For the last three weeks I’ve been consumed with writing show reports from the 2019 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, so Alex Cuba and his stunning new album Sublime seems like the perfect segue back into music reviews. This Cuban-born singer, who is now based in British Columbia, has been making albums for quite a while now–Sublime is his seventh. I first listened to this album before I headed out to Denver, and my first impression was that Sublime would make an ideal demo disc for high-end audio shows. The sound quality is fantastic, and the music, mostly sung in Spanish, is accessible even for the frumpiest show attendees. The pop quotient is high, but so is the quality of the songwriting.
Alex Cuba is known for enlisting the help of famous musicians on his albums such as Nelly Furtado and Ron Sexsmith, but all of the instruments on Sublime are performed by him. In addition to his usual vocals and guitars, Cuba also supplies the sparse instrumentation, mostly percussion, and much of that is delivered by the body of his guitar. He gets plenty of help from other Cuban vocalists such as Leonel Garcia, Omara Portuondo (who you might know from Buena Vista Social Club), Alex Ferreira, Pablo Milanes and more. The result is a sound that is primarily intimate, with arrangements that are simple and heartfelt, but at times the individual songs are fulsome and complex.
Sublime has a retro feel to it, and there’s something about Alex Cuba that reminds me of introspective ’70s songwriters such as James Taylor, Harry Chapin and Jim Croce–if they sung in Spanish, that is. His voice is clear and full of emotion, beautiful by mainstream standards but somehow revealing of just a tad more depth. “Acoustic music just goes with my soul,” he explains in the liner notes. “I’m not against synths and electronics, but I’m not interested in just making a big noise and getting people to dance.”
Alex Cuba, in a way, is an antidote to all that demo music being played at RMAF. It’s clean and fresh, in the best possible way. Much of this is what I’d describe as “happy music,” despite the breadth of the emotions in the lyrics. When I first mentioned Sublime on social media, I was surprised by how many people–including audiophiles–have already discovered his charms. The appeal here is universal, so much so that Cuba might qualify as a genuine crossover star, one with a lot of heart. Listening to Sublime, I know what I have to do now–and it involves Qobuz and six other albums. Highly recommended.