Two new albums by La Juan D'Arienzo just came out on Bandcamp: Cortando Clavos and Siciliano. I purchased the latter first, and here is what I think.
Siciliano breaks no new ground. The band lets you make no mistake as to what they are trying to do: cover the old bastard Juan. So that's what they do. Just like their pals Sans Souci who cover Miguel.
I am torn in half (approximately) when trying to decide whether such an endeavor makes a lot of sense or not. A long time reader knows. Here, I would say I am torn asymmetrically by 1/3 to 2/3, and only a minority of me leans toward the affirmative.
The thing with covers is that you have to go all in, and then some. Not just capture the style: express it with fidelity. And, match the technical excellence of the original.
La Juan wins about 80% (approximately again) in the style category, and 60-70% in the technical. It's pretty damn good when judged solely on the danceability basis. Where I am less sure: if I wanted to play Loca, for example, would I choose their version or the original? Take into account that the quality available transfers thereof is more than sufficient for the dancing crowd.
This won't be a negative review, worry not. It just ain't celebratory, either.
The music in detail
Loca is one of those evergreens that so many bands cover. This version brings nothing new to the table. It's solid, the notes are where they are supposed to be, and that's about it.
El internado suffers from indecisive intonation. Stylistically, it covers D'Arienzo's 1954 take closely. I like the staccatos. There's even some oomph. Good.
I don't have D'Arienzo's 1956 Olga as an acceptable transfer, and so I'm happy to have this copy. Good danceable valses by contemporary bands are hard to come by. Thank you.
Corrientes y Esmeralda is the first of the three vocal covers. D'Arienzo recorded it in 1945 with Echagüe. Honestly, I like Pugliese's take the most. I don't think D'Arienzo put his heart in this one. La Juan's cover is clearer, more engaging.
Más grande que nunca is a solid instrumental, not frequently covered. D'Arienzo recorded it in 1958, and it comes with all his bells and whistles of that period. Bandonegro did it recently, and I think La Juan comes closer to the original, for what's it worth.
Pampa has a decidedly softer character than the (1951 version) by Juan himself. I like it more manly. Angrier, rougher.
Esta noche me emborracho is a fun story. I think Biagi told it best. D'Arienzo did it three times, first time in 1928 (!) and twice with Echagüe - in 1946 and 1954. I prefer the last recording for its oomph and general manliness. I found the same qualities in La Juan's cover. To some degree.
I did not find Siciliano in the D'Arienzo catalogues, and I presume it's a original piece. If that's so, hats off! It does sound D'Arienz-ish, has a great drive and that typical late D'Arienzo ending.
D'Arienzo recorded Re fa si twice and I assume this cover to be inspired by the 1972 version. It's again softer than the original, and this time I have to conclude it's by design. To each his own, I like it sharper, much sharper, but I've got to respect the decision of the artists.
Andate por Dios with Valdez is one of my D'Arienzo favorites. As such, it would be a tall order for any cover to displace it. Let's just say it did not happen this time.
How about Hotel Victoria? Not bad at all! D'Arienzo took three shots at it, and I assume this cover is sourced from the 1966 recording. While not as sharp as the original, I enjoyed it nonetheless. Unless you are familiar with D'Arienzo's work from the 1960s (and reliable sources tell me you aren't), the arrangement won't sound that familiar to you. It's actually quite clever.
Likewise, few have danced to D'Arienzo's 1967 recording of Inspiración. It's by far the best track of the album in my estimation. Decisive, lyrical, moving. The others are easier to dance to, but Inspiración moved me the most musically.
There are twelve tracks, all of which I would be happy to play for my dancers on appropriate occasions. I think La Juan plays for dancers a lot and it shows. There is none of the European showmanship, no complicated arrangements suited best for concert halls.
If they decided to cover Carabelli, OTV, or Malerba (just ad-libbing), this review would read a lot different. As it is, I could not avoid constant comparisons and juxtapositions. There were times where I would not trade the original for anything, other times where I was lukewarm, and I would choose a few tracks just on their merits without even considering the original at all.
D'Arienzo is such a towering figure in the tango canon that I feel it could not have gone any other way.
Now, I am not saying one should never cover D'Arienzo tunes, and I have reviewed favorably many attempts to do so. When the band decides to dedicate itself to doing so 100% of the time, however, I would generally prefer they try to outsmart its ancestor. To try harder, to do more, to unseat him.
The impression I have gotten from this album has been less than that. It's solid work, great for dancing, just not ambitious enough.
That said, it doesn't have to be. All things considered, this is dance music. Can this make you get up and dance? Yes. And that's all that matters in the end.