Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Lila Downs, Shake Away

Shake Away is a pretty remarkable album, but then that isn’t really surprising when you take into account that Lila Downs is a pretty remarkable woman.  Her shake-awaymother, a singer, is a Mixteca Indian from Mexico; her father, a professor of cinematography and art, is an American of Scottish/English descent from Minnesota.  She lived in Mexico and California as a child, spent two years in college studying opera and classical music, dropped out and became a Deadhead following the band around the country while making jewelry to support herself, dropped out of that and returned to college eventually graduating with degrees in anthropology and voice.  And that leaves out the immersion in jazz and learning to weave among other things.

Shake Away reflects the convoluted path of Downs’ life.  Tracks range from rock  to heavily Mesoamerican influenced pop with many stops and detours along the way.  She does both original compositions and covers including an amazing version of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”.  Her deep and husky voice and spooky delivery turns the tune from one about the woman to one sung by the woman.  She sings in both English and Spanish and one song, Lucinda Williams’ “I Envy the Wind”, is presented in both Spanish and English versions.

Her core band includes drums, bass, percussion, guitars, brass, accordian and a varity of latin instruments.  Almost every track on the album is supplemented with additional musicians that fill out the horn section, provide more guitars and sing.  Among the more notable are jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen who plays on five tracks, Cafe Tacvba‘s lead vocalist (calling himself Ixaya Mazatzin Tleytol this time around) who sings on “Perro Negro”, and La Mari de Chambao who does an outstanding duet with Downs on “Ojo de Culebra”.

In an excellent essay in Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor write about how the divisions that are typically imposed on popular music like rock, pop, country, blues and R&B are usually derived from the marketing concerns of the record industry and do not reflect the way musicians who are categorized with one of these labels often listen to or play music.  Downs work on Shake Away is an almost perfect example of this.  The album sounds like she ignored all convention and combined the many types of music she knows and enjoys sometimes across different tracks and sometimes within a single song.  Shake Away is a rich and rewarding album that is recommended for listeners with open ears, especially those who enjoy latin music.
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02/20/2009 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews |


  1. […] Downs’ official site New York Daily News review Review on Tuned In To Music If you’re new here, you may want to subscribe. You can do it two […]

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