Richmond, Virginia’s Angelica Garcia has an undeniably powerful voice, which was front and center on her 2016 debut, Medicine for Birds. The voice she’s found, however, on her sophomore record, Cha Cha Palace, is powerful way beyond just how it sounds. So powerful that it found its way to President Barack Obama’s playlist. While her debut was a very folky, at times country affair, Cha Cha Palace is nothing of the sort. There’s a charming uniqueness and an unabashed, genuine approach to songwriting that make Cha Cha Palace a huge statement.
Right from the start, “I Don’t Believe In Death” sets the album up with layered vocals, which is a common experience throughout Cha Cha Palace. It’s followed up by the super catchy “Karma The Knife”, on which Garcia sings about life and all the cyclical things that occur, karma included. On “Jícama”, Garcia truly embraces her Mexican and Salvadoran roots while also being a Latina-American in modern times.
“I see you but you don’t see me, nah
Jícama! Jícama! Guava tree
I’ve been trying to tell ya but you just don’t see
Like you I was born in this country”
The embrace of her heritage does not stop there; it only grows throughout the record. She includes two interludes, including a version of “La Enorme Distancia” that was originally performed by Mexican singer-songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez. On the cover, Garcia is joined by her grandmother. She also includes a cover of Mexican folk song “La Llorona”, which she duets with her mother.
“Guadalupe” is another powerful statement, both in her roots and also in her gender. On it, she emphatically repeats, “I want to be like her!” And while upbeat tracks like “Guadalupe” or “Lucifer Waiting” make up a good percentage of Cha Cha Palace, perhaps its strongest moment is “Valentina In The Moonlight”. Garcia slows it down, and her immense voice flows easily over the finger-picked electric guitar. A drum machine and horns later join in to elevate the story of two distant lovers.
“The heart doesn’t always lead us to safety,
Oh, but now more than ever,
It knows what’s best for me.”
“Agua De Rosa” sets the pace for the closing run of the album. Its main feature is an infectious, repeating vocal hook, which builds and builds. “Penny in my Back Pocket” is a great, upbeat track that leads into a reprise, yet longer version of “Jícama”. Cha Cha Palace comes to a close with a haunting, ethereal closer, “The Big Machine”, built, again, upon Garcia’s amazing ability to layer and loop vocals.
Since her debut, Garcia’s sound has changed immensely. It’s fitting since, as she embraced her roots on Cha Cha Palace she also embraced what truly would make her stand out as an artist. Her debut was good, but you knew there was so much more potential for her beyond being a country-folk singer. Embracing her roots, both musically and lyrically have truly helped her break out of that. She’s also not afraid to do something strange, and that’s where she excels, Garcia does everything with confidence and honesty, and that makes Cha Cha Palace incredibly appealing.
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