Monday, November 10, 2014

Album Review: Mia Maestro's "Si Agua"

Editor's note: I recently had the opportunity to check out Mia Maestro's debut album on behalf of We're reprinting it here for your enjoyment!

Whenever you hear about actresses making the leap into music, the result is often an overproduced, autotuned pop mess that ends up as gathering dust in your iTunes library as a regretful purchase. And so it was with some trepidation that I approached reviewing "Si Agua," the debut album from actress Mia Maestro, known to American audiences for her roles in The Strain, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Alias, and Frida. I was afraid I would have to slam the musical offerings of an actress I had been a fan of since she first played Nadia Santos in Alias ten years ago.

Maestro is no stranger to music, however; she had previously contributed a song (“Llovera”) to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 soundtrack, which is also featured on this album. Even so, I wasn't sure what to expect from "Si Agua," an album that was recorded in Iceland with a number of local musicians and composers but was also inspired by Maestro’s Argentinian heritage.

I was pleasantly surprised to find "Si Agua" (which translates to "If Water") was not a pop album that echoed every other Top 40 album, but rather a unique mix of light jazz, wispy ballads, and traditional folk songs with both Latin and European influences. And the result is something both inspiring and deeply moving.

Maestro doesn't follow the tired trend of singers who think overpowering vocals and multiple runs equal talent. Her voice has a breathy, graceful delivery that blends so beautifully with the stringed instruments that you often cannot tell one from the other. There isn't even a hint of digital manipulation or autotuning of Maestro’s voice, which is absolutely refreshing and highlights just how good she is. Her voice is as comforting as a mother singing a lullaby, and the accompanying arrangements are smartly mixed, never overpowering the vocals, but supporting them fully. The songs alternate between both English and Spanish lyrics (the song title is an indicator), but even if you don’t speak the language, you won’t mind it a bit.

The songs all have a sweet, intimate feel, and have the sound of a live recording, in all the right ways. At one point, if you listen closely enough, you can even catch a musician count down the start of the song. “Si Agua,” the title track, leads off the album, mixing a Latin rhythm with a chorus of stringed instruments. Both “Wedding” and “Time to Go” have a feel of the best light jazz, with a stringed accompaniment.

“Blue Eyed Sailor” which features Irish folk rocker Damien Rice, is the standout track, evidenced by the music video produced to promote the song. Led off by a strong guitar riff reminiscent of classic 1960s rock (I suppose we can thank Rice for that), the song settles down into a pure ballad. Rather than allowing the instrumentals to go over the top, however, Maestro’s voice keeps the song grounded. It’s a fantastic song, and the video is just as good. “Otra Vez” is a beautiful ballad with a nice piano foundation, that builds to an outstanding symphonic chorus of violins. It is one of my personal favorites of the album. The piano/violin motif continues with “Llovera,” the song featured on the Twilight soundtrack.

“Kidnapped by Snow” is a nice fusion of light electronica and violins, with a Latin beat beneath. It must be heard to be appreciated. “Goodbye” will remind you of the better folk ballads of the 1970s, and the album ends strongly with “Barca,” which showcases Maestro’s voice with light violins.

With the participation of artists including Ben Frost, bass saxophonist Colin Stetson, pianist Thomas Bartlett, Shahzad Ismaily, Valgeir Sigurosson (producer for Bjork), composer Nico Muhly, and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Si Agua is a unique and fulfilling musical experience that perfectly showcases Maestro’s angelic voice. The album can be sampled on both iTunes and Amazon Music, and I highly recommend it.

Release Date: October 7, 2014
Running time: 41 minutes
Genre: International, Latin
Label: Nacional Records
Producer: Valgeir Sigurosson

Click here to purchase and download "Si Agua" from Amazon Music!