Safe Santa

By: Marcelo Báez

I first saw La Santa Cecilia perform in a makeshift space inside the Mandalay Bay casino a few years back. It was during a pre-Latin-Grammy event and I was told by one of the organizers that the band was based out of Los Angeles. “Makes sense,” I responded, since the band was playing what sounded like edgier Mexican regional music. Not Jenni Rivera with a drum machine, but more like a rock band with Lola Beltrán, Los Ángeles Azules and Los Relámpagos del Norte also lingering in their collective iPod.

Earlier this year La Santa Cecilia won a Grammy for 2013’s Treinta Días–a real one! (The Latin counterpart of the award seems to be given out more gratuitously than pamphlets by religious zealots.) Now the band is back with Someday New, a collection of songs that showcases La Santa Cecilia’s expanded grasp of cumbia, rancheras, rock, norteñas, boleros and plain old pop.

An accordion-tinged cover of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” is the first track, but “Cumbia Morada” is the track that really jump-starts the album. Guitar, organ and accordion riffs can be heard in this cumbia (Rigo Tovar would be proud), but the lyrics seem straight out of the Arjona songbook (“I’m never going to leave you / You’re part of my life / You’re my freedom”). Whether the latter is good or bad depends entirely on your politics.

Conventional lyrics aside, the overall production of the entire album is very clean, even timid, with certain instruments being relegated to singer La Marisoul’s voice. Thematically the band does step it up on “Monedita,” a funny critique of consumerism, but they drop the ball on the music, which sounds like something Carlos Vives —aka Latin America’s beacon of alternative coolness—would write.

“Ice el Hielo,” a song about the struggle of immigrants the band has published before, has an interesting Nacho Mastretta, Esquivel-ish vibe. La Marisoul can genre-hop because she has a powerful, flexible voice. Rancheras (“Como Dios Manda”) and tango-flavored cuts (“Cuidado”), for example, are handled effortlessly. But besides a couple of songs, most of Someday New is more regional pop than Latin alternative. It’s the sort of record one could safely put in grandma’s Christmas stocking. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but it would be a lot more interesting to hear the band experiment and take bigger risks considering they have great resources—multiculturalism and all that—at their disposal.

Someday New by La Santa Cecilia, available now

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.