Stepping onto the world music stage with her first solo album, Cuban-American songstress Venissa Santi not only serves up 10 wide-ranging tracks as fresh and invigorating as spring rain, but accomplishes it almost single-handedly. Not that she isn’t provided superior accompaniment, particularly by Rodriquez brothers Michael (trumpet) and Robert (piano), bassist Yunior Terry and drummer/percussionist Francois Zayas. But Santi produced the disc, shaped all the arrangements and wrote two of songs.
Divided almost evenly between Spanish and English, Santi’s selections range from boldly modern interpretations of such Cuban classics as “Como Fue” (reinvented as a fiery blues with inspired assistance from two special guests, guitarist/bassist Jeff Lee Johnson and organist Barry Soames) and the warmly beguiling “Lucerito de mi Amor” (written by her grandfather) to a satin-lined reading of the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You,” adorned with an ingenious vocalese bridge, and a delightfully imaginative pairing of the Peter Pan lullaby “Tender Shepherd” with Rodgers and Hart’s “Little Girl Blue.”
Impressively, Santi’s own compositions, both written in English, shine just as brightly. Her “Talkin’ to You” involves a feisty lass bidding a firm, if somewhat reluctant, adieu to a vainly recalcitrant lover, while, in the spirit of Leon Russell’s “Superstar” and so many like-minded pop anthems, “Wish You Well” simply but expertly tells the tale of a girl left on the sidelines by an overly ambitious rock star wannabe.