Juan Luis Guerra describes the music on his new album, Literal, out today (May 31) as “something new and very modern.” The 61-year-old godfather of contemporary tropical music backed up that statement with a video for the single, “Kitipun,” shot in Instagram-story style.
Throughout his prolific career (with some 30 million albums sold around the world), Guerra has been reinventing the joyful rhythms of his native Dominican Republic with his band 4.40, and writing magical realist lyrics mined from the everyday lives of people in Latin America and beyond, empowering listeners at the same time as they dance their troubles away to his messages of “peace, harmony and love.”
“I like each project to be new,” Guerra tells Billboard during a phone call from his native Dominican Republic. “I always like to add instruments that aren’t usually heard playing folkloric rhythms, like a baritone saxophone or violins in bachata, to give it a different sound. And of course, I want it to sound current.”
But fans shouldn’t worry. Guerra keeps it fresh, but rather than reinventing himself, he keeps on being himself.
Literal is a hopelessly romantic, life-loving 11-song set whose crystal-clear, instrument-forward arrangements are an instant pick-me-up, a mood-enhancing answer to today’s global blues delivered via 4,40’s typical fusion of styles, from bachata and merengue, to salsa and son, bedazzled with jazz and pop. It’s perfect summer vacation music, as well as a refreshing respite from rhythmic monotony.
The record’s infectious highlights include the sunny “El Primer Baile” with a “besame” chorus ready for screaming across the room; the old school salsa number “Má Pa’lante Vive la Gente” and the (self-explanatory) mergengue “I Love You More.”
The bachata love ballads “Me Preguntas” and “Corazón Enamorado” are pure Guerra. “El Primer Baile” lightens up a retro romantic merengue sound.
Guerra has made family values a hallmark of his career, and “Literal” is an all-ages affair that includes a merengue lullaby (“Merengue de Cuna,”) and an ode to his wife, “Lampara Pa’ Mis Pies.”
On this album, Guerra mostly steers away from the social chronicle that has characterized his music. But he breaks the prevailing mood with a percussive trova-rock track “Esto No Tiene Madre,” calling attention to the plight of orphans.
Stream Literal here: