(Los Angeles) You can take Nancy Sanchez out of jazz, but you can’t take jazz out of Nancy Sanchez, which is why her new album, American Novio, is both a superb work of art on its own and a step forward in cross cultural understanding. American Novio (“American Boyfriend”) is a solid return to her Mexican music roots, but the guitarrón, vihuela notes, and Mexican rhythms are delivered with the polish and verve born of her years of American jazz and pop music and concerts.
The nine songs on the album – all but one in Spanish and all but one written by Sanchez – take you through the bicultural life of a Southern California Latina with side trips for just pure fun. They range from the awakening discoveries of a Mexican-American girl dating an Anglo-American boy, to Sanchez’s own bittersweet rediscovery of her Mexican soul and musical destiny, to exultant dance beats celebrating the arrival of citizenship papers. The forms range from ranchera to pop to mariachi to bossa nova and include duets with Marisa Ronstadt and the rock/pop singer Fernando Ulibarri, whose husband, the legendary Eugene Toale, produced all but two of the songs.
The title song, “American Novio,” kicks off the album with foot-tapping, hooky Mexican beats, accented by horns laying the foundation for Sanchez’s twinkling voice telling the story of interracial romance. While the tale is sung in Spanish, the wink-wink in her voice and the addictive percussion make this a playlist favorite in any language.
“Puerta del Sol” shifts the mood dramatically, with Sanchez digging deep into her urgent jazz voice and her Latin psyche to spin out the forces driving her to return to her inner Latina. The mood shifts even deeper in “Domingo Siete” as it takes us through the fear and anguish suffered by all too many young girls impregnated by a boyfriend” – a serious problem for Latinas, who get pregnant at twice the national average – and the shame of telling their mothers.
In the next song, Sanchez shifts the mood and focus back to optimism in “Espinoza Paz,” named after the famous Mexican singer/songwriter Espinoza Paz, happily promoting independence, freedom, and leadership in creativity for Latinas – actually for all women – with infectious pop /cumbia beats and gleaming lyrics.
The optimism and joy continues in my favorite song on the album, “Eh Ah,” which celebrates not only her mother’s citizenship papers, but also in an ironic and funny way; a happy, sunny day in her life – the kind of day we all cherish regardless of our language or origins. In these days of anti-immigrant hate and fear of foreigners, a song like “Eh Ah” bring home the truth that families from Mexico, or anywhere else, bring joy, love, song, and richness to American culture. When I dance to “Eh Ah,” I know one of the reasons I love Southern California is that it used to be Mexico.
Just as you feel comfortable with the album’s old-style Mexican music, Sanchez hits you with “Seven,” a fast-singing, fast moving, practically vibrating electronic pop song that breaks into mariachi in the middle – with her father Geraldo Sanchéz on the guitarrón. “Seven” is the kind of pure fun that only Sanchez could pull off, combining cultures, languages, music forms, and fun.
She moves on to the English language “Ocean,” sung with Marisa Ronstadt and produced by Joaquin Pacheco, shifting to a pop form and her jazz-rock voice. The album wraps with another Pacheco-produced song, the addictive bossa nova “Alas” (“Wings”), that gives Sanchez free reign with her full-on sensual jazz delivery worthy of a Playboy Jazz Festival, only in Spanish.
Nancy Sanchez is a diminutive powerhouse with a reputation as a superb jazz singer, but her live concerts mix pop, jazz, and Latin music, and other genres, plus humor into not-to-be-missed performances. She cites Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor, Feist, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel among her influences and inspirations – why she can cover so much territory so well. In American Novio, she joins a growing community of Latino singer/songwriters and producers who are showing a wide and not necessarily Spanish-speaking audience the emotion, the energy and just plain fun of music from our southern border. American Novio is an album that is a joy to listen to, a joy to dance to and a milestone in the career of one of America’s most creative and talented singer-songwriters in any genre and any language.
Nancy Sanchez. www.nancysanchezmusic.com/
Feature image via Nancy Sanchez’s Facebook
American Novio, released May 2017, is available on at her website and on iTunes and streamed on Spotify