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When Fíjate Bien, Juanes's groundbreaking debut, came out, nobody gave a Colombian rat's ass. Except, that is, for all the critics, who told the law of karma it was time to change history and give this rockero a chance to go toe-to-toe with pop-trash heavyweights. At last year's Latin Grammys, Juanes was the most nominated artist (seven), eventually winning three trophies. But on the same day he was going to have the Big Night (September 11, 2001), the Twin Towers came down, taking the Latin Grammy ceremony with them.

Un Día Normal (A Normal Day) is less surprising but smoother than its predecessor. It's the confirmation of Juanes as a master songwriter, guitarist, and singer who immediately hooks you with simple melodies soaked in subtle touches of genius. If Fíjate Bien was intimate, Un Día Normal is all-out. "A Dios le Pido," the album's first single and an instant classic, opens the disc with a frontal attack of Juanes's alternative Colombian folk. From then on, the album never lets go, whether it's the cumbia reggae, the ballads, or the memorable cover of underrated Colombian salsa legend Joe Arroyo's "La Noche."

Gustavo Santaolalla is back as producer, and nothing has changed -- it's impossible to write about great Latin rock albums without mentioning his name. Santaolalla's ability to make a dead man sing is once again evident: Juanes was already a great singer, but his vocal prowess after two albums with The Man is nothing short of amazing, especially in the more folkloric tracks, sounding like vallenato's best student here, the leader of the new salsa sonero generation there.

There are some surprises on Normal, such as the absence of accordions on what is otherwise a very Colombian-sounding album; somehow, it makes the album sound even more authentic, since everybody's using accordions nowadays. And even though this is supposed to be Juanes's "happy" album, he goes berserk on a former girlfriend in "Mala Gente," telling her "your whole, whole, whole self will burn forever in hell" -- it's a clear first for the ultimate nice guy. There's also that duet with Nelly Furtado ("Fotografia"), a match made in heaven and one of the best songs of the year -- exactly the type of song that's sure to get no awards.

Un Día Normal sets the stage for another normal year for Juanes, one that should consolidate him as the smartest name in Latin pop (OK, "alternative" pop), with or without the nominations he certainly deserves.

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Enrique Lopetegui

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