Gina Chavez's voice stops you in your tracks the first time you hear it. At least that's how it worked for me when I came upon her performance during South by Southwest a few years ago. She was playing a semi-acoustic set on a sunlit patio above a busy sports bar — a setting not exactly conducive to her intimate songwriting.
But once she started singing, we hardly noticed the noise nearby. Chavez's voice reflects the one-of-a-kind meshing of cultures and influences that Austin represents: Whether she sings in English or Spanish, Chavez captures a healthy dose of American soul, country and rock music, and she could hold her own with any Mexican ranchera singer, past or present.
It's all put to great use on her first full-length album, Up.Rooted. Her first EP was a mostly acoustic affair, but this time she's produced by the prolific Michael Ramos (of Charanga Cakewalk), and he brings along extra instruments to give Chavez's songwriting a full-bodied treatment of cumbias, boleros and other Afro-Latino rhythms. The result is a great addition to the canon of musicians — of any stripe, in any style — who blend diverse influences to create a sound uniquely their own.