When VH1 aired its big "Divas Live" special in April, some folks wondered how Gloria Estefan sneaked into the line-up. After all, when it comes to making a bravura display of vocal virtuosity, Estefan is not on the same level as fellow VH1 divas Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion, or Mariah Carey.
But if Estefan isn't quite a diva in the pop or operatic sense, she surely qualifies as a disco diva. She made her name belting out dance tunes with the Miami Sound Machine, and still owes a sizable portion of her audience to such oldies as "Conga" and "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You."
Those are the fans for whom "Gloria!" (Epic 69200, arriving in stores today) is intended. A throwback to the tuneful, beat-driven fare that made Estefan a cross-over success in the first place, the album offers little that her fans haven't already heard before -- and makes that familiarity seem downright welcoming.
"Real Woman," for instance, is a retro-disco delight, the sort of thing that would easily have made the playlist during Studio 54's heyday. It isn't just the way the pulsing synths recall Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" -- between the plinking glockenspiel, the soul-sister backing vocals, and the cheesy string sweetening, it reiterates the cliches of at least a dozen dance-floor classics. It's so utterly shameless in its emulation, it's hard not to love the song.
In fact there are mirror-ball moments sprinkled throughout, including "Feelin'," "Don't Let This Moment End" (15 years ago, Summer would have killed for a single as strong as this), and the brassy "Touched By An Angel."
Granted, the tracks aren't total flashbacks -- "Feelin' " augments its disco-era pop sense with a groove grounded in the sample-and-scratch sound of the '90s -- but they make the album's frame of reference abundantly clear.
"Gloria!" isn't just a disco album. It's a Latin disco effort, and some of its most infectious tracks owe their power to the way she plays off the pounding Afro-Cuban percussion. "Cuba Libre" plays that for emotional impact, as Estefan evokes the land of her birth, while "I Just Wanna Be Happy" exploits it for straight-up pop appeal, tying its sing-song melody to the tune's throbbing pulse.
"Oye," though, is where Latin meets disco most effectively. Basically a sort of techno-salsa fusion, it combines the thumping regularity of electronics with the soulful release of Afro-Cuban rhythm, a combination so potent it makes dancing an almost involuntary response. Should Estefan ever release a whole album of tracks like that, watch out -- the rhythm really will get you.
To hear excerpts from Gloria Estefan's new release, "Gloria!," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6118. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.
Pub Date: 6/02/98