Luscious Latin

Face it: There have been so many waves of the Latin

music explosion that one would need a surfboard to

ride them all. And we're not even talking about

anything prior to the 1990s. (Those of you waiting for

Ruben Blades to live those crossover dreams: Chill.)

That said, if any one deserves to cash in on White

America's musical fascination with Latin culture, than

my nominee is Jon Secada. Por qué? Well, first

of all, my man has paid some dues. He's been around

for a minute, and in 1992 had the deliciously catchy

smash "Just Another Day," which wasn't Latin or even

Latin-flavored, but was just one of those perfect

singles.

Moreover, having earned his fame — via years

logged as Gloria Estefan's backup singer and co-author

of several of her hits, such as 1991's "Coming Out of

the Dark," as well as Ricky Martin's recent smash

"She's All I Ever Had" — Secada can sing. His

voice has a little ache in it that always does wonders

when selling a love song. That ache, coupled with a

low-key but still sexy vibe — not to mention the

best songs he's had in years— helps makes

Better Part of Me a major comeback (his last

few albums haven't done much damage sales-wise,

especially in the U.S.), a fittingly solid mainstream

pop record that should bring Secada back to the home

charts again.

Primarily written by Secada, and mostly produced by

Emilio (husband of Gloria) Estefan, Better Part of

Me displays the best parts of Secada: full out

dramatics, passionate lyrics, lush melodies, a nod to

his Cuban roots (check the salsified grooves of "Papi"

[

href="http://media.addict.com/music/Secada,_Jon/Papi.ram">RealAudio

excerpt] and an ability to flip it a little to

the R&B side just when the schmaltz meter starts to

rise. The overall sound is smooth yet not so smooth as

to be corny There's a bit of bite and growl in

Secada's lush delivery, and his always-evident R&B

roots are firmly on display this time. That soul thang

is abundant on "You Should Be Mine" (

href="http://media.addict.com/music/Secada,_Jon/You_Should_Be_Mine.ram>RealAudio

excerpt), a track that has those jittery, stop

'n' start beats that currently rule urban radio.

Of course, mid-tempo songs are Secada's forte, suiting

the over-the-top elements in his delivery; dramatic

emotions that fuel many Latin artists, even when they

sing in English. "There's No Sunshine, for example,

has the polished passion of most mainstream

adult-contemporary pop. Even more impressive is the

single, "Stop" (

href="http://media.addict.com/music/Secada,_Jon/Stop.ram">RealAudio

excerpt), which, with its heavily layered

percussion and lovesick lyrics ("I know what you're

thinking ... I want to take you to another place in

time") is a perfect showcase. The song is this

close to overwrought, yet there's still a basic

humility that keeps it from sounding like just ego.

That ability to straddle the gulf between bombast and

artistry makes Better Part of Me pleasurable

— in any language.