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The Motorcycle Diaries

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla
label: Universal Classics/Edge Music
Our score: 4.5 out of 5.0

Latin Music's Genius Nails it Cold

by: matt cibula

Of all the amazingly talented people in the world of rock en español, there is only one who can be said to be a stone-cold genius. That man's name is Gustavo Santaolalla, and he has produced about seventy of the best albums you have never heard. Café Tacuba! Bersuit Vergabarat! Julieta Venegas! I'd keep on listing them, but you kind of need to look him up and find it out for yourself, and then get everything he's ever produced. The space and texture he gives his recordings are pretty rare, but the energy and the drive of his work is even more important. O what a lovely man.

So I kind of flipped when I found out he was doing the soundtrack for The Motorcycle Diaries. He hasn't put out many records himself, certainly not in the last ten years-he was pretty well-known in that scene with his band before he became über-producer, I'm told-so the chance to hear what he can do on his own is enough for me.

But I'm also really interested in the film. Gael Garcia as the young Che Guevara, back when he was an idly privileged Argentine med student named Ernesto de la Serna, zipping from Patagonia up to Venezuela on a motorbike with his best friend? Kind of fascinating, to say the least, especially with Gustavo S. doing the soundtrack.

Dude didn't let me down. A lot of these tracks are touched by gentle ambient drones, kind of like Mark Knopfler's soundtrack work for things like Cal, but touched with Latin grooves you could drive a 1939 Norton 500 through. "Sendero" just slides on tension and momentum and hooks; "Zambita" sounds like alt-country, overdriven guitar with electronics and vibes hovering on the periphery; "Cabalgando" is flamenco crossed with Celtic folk, except played in rocked-up style that keeps getting hotter. I can't wait to see how this works with the movie.

You've also got your wildcard tracks. "La Salida de Lima," as you might imagine, aims to capture the crazy nightlife of Peru's big city with huge power chords and echoing drums. "Partida del Leprosario," on the other hand, is neurotically charged and terrifying and sad, as you might imagine for the music that scores a scene set in a leprosy clinic. Ooh, that tune gives me chills.

There are only a few vocal tracks here, older songs mostly, and they go down smoothly…until the very end. The last track, written and performed by Jorge Drexler, does not fit here AT ALL. I say that knowing full well that I'm being harsh, especially considering it was recorded in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, in the fabled Smart Studios, and with Ben and Leo Sidran on the track. But the Sidrans bring their usual 1970s unadventurous smooth-jazz sheen, Drexler's beautiful voice is in service of a sappy-ass song, and it's all just wrong, really. So that's why I knocked off half a star.

Other than that, if you're into soundtracks or great cool understated Latin music, this needs you as much as you need it.

Disc Details

Tracklist:
  • 1. Apertura
  • 2. Lago Frias
  • 3. Chichina
  • 4. Chipi Chipi (Maria Esther Zamora, "Polito" Gonzalez, Jorge Lobos, Cuti Aste, Roberto Lindl)
  • 5. Montana
  • 6. Sendero
  • 7. Procesion
  • 8. Jardin
  • 9. La Partida
  • 10. La Muerte De La Poderosa
  • 11. Lima
  • 12. La Salida De Lima
  • 13. Zambita
  • 14. Que Rico El Mambo (Damasco Perez Prado)
  • 15. Circulo En El Rio
  • 16. Amazonas
  • 17. Cabalgando
  • 18. Leyendo En El Hospital
  • 19. El Cruce
  • 20. Partida Del Leprosario
  • 21. De Usuahia A La Quiaca
  • 22. Revolucion Caliente
  • 23. Al Otro Lado Del Rio (Jorge Drexler)

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