Recharged Juanes pours soul into MTV Unplugged

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Juanes: MTV Unplugged

Colombian singer Juanes performing before a live audience at the New World Symphony Center in Miami Beach, Florida, on February 1, 2012. (Photo/ tr3s)

With 17 Latin Grammy awards and 15 million records sold, Juanes has undeniably made staying true to his musical roots profitable.

Leave it to the Colombian singer/songwriter to be able to stray away from the norm and hardly miss a beat, evidenced in his album “Juanes: MTV Unplugged,” his most recent production, which dropped in late May.

Recorded in an intimate setting at the New World Center in Miami and produced and directed by Juan Luis Guerra, the 14-track live album places him on an unfamiliar stage, opening the door to whether he was risking the authenticity of his poignant guitar riffs and heartfelt interpretations for the sake of another live album.

Not only does Juanes sound authentic, he is also, at times, sounds freshly different, such as in his blistering prolonged guitar solo breathing life into “Me Enamora.” His voice never loses its capacity even over the cumbia beats in “Me Enamora” and bolero feel of “Por Tu Amor,” nor does Juanes waver over the lovely arrangements and melodies embellished by Guerra.

Juanes: MTV Unplugged

Cover of “Juanes: MTV Unplugged”, the third live album of Colombian singer. (Photo/ itunes)

At 40 and staring at a career crossroad, the product of constant touring and the
promotional obligations of hit-churning records, Juanes was in dire need of something fresh and innovative, especially after his last album “P.A.R.C.E.,” which was flat and uninspiring. His Unplugged album strikes back in a big way — and teases to what route he may take his music in now.

Whatever he writes, his voice and the energy he accompanies with it always comes across as real, a trait that defines Unplugged from start to finish. The music is beyond spectacular, with the brass sessions and accompanying trumpets, saxs and trombones in “Fijate Bien” and “La Senal” standing on their own feet, all the while soaked with Guerra’s delicate imprints as musical director.

His superior work on the guitar is most evident in “Me Enamora,” where the string
arrangements take over mainstream darlings “La Camisa Negra” and “La Paga”.

juanes MTV unplugged

Colombian singer Juanes performing before a live audience at the New World Symphony Center in Miami Beach, Florida, on February 1, 2012. (Photo/ tr3s)

The album’s tender touch throughout makes it an easy listen. It also experiments with sounds by blending a variation of genres that add a different feel to the original versions of songs such as “Es Por Ti” and “Volverte a Ver,” while “A Dios le Pido” stays much to the course — although Guerra adds enough innovation to provide a distinct sound.

The intimacy of the music just might be a preview of what’s to come in the future for
Juanes, who sounds energized in “Azul Sabina,” a jazz style blues duet with legendary Spanish singer Joaquin Sabina.

The contrast in vocals and lively brass sessions make this perhaps the standout track in the album. It also shows Juanes in a different light.

“Senal,” one of three new songs in the production, makes for easy listening with violin arrangements and percussion to go with a downtrodden Juanes.

Never mind the millions of records sold and extensive Latin Grammy collection. Juanes has never bothered with his look like Marc Anthony or Pitbull, or has he ever ventured far from his authenticity — with Juanes it’s the same heartfelt passion he threw in his backpack when he boarded for Los Angeles two decades ago.

And while much of his old self is in Unplugged, there’s a glimpse of a star being risky and unique. Some artists record live albums because they have nothing else in the works, but “Juanes: MTV Unplugged” is fresh, innovative and elegant.

Juanes MTV Unplugged will air on Univision on July 8 at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

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