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Buena Vista Social Club Singer's Last Album

BLOCK: The late singer Ibrahim Ferrer was part of the Buena Vista Social Club, the group of veteran Cuban musicians who found international fame in 1996. Decades before that, Ferrer specialized in boleros, slow, romantic songs that were the popular music of Cuba in the 1950s.

He was at work on an album of some favorites he had collected over the years when he died in 2005. The project is called "Mi Sueno" or "My Dream." Our critic, Tom Moon, has a review.

(Soundbite of song "Quiereme Mucho")

Mr. IBRAHIM FERRER (Musician): (Singing in foreign language)

TOM MOON: Right up until his last tour, Ibrahim Ferrer sang Cuban dance music with enough tap to shame younger men. His sense of timing earned him reverence in Cuba and throughout the world. But his heart was in the soft light and velvet banquets of croonerville.

(Soundbite of song "Quiereme Mucho)

Mr. FERRER: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: This song is called "Quiereme Mucho," "Love me Truly" from Ibrahim Ferrer's final CD. The disc is wall-to-wall, slow, romantic boleros. It's different from everything else he recorded under the Buena Vista banner. Often, with that group, he'd sing in front of a large ensemble. For this record, his accompanists are often just a jazz piano trio.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FERRER: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: You can tell Ibrahim Ferrer likes singing in this intimate setting. He does tales of romance as though he's gliding along. His voice is coarse. He was 78 years old when he recorded this, but it moves effortlessly. When he sings the classic song of betrayal called "Perfidia," he sounds like he's reliving a rejection from long ago and feeling it all over again.

(Soundbite of song "Perfidia")

Mr. FERRER: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: It's not easy to make an entire album with slow songs transfixing. Arguably, the best at it was Frank Sinatra. His ballad albums such as "In the Wee Small Hours" set a high bar.

This last effort from Ibrahim Ferrer aims for that territory, and gets impressively close. His performances are understated, and at the same time, totally riveting. Like Sinatra, Ferrer lets his life experience seep into the music, but he doesn't clobber you over the head with it. He knows that even the most downcast, despairing ballad can be uplifting, especially if it's sung like this.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FERRER: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: The CD is "Mi Sueno" by Ibrahim Ferrer. Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.

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