“I’m a man on the street / I walk right through the storm / confidently…” Juan Wauters delivers wave after wave of self-assurance on his latest album, Introducing Juan Pablo. Released via Captured Tracks this collection of songs is a prequel and spiritual partner to Onda de Juan Pablo – the artist’s album released in the earlier part of 2019.
Like Onda de Juan Pablo, Introducing Juan Pablo toys with sounds from Wauters adopted home of New York City. But these are sounds heavy with the flavors of 1960’s folk that emerged from the city. Progressions make for easy access, and the bilingual dynamic of Spanish and English mean that sing-alongs are simple, even if not always entirely understood.
The themes of translation, adapting to place, and trying on new personalities are key to the album. There are stories of life as seen through the inner and outer journey of an immigrant in a city. Wauters tips his hat to personal aspirations – the promise, and optimism of becoming new in a new place. He also examines the shortfall between expectation and reality.
At seventeen tracks long, songs are blended like a patchwork with field-recordings. ‘Super Talk’ opens the process with a jovial, latin-accented conversation about the promise of bringing money to have a good time for the duration of a stay in a new place. It’s this combination of real-world vignettes and carefully crafted reflections that make the album so deeply affecting, and authentic.
There are moments, where Juan Wauters allows the confidence of Juan Pablo to slip. There are passages where perspective is challenged, if not overthrown. And it’s here that the spirit is shown as being irrepressible. It’s here that the album is strongest. “Straighten Up And Lose”, a ballad sung beside an upright piano laments those items of life which may lead to distress. It’s also a song that points at the purpose of continuing through life, refusing sacrifice.
The production here keeps one eye on the authenticity of process. There are no jolts between the grainy field recordings and the studio work of Wauters. Instruments are intimately captured, but they are also allowed to breathe, show their scars a little. Nothing is manicured, overdone or dismantled from its soul. There’s a matt finish to each image that Wauters shares from memory. Nylon string guitars, a sweet take on Ravel’s Bolero, hand-drums all add to the texture and scale of Wauter’s excursion through his new city.
Standing alone, Introducing Juan Pablo is a phenomenally strong album, and it carries with it a bunch intimacies that allow space for an audience’s personal reflection. There are songs here which offer a magic-realism in the assessment of the all-too-real. Standing with La Onda de Juan Pablo this album extends and deepens a vision that’s ambitious, inward reaching and profoundly realized. To released one album of this nature a year is grand in scope – to deliver two such albums is remarkable. Nothing captures the easy, hard-working mentality of those Greenwich Village heroes of the 60’s quite like a mirror of their mentality. Juan Wauters does himself, and his heroes proud.
HURRY – BUY – JUAN WAUTERS MUSIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY – DANIEL TOPETE