San Antonio Express-News
Ranchera star Alejandro Fernandez says his new album, “Corazon Abierto,” is a return to pop music but with a less-is-more approach.
“My previous albums were almost too classic sounding,” Fernandez said in his native Spanish during a promotional stop in San Antonio. “This time we didn’t want to make such a grand production. We wanted something more intimate, with a little less instrumentation and with fewer musicians.”
Released last week, “Corazon Abierto” is Fernandez’s third pop outing in 12 albums over as many years.
The 12-track set is a softer, almost acoustic take on pop ballads, where the focus is more on Fernandez’s vocals and the lyrical message, rather than the music. Gone are the dense orchestrations and elaborate string arrangements of previous pop albums such as “Entre Tus Brazos.”
Fernandez said the musical shift presented its own challenges.
“It is a risk for us because we’re changing my sound that people are familiar with, adding a lot more percussions,” he said. “We are taking the chance that possibly we may be surprising some people.
“But we feel confident of the material that we were able to put together. We keep in mind that with each album, you always run a risk, especially when you make a change in genres.”
Fernandez’s strength has always been torchy Mexican rancheras, blues-drenched ballads similar to traditional country music. The No. 1 ranchera singer is still Fernandez’s father, Vicente, a legend whose long-running career and powerful vocals make him the Frank Sinatra of the genre.
The younger Fernandez’s forays into pop music are practical attempts to reach younger audiences, who consider rancheras quaint folk music.
For his latest album, Fernandez eschewed in-demand studio wizard Emilio Estefan, who produced his previous works, and teamed up with noted Colombian songwriter and producer Kike Santander. He also tapped songwriters Leonel Garcia of Sin Bandera, Gianmarco and Reyli Barba.
“To me, the primordial challenge was in the selection of the producers,” he said. “We met countless times again and again, selecting the sound I wanted, and then working hard on whittling down the songs I felt we could work with.
“I had no preconceived notion of how I wanted this. The process was worked out in parts, step by step. At the beginning we heard about 300 songs and then, from there, we brought it down to 50, which was very difficult. And then I spent night and day working on the songs, listening and then selecting the final songs that would get on the album.”
While hardcore followers will enjoy each morsel here, newcomers will find the tunes a little repetitive. Most are slow-starting, low-burning, laid-back laments with the usual themes: she’s gone, I’m lost, life is over. And while Fernandez is a great singer when he belts out raw emotion, he rarely cuts loose here, choosing to keep his vocal power idling.
Standouts include the first single, “Me Dedique a Perderte.” Easygoing and instantly hummable, the song connects with its haunting lyrics of recognizing too late one’s many missteps.
The catchy “Lo Que Pudo Ser,” written by Barba, is a winner with its harder percussion and smooth blend of acoustic guitar and subtle violins. The message of exploring what could have been is also a change of pace.
The last track is another keeper. Written by Santander, Omar Sanchez and Bernardo Ossa, “Muy Lejos de Ti” glides along with a melody that is subtly anthemic. The lyrics are about a tough macho who, many women and many kisses later, admits that he really didn’t know how good he had it.
“It is always difficult for a man to admit when he’s made a mistake,” Fernandez said. “I love that song because the man says he had to leave the relationship because he didn’t want to hurt her. But over time he comes to realize that she was the greatest love he ever had. She was the woman that he would die for. The lyrics are beautiful.”
Fernandez said the abundance of similarly themed songs was intentional.
“Yes, these songs to me are all sad. They are about crying, and that’s why they are memorable,” he said.
“I consider the album a very honest work, very direct and very frank. After a friend of mine heard these songs, he said, ‘The songs sounded like, if you were revealing yourself, as if you were singing from the heart.’ And I am. This is like taking an X-ray of my heart or of my soul.
“And that is where we got the idea of the CD title, ‘Corazon Abierto’ (‘Open Heart’).”
Fernandez recently signed a promotional sponsorship with McDonald’s, which will be sponsoring his fall tour. So far only El Paso, Hidalgo, Houston, Laredo and Dallas are listed for November dates on the tour, with no word yet on the possibility of a San Antonio show.