Adrian Quesada’s multi-genre career — as songwriter, performer and producer — has been highlighted by his work as a member of the Grammy-winning groups Black Pumas and Grupo Fantasma. The inception of his newest project, however, came long before much of that, when he first heard a bolero on an Austin radio station some 20 years ago.
“I was shuffling through radio stations, and I remember hearing Los Pasteles Verdes’s ‘Esclavo Y Amo’ [‘Slave and Master’],” Quesada recalls. “I’d never heard anything like that.”
Boleros Psicodélicos, released June 3, is another testament to Quesada’s desire to showcase and preserve Latin music following his 2018 project, Look at My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul, an exploration of the rich history of Latin soul in Texas. With his newest album, however, Quesada focuses on the romantic boleros of Latin America. The 12-track album offers listeners a new take on the classic bolero — or ballad — with electrifying remixes, covers and new originals.
Innovative approaches to classics such as “El Muchacho de los Ojos Tristes” (“The Boy with the Sad Eyes”) and the album’s inspiration, “Esclavo y Amo” — a cover with vocalist Natalia Clavier — stand alongside originals like “Mentiras Con Cariño” (“Lies with Love”) featuring iLe (from the Puerto Rican hip-hop band Calle 13) to celebrate the classic bolero with a psychedelic twist from Quesada and the eclectic artists featured.
Bolero ballads in Latin America, particularly those of the golden era of the ’60s and ’70s, were characterized by ominous and experimental musical elements. “The singing was so dramatic, so passionate, really psychedelic,” Quesada explains. “It had a slap-back delay and reverb.”
The songs on Boleros Psicodélicos, even for non-Spanish speakers, can be intense, thanks, in part, to a dreamy organ and the soulful rhythm section. Opening with the statement track “Mentiras Con Cariño,” the album’s psychedelic theme is established, characterized by Quesada’s timeless guitar elements accompanying iLe’s graceful vocals. Yet the track is perhaps the least traditional in the context of boleros, incorporating elements of classic Argentine rock. Quesada credits his collaboration with iLe for taking the album from more than a collection of songs to a journey. He admits that the song suggestions she sent him, including “Sandro,” didn’t initially align with his vision but ultimately inspired the development of the album’s opener.
Quesada intersperses multi-styled, experimental originals like “El Paraguas” (“The Umbrella”), written and performed by Quesada and Gabriel Garzón-Montano, with classic boleros, as on “Ídolo” (“Idol”), where Quesada is joined by Angelica Garcia on vocals. The album then transitions to reimagined covers, including the classic “Puedes Decir de Mi” (“You Can Say Anything About Me”), originally recorded by Cuban singer La Lupe.
While most of the covers on Boleros Psicodélicos take a more traditional form true to the classic bolero style, Quesada applies unique, experimental approaches to other covers, as on the closing track, “El Muchacho de los Ojos Tristes,” featuring Tita [Moreno], who delivers a more passive version of the romantic original by Jeanette. “The covers chosen for this album were all songs I couldn’t stop listening to,” he says. “So they serve as anchors for the work. But we’re also paying immense tribute to them.”
The collaborative efforts and genre-bending experimentation on Boleros Psicodélicos might serve as a sort of preview for what’s to come as Quesada considers further developing this project, perhaps through a second volume. But for now, listeners have plenty to discover and enjoy in this 12-track tribute to golden era boleros.
Cover promo photo by Cesar Berrios.