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GLORIA ESTEFAN

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me
Rating: 4 (library disc)
Squirm factor: 4
   Gloria Estefan has traditionally written most of the songs on her albums, but you wouldn't know it without checking the credits - she doesn't have a very "personal" style, and her songs are generic enough that they could have been written by the anonymous melodicists behind folks like Celine Dion or Peabo Bryson. So it seems that an album full of covers would be a fine move for her to make - she'd still be working that universal emotional territory her own compositions travel.
   And yet, there's a curious disconnect between her talents and the material chosen here. Estefan has a powerful, unsubtle voice that is terrific for belting out energetic dance numbers, but she doesn't have a lot of dynamic control or shading. So she sounds great on "Turn the Beat Around" and "Everlasting Love," but lacks impact on the ballads. The song selection doesn't do her any favors, either - she picks classic pop songs from the 60s and 70s, the originals of which were quite popular, so that (unlike Moondog Matinee) I knew 10 of these 12 numbers already and was able to compare (negatively) her vocals to the original singers. Also, that period produced some lyrics that were, shall we say, less than timeless, and she has to sing with a straight face lines like "loving you is where it's at."
   What's most unfortunate is the emphasis on ballads - from "Traces" to "Goodnight My Love" she stacks this album full of slow, emotive songs that she doesn't really do justice to; instead of caressing these melodies with thoughtful phrasing, the notes just kind of hang there brassily. She even chose the slow arrangement of "Breakin' Up is Hard to Do" over the much more interesting doo-wop rendition!
   I do like the production - rather than making a "Gloria Estefan" record by slathering everything in Latin percussion, they've instead chosen tasteful arrangements that don't stray too far from the hits being emulated. I'm glad to hear real instruments instead of synthesizers - especially in the horns and, on "You've Made Me So Very Happy", a genuine Hammond organ. A couple nice modernizing touches are "It's Too Late" with the riff transferred to an aggressive electric piano and conga, and "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me" with its syncopated kick drum.
   All the production in the world, however, can't make up for her dance-club belting on sophisticated compositions like "How Can I Be Sure?" One listen to Eddie Brigati's delicate, impassioned rendition makes Estefan sound utterly clueless about how to deliver this melody. If you're looking for the Gloria Estefan sound at its best, stick to her dance records, where her impeccable timing and powerful lungs are all that's needed - 'cause that's all she's got.
   (P.S. Martin Teller would like this album - the cover shows Gloria practically falling out of her dress. Speaking of singers who fall out of their dresses, the other day someone asked me, "Who is this Britney Spears everyone keeps talking about?" I'm glad to know there's at least one person more out of touch than me!)

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