Nonesuch) The melancholy beauty of Omara Portuondo's voice echoes fate. The stylish diva's career took an irrevocable turn during the 1961 Cuban missile crisis, when she and her sister, Haydee, were performing in a Miami hotel as part of the female vocal quartet Las D'Aida. Omara returned to her own country and Haydee stayed behind in the US. More than 35 years later, Omara Portuondo returned to the US as the only female member of the Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club; her duet with Compay Segundo on the mournful "Veinte a� was one of the group's highlights. Portuondo's new solo album, the third BVSC sequel, harnesses the glamour and thinly veiled sensuality of the big-band era with time-capsule-perfect renditions of old-time boleros and habaneras. Even the lively mambo "D� Estabas T?" carries a sepia-toned aura. Like expressive chanteuse Edith Piaf (to whom she's been compared), Maria Callas, or more recently Sinead O'Connor, Portuondo's extramusical life seems reflected in her emotional vocals. This added dimension readily appears on the album's stately laments, such as the traditional, country-style "La sitiera" or her trademark "Veinte a�" Yet it also colors the lively duet "No me llores mᳬ" which demonstrates the mix of jazz, bossa nova, and Cuban sounds known as "filin" (feeling) that Omara herself popularized in the '50s. The song pairs her clear, languorous voice with Ibrahim Ferrer's mellifluous croon and features an improvisational solo by pianist Ruben Gonzalez, who played in the '40s with the song's composer Arsenio Rodriguez. These connections with the past are everywhere on the BVSC series, adding to the sense of memory and loss that hovers over these Cuban standards like the final notes of Guajiro Mirabal's trumpet. Portuondo closes with two pre-Castro relics, a Spanish- language version of the

Gershwins' "The Man I Love," and "Siempre en mi c�on," once a popular melody in the US thanks to bandleaders like Glenn Miller. Now Americans are lucky enough to hear the real thing, as Omara Portuondo and her Buena Vista brethren make up for lost time.—Jackie McCarthy

THE DELGADOS, The Great Eastern (Mantra) The buzz about this brilliant Scottish band might have you thinking they're an overnight sensation, but the truth is The Great Eastern is the Delgados' third release. Comparisons to fellow Scots Belle and Sebastian and Arab Strap are only natural, as are the parallels to Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev—whose Dave Fridmann produced the album. But while the charmingly sweet vocals, ironic musings, and slightly psychedelic orchestral pop instrumentation sets one happily sailing, the stories on The Great Eastern are far more oblique and trippy. They couldn't really be called narratives; they're more like find-your-own-meaning rhythmic passages. The loud/soft progression of the Delgados' songs, the punched-in and then pulled back swelling guitars and rainy-day keyboards, are reminiscent of bands such as Wheat and Spiritualized. Layered on top of lines like, "Do you run for your fun or do you slide the underside?/Lock the door, wash the floors, shine the shine, from indoors" are two voices—the Chrissie Hynde-like, serenely scratchy lilt of Emma Pollack and Stewart Henderson's bare whisper. The two take turns spinning the mysterious yarn as the music shifts from twinkling and gay to heavily guitar-driven. Even when they crash and force you to surrender, the songs burrow deeply and find room to spread out, leaving you to wonder how you ever lived without them.—Laura Learmonth

 
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