The “breakthrough” album is something most critically acclaimed artists have to contend with. It’s the pressure to get to that elusive “next level.” Sometimes the pressure comes from outside sources, such as the record label or management. Other times it’s self-induced. It’s the desire to grow out of the confines of one’s fan base in order to seek a larger audience. Perhaps the move is purely artistic, to grow into a new sound or a new image, damn the loyalists and critics!
Lila Downs’ latest release, Shake Away, is just that. It is an attempt to go beyond the confines of a cult following. It is her chance to shed her past image as the token Mexican Diva and perhaps become a household Diva. Out of the sixteen songs on the album, more than half are in English, which should make her songs more accessible to a non-Spanish speaking audience.
That should make songs such as "Little Man," a Mexican Banda song (the style of which usually has most Americanos groaning) made easily digestible with English lyrics and a guitar solo. It is an “every person” song of the working immigrant, just trying to get by like everyone else. But the problem with the songs is that it lacks the spice, the flavor, and the balls for one to care about the immigrant that does the jobs that no one wants to do. The same problem exists within "Minimum Wage," a song about the trials and tribulations of immigrants in the U.S. by way of Loretta Lynn. It’s a down home country vibe that’s awkward at best, with the message getting lost on the train to Nashville. These two songs feel like Lila is both trying too hard and trying too much. Another sign of that is her version of "Black Magic Woman," a duet with pop singer Raul Mídon. Upon first listen I could almost hear the music executives saying: