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Aterciopelados: Optimistic Rock From Colombia

Aterciopelados is a Colombian band with roots in Bogota's underground music scene of the early '90s. The group's melodious rock sound has distinct Colombian elements, but also enough broad popular appeal to win the band a Latin Grammy Award. Its new album, Rio, just came out.

Aterciopelados' grooving, guitar-driven, edgy-but-uplifting rock music recalls bands such as The Police and Talking Heads. But you won't hear the group singing in English or making any sort of undignified play for an international audience. It doesn't have to. Hector Buitrago's entrancing guitar melodies and Andrea Echeverri's raggedly tuneful vocal flights are so seductive that the language barrier melts away on its own.

Despite its expansive sound, Aterciopelados is essentially a duo — two former lovers who found truer happiness as artistic collaborators. Buitrago was once described as a recovering punk, while Echeverri's background lies more in the realm of romantic boleros. The name they adapted together means "the velvety ones," and on Rio, they rock hard without losing that velvety touch. I can't remember when a CD offered so many melodies you just want to curl up with and caress.

The songs on Rio deal with local realities in Colombia. The title track laments the despoiling of the country's rivers, while "Bandera" speaks out against strict immigration policies that make it harder for ordinary folks from a place like Colombia to travel the world.

Local Colombian music also permeates Aterciopelados' sound world. An Andean folk group contributes on two songs, and we hear the whoops of a village party mixed into the lilting "No Llores" — or "Don't Cry." But what gives this band's music its universal appeal is something less tangible: a quality of dry-eyed optimism that proves both persuasive and reassuring in troubled times.

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