From the music to the liner notes to the cover design, Norma Zenteno's new CD Endulzame (Spanish for "sweeten me") seems nice enough, but if you pay attention, you'll notice there's always something missing, a little something out of place.
Zenteno, a multiple Houston Press Music Awards winner, is about as talented a songwriter as Houston can lay claim to, so fans have to wonder why she wastes time with songs like the unfortunately named "Merengue Bugaloo." Ugh. (This is only slightly better than her 1998 "Es Tu Booty.")
The title song, "Endulzame," is clearly a highlight on the album, a delicious love song. The missing detail is that Zenteno doesn't mention she wrote it especially for a film soundtrack. That would be a nice tidbit, but it's never mentioned. Oh yeah, and it's only two-and-a-half minutes long.
Zenteno is in her element with songs such as "Yo Soy Para Ti," a sweet, slow, sexy ballad. "Soy" is a wonderfully romantic tune, woven around Zenteno's husky vocals and an excellent saxophone soloist. The missing detail here? The sax player isn't listed on the credits. So is it Lindy Pollard, who is listed on a couple of other tunes? Is it Richard Cruz, who pulls keyboard duty on a couple of songs but is known as a great saxophonist? No telling. Is there a flute playing on "Un Da en la Playa"? Sounds like it, but again, no credit, so no telling.
Zenteno wrote all nine of the songs on Endulzame, and fans will recognize most of the tunes on the album. "Smooth Cha Cha" and "Tu Destino" especially are favorites with local audiences, which begs the question -- is there anything new here? Is this a "greatest hits" collection? Either way is fine, but there's no clear indication of what the CD is meant to be, or, honestly, if there was even that much thought put into it. And since no producer is listed, there might not have been.
Even the CD design is a little off. There's a great illustration on the front cover, but the back cover is a list of thank-you's rather than a list of the album's songs. Fans who pick up the CD in a store are left reading the thank-you's and the e-mail address for the cover artist, but damn if we can tell what songs are on the CD.
Bottom line is, Zenteno is one of the city's most talented and well-liked performers. But bugalooing merengues, an abundance of already familiar material, missing credits and a lack of overall direction and design don't represent her abilities. Since Zenteno self-releases CDs only once every few years, it will likely be a long wait before we get anything else from her; let's hope next time out, she gets an equally talented producer who will oversee the project, including all those pesky details. Hell, can we at least get the song titles on the back cover?
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