DISCLAIMER: Cherry is a good friend. Some of this album was composed in my house as part of her artistic vacation from her home, and she sang on my single “Levee Camp Blues.”
I first saw Cherry playing in the pool house of Full Moon Resort just outside Woodstock,NY at Richard Thompson’s Frets and Refrains camp. That was the last year that there were drums and electric guitars in that room. I had been engulfed in music that whole week, but when Marina Espinet swung by on her way back to her home in New York City after a gig in Rochester with her horn section, with a solid rhythm section on drums and electric guitar, I was blown away unlike anything else I’d seen that week. I bought her first CD, Like A Lady that night and was blown away when I got back home to my optical drive to hear it.
On November 9, 2018, Cherry released her sophomore record, Blanquita. I meant to review it when it came out but due to me being on hiatus it didn’t work out, so now I’m reviewing it to coincide with her current tour. While I sold my friends on Cherry’s first album as very style after 1990s/2000s rhythm and blues, Blanquita is distinctly more modern RnB and focuses in on Espinet’s latina heritage, the title itself being the term for a fair skinned Hispanic woman. Being a gringa, I’m sure I’m missing a certain layer of meaning in some lyrics, but nevertheless I feel I’m a good enough music critic to understand the merits of this album without that type of cultural background.
This isn’t an album that makes me dance on the outside. Very few albums make me do that. This is an album that makes my soul dance. Listening to tracks like “Gold Star” just hits me on an emotional level unlike what I feel from most music I usually listen to. It’s not really the lyrics, which is what most people would point to when talking about music that touches them deeply. There’s an element of magic in the arrangement that brings me into a state of nirvana. The organ and horns on “Mama” just make my heart swell. The rhythm is the backbone of all RnB, but for Cherry rhythm is second nature and everything on top of it makes it transcendent. The syncopation audible through the bass on “Pretty Blue Car” makes for a great foundation, but it’s that crescendo that plays as Espinent sings “Why you gotta make my life so hard” that brings me to another level.
There’s a jazziness to Cherry that I don’t hear in mainstream RnB. You’d never hear Miguel utilize a trumpet like Cherry does on “Spice.” Espinet’s vocals accent perfectly, being the centerpiece when they should be but taking a back seat when they need to. Her voice is that of a top tier jazz singer, and she has control over it like one. The dissonance on “The Knife” will make you shudder, make your skin crawl from it’s eerie atmosphere.
The finest word work is definitely on the slam poetry spoken word sections. “The plague of possession. The aching need to own somebody that leaves you hollow when you’re gone. The thought that maybe I deserve better than this” she says at the end of “Mama.” It’s such a beautiful passage demonstrating the psychology one enters when they’re a victim of a toxic relationship. I’m not much of a poet or poetry fan (my submission to the Artemys ‘zine in the winter of 2017 was two paragraphs long, tho they still printed it) so I don’t know who to compare this passage to, but I do know it would stand alongside many of my dad’s favorite poets easily.
The album also is well crafted. It has a real emotional arc to it, with highs and lows that connect to and from each other. “Pretty Blue Car” and “The Knife” prove to be the lows emotionally while “La Blanquita” lifts you back up before “Happy” closes the album on a very upbeat and resolved note. Cherry’s Blanquita is a beautiful piece of rhythm and blues that I think I’ll be listening to for years. I can’t wait for Cherry to produce more like this.
Cherry’s La Blanquita is available on Bandcamp and is currently on a bicoastal tour of the United States, playing The Dorchester Art Project April 18. Check out the full dates on Cherry’s Facebook page.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.