Y La Bamba previews haunting, rustic album with lilting harmonies on 'Juniper'

Singer and songwriter Luzelena Mendoza oversees a yin-yang sort of thing in her band, Y La Bamba.

The Portland, Ore., band leader draws inspiration both from her strict Catholic upbringing as the only daughter of Mexican immigrants, and from the harrowing illness that drained her religious faith away. It’s a powerful concoction on “Lupon,” Y La Bamba’s debut (produced by Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk), which is due this fall on Tender Loving Empire.

The band sprung up around Mendoza upon her return home from India, where a bout of amoebic dysentery resulted in her losing 60 pounds and her faith, and caused her to fear for her sanity. Safely back in Portland, she worked to regain her health, writing and recording songs at home and performing at open mics. Through a combination of coincidence and connections, she met the other musicians who would join her in Y La Bamba.

Her songs draw on the traditional Mexican music she heard growing up, with haunting vocals over rustic acoustic arrangements that vary from lilting to wistful to moody. “Juniper” tends more toward the former, with big, bold vocal harmonies, distant low bass and an insistent drum track. It’s a gorgeous preview of a striking first album.

Juniper mp3

Photo by Alicia J. Rose

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