After starting out as a fairly anodyne Latin pop artist, Mon Laferte found critical and commercial success with 2015's Mon Laferte, Vol. 1, when she decided to incorporate traditional Mexican music into her songwriting. For its 2017 successor, La Trenza, she partially switches her attention from her adoptive homeland to the sounds she heard while growing up in Chile. Opener "Pa D?nde Se Fue" functions as a declaration of intent as a charango and quena rhythm track is soon augmented with electric guitars and a brass section and ends up welcoming spaghetti western soundtracks and mariachi into the mix. A characteristic powerful vocal performance from Laferte and thoughtful lyrics about an absent father fill out one of the record's several high points. It immediately becomes apparent, however, that Laferte is more interested in offering something for everyone than heading in a completely new direction, as the album smartly mixes North Andean rhythms, vals peruano, cumbia, and a Los Saicos cover (a highly influential Peruvian band from the '60s), with bolero, ska, ranchera, pop, and ballads. The three stellar duets included are all key tracks that perfectly illustrate Laferte's grand design: "Cielito de Abril," a delicate acoustic number with compatriot Manuel Garc?a, is a tribute to the songwriting tradition of Chile; "Mi Buen Amor," a sweeping ranchera with Enrique Bunbury, nods to both Mexico and Spain; and with "Am?rrame," she takes a kinky cumbia with Juanes for her shot at the upper ranks of Latin pop and international stardom. All three succeed brilliantly, with "Am?rrame" becoming her biggest hit to date, garnering millions of hits on YouTube along the way. Closer "La Trenza," a female empowerment message in bolero form, rounds off an impressive collection. It should, however, be mentioned that the sterling production and genre-bending arrangements mask the occasional lyrical shortcomings. Besides the opener and closer, every song is about love in its various states (excitement, contentment, resignation, longing), and these vary from moving and engaging to silly and trite. It also helps that Laferte is a powerhouse melodramatic singer able to emote without sounding strident. Furthermore, it is remarkable how an album so heavily invested in staking a claim in the Latin Pop sweepstakes makes no concessions to trendy urban beats and yet sounds utterly attuned to contemporary sounds -- even when it takes its cues from traditional folk genres. In a year with strong releases by the likes of Natalia Lafourcade, Lila Downs, Miranda!, and Juanes (not to mention the "Despacito" world craze), La Trenza further validates the notion that 2017 may turn out to be one of Latin Pop's biggest moments in the sun. ~ Mariano Prunes
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