Aterciopelados means "the velvety ones," and on Gozo Poderoso ("Powerful Pleasure"), vocalist Andrea Echeverri and bassist/ producer Hector Buitrago are exactly that. The Colombian duo's latest CD is a collection of soft rock rhythms, enlightened lyrics and a heavy dose of montuños.

With four previous CDs and two Grammy nominations to its credit, the duo set out to craft songs that would document the turmoil in Colombia and encourage those living through it. Then the group's label, BMG Colombia, suddenly foundered, leaving Aterciopelados to produce the album on its own. RCA later picked up the completed project and provided a huge promotional push in the United States and Europe, leading to love-letter reviews in Billboard and Rolling Stone. But not even a hurricane of hype can help if Gozo Poderoso delivers only a whimper of music. Thankfully, it does much more than that. Moving away from the punk style it developed 11 years ago, Aterciopelados sounds smoother and more polished. Simple, fresh and original, Gozo is a major leap forward in Aterciopelados's evolution.

It's easy to forget these are songs with a message. Rather than angry protests, Gozo's lyrics are what Echeverri calls "introspective wondering." Even the sad songs are upbeat. She sings about lost love with a happy, hopeful, no-regrets attitude. And Echeverri is an accomplished singer, her full, mellow voice reminiscent of Brazilian Astrud Gilberto.

But as talented as she is as a vocalist, Echeverri is even more skilled as a songwriter. Working with ex-lover Buitrago, she manages to mix African rock-guitar riffs with cumbia dance rhythms, and punta grooves with nueva canción singing. Somehow it all works.

"El Album" ("The Photo Album") will sound familiar to salsa fans, and the duo reveals more of its Afro-Cuban roots with the call-and-response form on "La Misma Tijera" ("The Same Scissors"). The title song is a bit of a change from the rest, slicker and more seductive.

Of course, there are a couple of weak tunes. "A Su Salud" ("To Your Health") and "Fantasía" don't find the easy dance groove that the other tunes do, and neither has lyrics with the same emotional punch as "Transparente" ("Transparent") or "Uno Lo Mio y Lo Tuyo" ("I Unite What's Mine with What's Yours").

In "Esmeralda" ("Emerald") Echeverri sings "Me elevo yo" ("I elevate myself"). Actually, Gozo Poderoso elevates the entire Latin-rock scene, making the genre more accessible to Americans without sacrificing any authenticity. And Aterciopelados seems determined to do the same, expanding its international audience while taking every opportunity to show support for its troubled homeland. The CD was recorded in Bogotá, using only local musicians. Paintings by 16 Colombian artists were used in the artwork. And despite the group's extensive touring, the duo refuses to relocate to a safer, more convenient U.S. location, loudly announcing that it won't be like other successful Colombian artists who have fled from the hardship of living in an unofficial war zone.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Olivia Flores Alvarez