Two years ago, Carlos Vives seemed to have passed his prime. After his spectacular success with "Clasicos de la Provincia" and its follow-up -- albums that introduced vallenato, the traditional accord

Two years ago, Carlos Vives seemed to have passed his prime. After his spectacular success with "Clasicos de la Provincia" and its follow-up -- albums that introduced vallenato, the traditional accordion-based rhythm of Colombia's Atlantic coast, to the mainstream market -- Vives floundered, trapped in his own formula. Then came "El Amor de Mi Tierra" in 1999, an album that was a musical and commercial triumph.

For an encore, it might have been assumed that Vives would be facing an uphill battle to better himself. But once again, he has outsmarted the skeptics with "Dejame Entrar," an album whose unpretentiousness and sheer musicality are matched by its beauty, lyricism, and hit potential.

Although just released Nov. 6 on EMI Latin, there are already, pop, tropical, and dance versions of the title track and single on the air, emphasizing that Vives is an artist whose localized music has broader, international reach and appeal.

"The sound on this album is more defined and certain," Vives says, explaining his use of traditional Colombian rhythms that, this time, have a more defined stroke of electric guitar and even such outside elements as Cuban son. "All the ideas that perhaps hadn't reached fruition before did so here, without hesitation." Referring to Colombia's Atlantic coast, he adds, "We're a contemporary band from that province. We're a contemporary expression of that music."

Although Vives plays vallenato and cumbia (a genre, he says, that has parallels with Mississippi blues), he has long asserted that he's not a folk artist. Instead, he has crafted a sound that's uniquely his. It has evolved organically through the sustained work of his steady core of musicians -- the band known as La Provincia, which includes accordionist Egidio Cuadrado.

"This is a life project," Vives says, explaining that composing and arranging was largely a group endeavor. "Most of my musicians feel they have something to contribute, and we have a common objective. I'm the main arranger, and many of my thoughts are there. But many things changed because the interest of one of my musicians was greater than what I wrote."

Sebastian Krys, who produced the album with Emilio Estefan, says, "The whole basis of the album was not to be afraid to try new things. And it was one of the most natural albums I've ever been involved in. Nothing felt forced."

Aside from the title track, a song Vives describes as "vallenato pop," the standouts in an album of standouts include the melancholic "Santa Elegia" (a slow cumbia), "Maria Teresa" (which blends a danzon rhythm with vallenato), and "Carito," a tale of a young boy in Colombia (Vives, presumably), who is in love with his English teacher.

"When people ask us if we'll sing in English, we've assumed a vallenato position, which deals with the subject through song," Vives says. "The song tells of the links with [English] culture and is still a vallenato."

New EMI Latin USA president/chairman Jorge Pino, who came up with the three-version-single idea, has high hopes for Vives' success in the U.S., especially after the performance of his previous album. As for Vives, even though "Dejame Entrar" was recorded in Miami, his dreams, he says, remain in Colombia.

"My causes are there, my offices are there, I shoot my videos there," Vives says. "Also, La Provincia is like a school. And actually, one of our projects is to make our own music school. We are all people who have dedicated our lives to local music."