You have to wonder what made this vocalist call herself Martirio, one of the darkest names around. A martyr she is not, and not particularly dark either, for that matter (except for her hair and trademark shades, if you want to count that). Originally known as Maribel Quiñones de Leon Gutierrez, the fiery Spanish singer derives her energy from the flamenco tradition and frequently the bulerias, a loosely-defined 12-pulse form rich in emotion.
The paradox of flamenco has always set the music apart. It combines extraordinary technical proficiency with a nearly out-of-control wildness. The contrast between sharp precision and far-flung energy makes it exciting to hearand watch, should you be so lucky as to witness flamenco dance. For Flor de Piel, her second US release, Martirio combines the best elements of the genre (most dramatically the wide-ranging guitar work of her collaborator, arranger, and co-producer, Raúl Rodriguez) with elements of Portuguese fado, Argentinian tango, and all sorts of other Latin American idioms. She retains the warm folk feeling of this music at all times, never falling into the trap of replicating all the details.
Martirio's voice is full-bodied, rich, and warm, spanning a wide tonal and timbral range through this collection of pieces from a range of composers. When she goes for the target, as she does on the (mostly) wispy "Uno," she rarely misses; but when she lets loose, as on the heavily flamencoed "Volver," the fire runs hot. The most exciting moments occur when she mixes things up, as she does on "En esta tarde gris," where near-operatic precision gives way to pure flame. She opens the valves for the rough-edged flamenco peak.
The singer's supporting cast is relatively simple: guitar (whether singular or plural), piano (tastefully delivered by Chano Dominguez), bass, and cello. That is, of course, in addition to rather inspired tapping percussion. The role of these relatively quiet players falls right in with Martirio's, namely a fearlessly warm and colorful delivery.
For those familiar with Compay Segundo, Martirio's solo music is not all that far away. Flor de Piel offers compelling evidence that earthy music for earthy people need not lack in elegance or sophistication. Such is the way of flamenco.