Essential New Music: María Elena Silva’s “Dulce”

All is not sweet inside of Dulce. María Elena Silva is a singer and guitarist with a past in the flatlands and a current mailing address in Chicago. She is a poet of turbulence. Her songs delineate bubbles created by substances, desires and diffuse circumstances, which are inhabited by people who struggle to stay upright as their isolated worlds slosh and shake.

Silva’s songs shift between expositional English and questioning Spanish. In either tongue, they can be pithy and spare, sometimes lasting a little more than a minute, with arrangements that comprise nothing more than a lattice of widely spaced guitar notes and the subliminal percussion of Scott Dean Taylor, a drummer who seems to be loath to spell out a beat when an accent will do. 

But Silva’s songs can also be dense, winding and suddenly loud, amplified by an astute circle of accompanists. Carey Frank’s Hammond organ adds subtly bluesy hues to several songs, and guitarist Marc Ribot is all over the album, adding a myriad of roughly splashed, more garish colors. Stephen Hodges, who played with Ribot on Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, is among the percussionists who contribute harder-rocking kicks when the music requires them. Their presence helps each of Silva’s songs to be just what it needs to be. [Astral Spirits/Big Ego]

—Bill Meyer