Y La Bamba Court the Storm

Y La Bamba Court the Storm
Combining elements of moody chamber folk and traditional Mexican music, Portland, OR's Y La Bamba return with their sophomore LP, Court the Storm. Producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) adds his touch to the decidedly festive character of Y La Bamba's mariachi-inspired songs, but it's frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza that steals the spotlight. Like predecessor Lupon, Court the Storm's highlight is Mendoza's cavernous timbre, beautifully contrasted against the squally rhythms of her backing band. English and Spanish lyrics covering themes of religious faith and personal sacrifice, sung in hymn-like harmonies, accentuate the record's haunting atmosphere. The album opens with beguiling single "Squawk," an Americana mash-up, with polyrhythmic flourishes, throwback harmonies and handclaps. "Bendito" follows suit, with its unexpected changes in tempo. A Latin-flavoured, heavily percussive beginning quiets to a hush for a series of eerie wails and then builds to a wall of sound, as if the band were blasting out their own pent-up storm. After many genre-defying cuts, this release closes with Neko Case on backing vocals for the title track. This is, hands down, one of this year's must-listen-to albums. (Tender Loving Empire)