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Juan Wauters - Introducing Juan Pablo Music Album Reviews

The Uruguayan-American singer-songwriter’s latest is a charmingly loose grab bag, dotted with field recordings and snippets of sampled conversation.

Introducing Juan Pablo is dotted with field recordings, snippets of real in-person or phone conversations between Juan Wauters and his family and acquaintances. It’s the first time the Uruguayan-American singer-songwriter used this technique on an album, which may come as a surprise if you’ve followed his work. Wauters’ style of songwriting already tends to feel just like those recordings: unspectacular moments captured in real time, in detail, featuring people as they are. His previous LP from earlier this year, La Onda de Juan Pablo, took that quality to a new level with songs inspired by and featuring musicians that he met while traveling across Latin America for two years—some written and recorded right there with them. Wauters’ name (Juan Pablo Wauters in full) graces the titles of both of these albums, but ultimately in more of a “the world according to…” kind of way. It’s as if the more he tries to take a self-portrait, the more those around him come into focus.


On Introducing Juan Pablo, Wauters again seeks international inspiration, but less geographically focused this time. Introducing pulls from recording sessions in Toronto, London, Paris, and Wauters’ hometowns of Queens and Montevideo, Uruguay, while alternating between English and Spanish—his standard practice before the all-Spanish La Onda. It also features covers: a brief take on “Bolero” by the early-20th-century French composer Maurice Ravel, an altered version of a standard by Uruguayan singer Jaime Roos, and a gentle spin on Queen’s “Doing Alright” on top of a stray “Bohemian Rhapsody” interpolation elsewhere. If La Onda was a single category of Wauters’ inspirations, Introducing is a grab bag, a much wider, looser look at the songwriter through the lens of what interests him.

This scattered focus ends up sacrificing some of what made La Onda such a compelling project, and the charming sloppiness occasionally bleeds too much into the writing and recording. Introducing strings together sonically sparse songs about being with and without others—and with far fewer backing musicians this time, it feels a little more “without.” “Rubia” still succeeds wonderfully on these terms, a longing love letter to someone with a memorable nose in a far-away country that Wauters drives home with one sweet, sensitively plucked acoustic melody for the outro. “Straighten Up and Lose,” an ode to risk-taking, ends the album in similar fashion with a small, high piano line made massive atop a blanket of drone. Wauters’ gift for these little musical phrases becomes the best part of Introducing. When the song “Letter” re-appears later in the album as a duet with the singer and visual artist Maxine Yolanda, whom Wauters met while traveling through Switzerland, it doesn’t feel superfluous.

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At the center of Introducing is the Jaime Roos cover, “El Hombre de la Calle,” translated into English and stripped down to a rudimentary single-piano arrangement. Roos’ original is exactly the type you’d expect would strike a chord in Wauters: a folk song describing a man who’s both anonymous and everywhere, popping with details as pedestrian as “a veces compra un diario” (“sometimes he buys a newspaper”). But Wauters sings his version in first person instead of third, as if he relates to Roos’ character too much to be a neutral narrator. He swaps in several new lyrics, too, most noticeably the final words of the chorus, which he sings in a suddenly strained, almost despairing tone: “People say I’m hard to read.” He sounds like he can’t for the life of him understand why this is. It’s true, though, in part because his focus is so often pointed outward rather than inward. When he keeps his sights focused that way, figuring him out is half the fun.


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