In order to fully succeed as performers, the singers who blossomed during the heyday of salsa needed to be extremely versatile– able to master the entire spectrum of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and genres. Before he was recruited by Orchestra Harlow and launched his solo career with Fania Records, Ismael Miranda had to demonstrate in New York’s highly competitive music circuit that he was not only a competent performer of sones and guarachas, but also a stunning bolero interpreter.

A prerequisite for all singers who debuted in the mid ’60s was a mastery of the basic Latin American bolero repertoire. They were expected to delight with tasty son montunos, but also to make lovers sway with boleros in the tradition of Gilberto Monroig, Tito Rodríguez, Joe Valle, Beny Moré, Daniel Santos, Vitín Avilés, Chivirico Dávila and Vicentico Valdés. During the ’70s, a number of salsa artists recorded albums made up exclusively of boleros: Cheo Feliciano’s La Voz Sensual, Bobby Cruz’s Canta Para Ti, Héctor Lavoe’s Recordando a Felipe Pirela and Miranda’s own Exitos de los 50.

An ideal collection for Valentine’s Day, this album of Ismael Miranda’s romantic hits was compiled by Víctor Gallo in 2004, and spans various faces of his brilliant career. Even though important cuts from his days with Larry Harlow such as “Ayer Me Enteré” and “Estoy Solo” are missing, the inclusion of “Todo De Mí” is a good touch. When Fania released the Oportunidad LP in 1972, this song launched Ismael as a bolero crooner. In 1973, when he was already fronting the Orquesta Revelación, Ismael recorded the album Así Se Compone Un Son. One of its biggest hits was the bolero version of the classic tango “Las Cuarenta,” which was also a success as performed by Cuban singer Rolando La Serie. Aided by Jorge Millet, Ismael was one of the first salsa vocalists who fused boleros with ballads. A good example is the self-penned “Piensas,” included on the No Voy al Festival album. Ismael was also responsible for memorable renditions of standards such as Noel Estrada’s “En mi Viejo San Juan” and “Ya No Es Lo Mismo” by Concha Valdés Miranda, from the albums Este Es and Sabor and Sentimiento y Pueblo.

And yet, no singer of his generation has interpreted the great boleros of cantinas and unrequited love popularized by Felipe “La Voz” Rodríguez. Before he recorded the two installments in the Exitos de los 50 series, Ismael paid tribute to the repertoire composed by the director of Trío Los Antares, with versions of “La Copa Rota” and “La Cama Vacía,” a song that is also included here. The lyrics tell the story of a dying man who writes a letter to his best friend. When he arrives to visit him, it is already too late. The electric guitar solo by Jorge Santana complements beautifully the singer’s dramatic delivery.

The success of “La Cama Vacía” motivated the recording of other boleros, such as “Mi Niña Bonita” and “La Ultima Copa”, as well as the Spanish adaptations that Tite Curet Alonso wrote based on the Portuguese melodies of Brazilian songwriter Nelson Ned such as “Me Voy Ahora” and “Tú Me Abandonaste.” Although Ismael’s enunciation was not the best at the beginning of his career, he matured with time and perfected a unique style that eventually established him as a highly sentimental bolerista. His discography includes a number of other boleros, such as “Sálvame,” “Confidencia,” “Ayer Me Enteré” and “Nervios De Acero.” Romántico rounds things up with the son montuno “No Me Llores” from the Orchestra Harlow album Tributo a Arsenio. Here is a panoramic view of Ismael Miranda’s foray into bolero– the one genre where a tender kiss between a man and a woman finds its most passionate expression.

Written by Jaime Torres Torres