Juan Gabriel, "Juan Gabriel"

4.5

Renowned Mexican songsmith Juan Gabriel plays it safe, if beautifully, on his first album in seven years. His self-titled mariachi set-which includes touches of accordion-driven norteño and grupero-contains songs Grabriel has recorded for the first time (having written them long ago for other singers who made them famous) as well as new tracks he wrote for this album. In addition to the first single "¿Por Que Me Haces Llorar?," a '50s-style ballad in a mariachi arrangement, gems include the rollicking, string-laden "El Consentido," which evokes the ensemble of folkloric dancers in flowing dresses that Gabriel tours with. That artist's salt-of-the-earth delivery well-suits the material, which eschews the usual cowboy legends in favor of first-person tales of heartbreak. Anyone who's seen Gabriel perform live recently will hear a marked difference between his raspy voice and the milky-smooth vocal production on the album. Next single ought to be "Gracias al Amor," an oldie that straddles pop and regional Mexican formats, to appeal to his widest possible audience. -Ayala Ben-Yehuda