José Mercé – Mi Única Llave

Still getting my breath back after Estrella’s having broken her six year silence and José Mercé comes along with a new album.

There was me thinking that 2012 was shaping up to be something of a fallow year – how wrong can a man be? Dorantes, the Flamenco pianist, has also come up with the goods. I was too busy to share it with you but will post a review soon. But back to the matter in hand.

José Mercé is a Cantaor from Jerez and can trace his Flamenco pedigree back to the mid nineteenth century. He is the great-grandson of Francisco Valencia, the best singer of seguiriyas the world has probably ever seen. His uncle is Manuel Soto “Sordera”. But that’s almost by the by. He has been doing his thing for decades now and is, in my opinion, the best Gypsy Cantaor (barring Camarón) that we have seen in many, many years. I have posted individual tracks in the past and he was prominent in one of our mopping up (The ones we couldn’t leave out) posts in The Flamenco Series. But this album deserves a review of its own.

If there’s one thing I have always liked about Mercé it’s the fact that he can sing a wide range of palos and make them all his own. He has a strong voice with a rich, deep resonance that is inherently Gitano. His intonation, his vowel sounds and his accent, for want of a better word, are all unmistakable and yet his respect for the forms and the conventions of the genre mean that whatever he does the palo, the way the music is meant to sound, always shines through. He doesn’t need to add unnecessary twists, he can do it the way it’s always been done – just doing it better than so many of the rest. This album is a case in point.

The album has twelve songs. The first half dozen are much more traditional and the following six are more experimental. It’s almost as if we had six tracks from Camarón and six from Enrique Morente. And that’s what makes it so delicious. Here are a few of examples from the first part:

Moraíto was a guitairst from Jerez who died last year. He accompanied Mercé and many others and was widely respected. One of the best Flamenco concerts in Madrid so far this year was the tribute paid to him by musicians from all corners of the genre and beyond. The Bulería del Morao, with Diego del Morao (Moraíto’s son) on guitar, is as traditional as they come. As traditional and as beautiful.

Jerez is in the province of Cadiz and nothing sums up Cadiz quite as well as a good Alegrías. They really don’t come much better than Si Tú No Estás.

No run through the traditional palos would be complete without a Soleá. José has always got it just right. No surprises here, then.

The album is produced by Javier Limón (Concha Buika, Sandra Carrasco, Enrique Morente, Diego “El Cigala”, etc.) and consequently the arrangements on some songs do move away from the purely traditional. From the second part of the album the standouts for me (so far I’ve only had the album for a day or so) are a beautiful, slow and melodic Zambra and the Fandangos that give their name to the album. Here are both:

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