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|Eric Hansen is a classically trained guitarist deep in the thralls of the popular nuevo flamenco genre. He immediately distanced himself from much of that pack with last year's debut Without Words, on a smaller label that presumably allowed him greater creative control to pursue his muse.
Following up that masterpiece less than nine months later with today's Romancero had this writer experience a strange ambivalence of rapt anticipation undermined by self-fulfilling expetations of disappointment. After all, it's darn rare to birth two perfect specimens in a row, never mind this close.
Romancero's focus isn't on original material -- though there are two Hansen-penned tunes -- but on multi-tracked guitar arrangements of famous songs that include "Killing Me Softly With His Song", George Michael's "Careless Whisper", Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love", the Lennon/McCartney chestnut "And I Love Her", Billy Joel's "Rosalinda's Eyes", Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows", Sting's "Fields of Gold". Bryan Adams' "Have You Really Ever Loved A Woman" (previously released on Without Words), Peter Cetera's "If You Leave Me Now" and Geppert's "Sailing".
This ambitious list explains the title - romantic love songs reworked in the nouveau flamenco vein. Perhaps it's merely encountering the phenomenal rendition of Bryan Adam's hit in such a concentration of like-minded songs that by now are nearly part of our collective aural subconscious. Perhaps too much of a good thing, no matter how good, is really too much.
I say perhaps because the playing, once again, is sublime, the arrangements fully realized and beautifully executed.
But each time a song originally conceived for and made famous by the human voice gets the instrumental makeover, something's lost in the process. This seems true no matter how craftily glossed over or complemented. The relative shortfall of Romancero thus isn't at all a lack of skill -- quite the contrary -- but the very concept of dedicating an entire album to popular love songs transcribed for guitar.
Call it desert-only 5-star lunch. Call it sugar poisoning. With crême brulée following sun-ripened strawberry tarts and canolis, something internally shuts off. All the pastry chef's labors are in vain. Truly, if Romancero ended up in a 5-CD changer programmed at random, it would be a huge hit.
Strange but true - a solid recommendation if this proviso were heeded.