Toda Una Vida, the second album from Spanish vocalist Carmen Cuesta collaborating with her husband guitarist/producer Chuck Loeb, attempts to do for the bolero what her acclaimed 2010 album, Mi Bossa Nova, did for the iconic Brazilian dance. If what comes to mind when you see the term bolero is the famous Ravel classic, Cuesta’s album is going to come as something of a shock. Her bolero is a slow form of dance music that was a staple of her life growing up in Madrid, a vital sound that has influenced Latin music the world over. Cuesta and Loeb have taken the genre’s basic genetic code, focused on melodic interpretations, added a jazz touch here and there, and come up with a winning album.
Cuesta, safe to say, has the kind of voice—soft, sultry, sexy—made for this music, the kind of voice that can’t help coming up with a star turn. Since she is singing in Spanish, you may, like me, not understand a word of her text, yet find yourself utterly enchanted by her vocals. Indeed, the mystery added by not understanding merely reinforces the enchantment. The exotic sound of her voice frees the imagination. She herself makes the point that oft times listeners can use their imaginations to create their own meanings.
The 12-track set contains only two really familiar songs: the hoary classic “Besame Mucho” and the popular Osvaldo Farres favorite “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas.” The latter is an infectious gem that never grows old. Loeb takes the opportunity for some swinging guitar work, just one of the many solid guitar solos scattered throughout the set. Farres is also the composer of the album’s title tune which closes the album on a high note. “Contigo Aprendi” features an assist from guest instrumentalist Antonio Serrano with some soulful highlights on the harmonica.
Perhaps to remind listeners of her earlier album, she includes Vinicius De Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Eu Se Que Te Amar.” There is one Cuesta original: “No Te Confundas,” a collaboration with Paco Ortega.
Once you hear Carmen Cuesta sing, Ravel will not be the only name you think of when it comes to the bolero. It may not even be the first name.