Time Square Records
Tango. From romanticized Valentino notions of Hollywood-style Latin lovers to the current dance craze in, of all places, frosty Finland; from the genre's illicit beginnings around the seedy brothels of Argentina and Uruguay when men, in the early 1900s, outnumbered women 100,000 to 1 to the smoldering machismo of eros-in-motion celebrated on competitive dance floors; from the initial shock value of Piazzolla's wholesale Tango Nuevo reinvention to the present-day experiments of The Gotan Project distilling tango's edgy essence into the electronica milieu - tango has become very hip again.

Outside South America, far less known than the salon music of strings and bandoneon is the art form of tango-canción led by the human voice. And rarer yet is it to find a woman to don this role in such a testosterone-heavy musical culture. But that's just what the quirkily named Tango Varón or Male Tango is all about. It's Sandra Luna's US debut on Times Square/World Connection and a very different affair from the male versions of, say raspy-throated, half-shaven, clad-in-a-smoke-cloud Melingo or the posturing, stuck-in-the-past Vayo Raimondo.

Born into the quintessential tango loka of Mataderos, Buenos Aires' slaughterhouse district with its lower-class mix of blue collar workers, Sandra Luna already played local tango bars like the Boliche de Rotundo at the tender age of 11 and is presently being hailed as one of the innovators of sung tango. Varón opens with the eponymous famous number by Edgardo Acuña, instantly establishing Sandra as a perfectly capable counterpoint to her male vocalist peers. Accompanied by guitar and piano, string orchestra and bandoneon, tracks like the Manzi/Piano tune "Milonga Triste" and "Lejana Tierra Mia" are stripped down to their dramatic essentials, the latter an ultra sparse voice/cello duet that places extreme burden of emotive tension on the singer who proves more than up to this task.

Balanced between the trine of danceable compositions like "La Cancion Desperada", performance scorchers like the Flamenco/Jazz-inflected "Me Llaman Luna" or the folksy waltz "Que Badia Sepa Mi Sufrir", and then moody slower meditation like "Y Ahora Qué Haré" that suggest an Argentine version of Portuguese Fado, that other harbor/port genre, Luna's album covers a rather broad scope of the barrio that anchors present-day tango's life blood.

Sandra's powerful voice and impassioned delivery prove perfect vehicles to ensnare the unsuspecting listener into a world more intense than Brazil's bossa nova, more furious than Lisbon's Fado, more European than Flamenco with its Arabian/ Moorish/Gipsy influences. Like Fado, Sandra's tango-canción carries stylistic chamber music overtones and thus essentially eschews percussive accompaniment to allow the music to ebb and flow with temporal fluctuations. And always, there's tension - between the roughly sawed celli or basses and the sweetly saucy Russian-style violins; between edginess and seduction, smokiness and challenging attitude. It's likely that it is this endless juxtaposition of polar opposites which makes this art form so attractive and seemingly fresh. And Tango Varón is both fresh and attractive and a great promise for the invigoration of tango as a genre of popular song.