Download kids don’t know about liner notes, but Alejandra Ribera does. The Montreal-based singer-songwriter offers a lovely explanation for her music, in a note attached to her second album, La Boca. She talks about newspaper clippings related to a mysterious subglacier lake in Antarctica and mentions her preoccupation with things revealing themselves only in the darkest of darks. She watched a blizzard through a window in a hospital room where a friend withered away. She packed suitcases and left, then rested and waited.
All that came after the release of her self-produced 2009 debut album, and the brief, minor hoopla that followed. That disc, a charismatic, untamed cabaret of Latin-styled this and thats, was called Navigator, Navigateher.
Now, she’s back. Her dreamy new album La Boca happened with significant help from Jean Massicotte, the producer who has made magic with Patrick Watson as well as the late Lhasa de Sela, the cool Quebec songstress who worked in the same languages – English, French and Spanish – with which the whisky-washed Ribera is comfortable. For La Boca, English is the main tongue.
I saw crowds enchanted by Ribera during her popular residency at Toronto’s Cameron House a few years ago, and I remember the photos of the woman back then, often with a cigar in her mouth. With La Boca, Ribera doesn’t smoke as much. She flails less, though, and sings better. This textured, lightly exotic, cosmopolitan record cost her more money to record, I bet.
Ribera’s billowy 53-minute trip begins with the ebbing and flowing title track, about journeys, guides and changes. Very fine.
No me sigas has a light cha-cha-cha drama to it; it’s playful, but the title translates to “don’t follow me,” and so a lover is told that Ribera’s trip is solo. Bad Again is bolder, with her earthy alto dipping and whipping around the chord progressions. The song concerns the picking up of old nasty habits.
I Want is the album’s gorgeous centrepiece and mantra. Ribera wants new blood, new currents, new inspiration: “I want the aching of a melody.” She wants to want. Know what I want? More songs like I Want. It’s strong and affecting, where other moments on the record lean more to willowy. Mind you, Relojes does hustle. Un cygne la nuit is a sublimely sleepy he-she duet in French and English. “This is the saddest serenade,” we are told, “these are the only notes left to play.” Fade to black. Lovely.
After a sultry, aching cover of the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles – songwriters are just the worst at accepting the metric system – the album ends with the sweetly loping Satellite. It’s a twinkling, natural sendoff, with Ribera walking away from the listener. “Well, I hope she found her way,” she sings, “I hope she found whatever it is we all go searching for when we just can’t stay.” Funny, I was thinking the same thing.
Alejandra Ribera plays Montreal’s Maison de la Culture Marie-Uguay, Feb. 13; Montreal’s Cabaret Lion, March 4; Quebec City’s Théâtre Petit Champlain, April 4; and Toronto’s Royal Theatre, April 11.