Review by Roland Bruynesteyn
Assigned by Charly Saenz
Wikipedia claims Léon Gieco is known for mixing popular folkloric genres with Argentinian rock and roll (suggesting something like the south American Los Lobos), and that he can be considered the Argentinian Bob Dylan (suggesting a political and / or poetic singer song writer). I wouldn’t know about that, but I do think there’s a local, ethnic, element in the music, a bit like the Argentinian Fairport Convention or Incredible String Band.
In 1981 Gieco started a Never Ending Tour all over Argentina, collecting material from the different places he visited during the tour. Following the tour, he recorded this first volume of De Ushuaia a La Quiaca various local musicians in 1985. Two other volumes were recorded in different locations of the country. Paul Simon may have gotten the idea for Rhythm of the Saints upon hearing this, when he had to come up with a follow up to Graceland…
His voice is nicely sincere and almost theatrical. Not as overdone as by flamenco artists (like Camarón de la Isla) but definitely in, say, Triana territory. Because I sympathize with social activists (he suffered censorship in the 70’s) and because I like the intention to redo traditionals and employ locals, I want to like this album, but the production is making it difficult. Sometimes bad production tricks seep through: at 7.32 (on YT) you’ll hear the programmed keyboard fuck up. At other times, for instance on the third song Por El Camino Perdido, a nice enough song gets lost in a silly repeating keyboard pattern and a nauseating guitar sound that make it sound like your average 80’s pop ballad. But then, on Principe Azul, it all works: mainly acoustic, sounding quite authentic.
The YT version I listened to, proudly claims that Gustavo Santaolalla, the musical director for the project, was the first to integrate MIDI into traditional music. Based on this album, I consider this a bad idea. In ‘updating’ the sound, he actually loses the sound, making it hard to judge the quality of the song writing. It’s as if you update the Clapton song Let It Rain into My Fathers’ Eyes. Still, Gustavo wrote No Existe Fuerza En El Muno. It is potentially one of the best songs on the album, but you wouldn’t know it from this version.
Yo Vendo Unos Ojos Negros does sound quite a lot like Los Lobos, as it’s one of the few up-tempo tracks. Again, not a bad song, the accordion and the background yelling adding to the authentic atmosphere. A nice song to end the album, but I do not really like the album
I’ll have to postpone my final verdict about Léon: I (desperately want to) believe that this is his “mid 80’s Dylan phase”, and that there are better albums before and after, but I just do not know yet.