Ely Guerra – Lotofire

4 out of 5

Produced by: Andres Levin, Dave Sardy (mixing on select tracks)

Label: Omtown

Led by a commanding vocal performance by singer songwriter Ely Guerra, her big US debut, Lotofire – her third album overall – is further graced by amazing production that allows the artist to slink between moods with all appropriate flourish, and a precise sense of craft that deepens what might otherwise be simple bop and pop songs.  And if you’ve stuck with Guerra hereafter, you know this isn’t a lark: she’s willing to play the seductress when need be, but always with a hook into awareness of that, with deftness to dodge into more insightful tones and thoughts mid-track.  (…He says, not speaking a word of the Spanish in which most of this is sung.)

Lotofire was an appropriate crossover bid, though, given that it functions perfectly, radio-friendly fine, with Guerra’s gifted lilt offering up memorable sing-songs nigh the whole way through, and a tendency for deep beats that make tracks like opener De La Calle instantly memorable, chopped up with poppier moments like Yo No, and occasional acoustic-focused breathers like Mejor Me Voy.  It’s all got such a head-bobbing sheen to it that it’s easy to miss the clever diversions into jazz, or the sudden – and awesome – genre shifts on something like Vete.

The album does become a little over-stuffed with ideas in its last third, with both Silencio and El Tiempo these amazingly nuanced build-ups to grand conclusions… meaning that you have, back-to-back, two songs that sound like closers, and it’s a little confusing.  To then follow this with the disc’s weakest track – the slight El Mar – and then the light-hearted Prometo Ser, is a weird set of sequencing, as though Guerra wasn’t sure how to close things out without shorting the runtime.

Though this is sort of a complaint of too much of a good thing.

I bought this album because of Dave Sardy’s involvement, but I became incredibly invested in Ely’s work way beyond his minor appearances here.  Relistening to the album now (my go-to Guerra is admittedly the disc after this), with the way it grabs you from the outset with its incredibly strong opening few tracks, it’s easy to get invested all over again.