Latin American music listeners have a clear advantage over North Americans: we grew up knowing, listening, and understanding music from both the United States and the rest of the American continent. So when Chilean singer-songwriter Matías Cena says he’s a “genre thief” for making country music on austral lands, I can’t help but think he doesn’t need to justify himself for doing what he admires and admiring what he does. And above all, the working classes north and south of the Equator share many of the same struggles, hopes, and dreams in their everyday lives.
Those common themes of longing, love, and loss, small town aspirations, and descriptions of natural landscapes are present in Matías’ fifth album Casa Sin Fuego, released without his band Los Fictions. His most personal work to date, it features a solid selection of songs that reaffirm his commitment to his early folk influences. Cena has a special talent to borrow and blend; all the big names (Dylan, Young, Reed, Petty, Adams, Lewis…) are there in spirit, even if you can’t put a finger on them.
The grand opener “Cerro Dragón” sets the desert as the main backdrop for his musical adventures, taking us on an agitated ride through the whole record. His poignant storytelling braids with joyous guitars (“Sovereign,” “Mi Celebración”), nostalgic violins that come and go when needed (“Loretta”), banjos and tambourines bursting into celebration (“Cinematografía Clásica”), intimate anecdotes (“El último gorrión,” “La historia de cómo él perdió el sol”), and even the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll is present on “12 ideas para cantar un blues” and “Leticia Oh! Leticia.” There’s even a Stairway-To-Heaven-like moment at the end after circling back to presumably the same desert where Cerro Dragón resides: don’t miss those majestic 8 minutes of “La Pastora,” an epic example of Matias’ devotion to his craft.
In Matías Cena musical town, all the cowboys, gauchos, llaneros, even the plain ol’ campesinos are welcome to enjoy the late nights stories of Casa Sin Fuego, maybe gathered by a bonfire under the Southern constellations.