Helen Brown (The Telegraph) reviews Xenia Rubinos, the Berklee College of Music-trained singer who was raised listening to the salsa, rumba and merengue that her Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father played at home as she was growing up. Brown writes:
With her smoky, soulful croon drifting dreamily through a complex warren of New York’s backstreet beats, Xenia Rubinos’s second album is a fiery combination of jazz, hip hop, R&B and punk influences. Think Beyoncé’s Lemonade spliced with works of jazz adventurer Esperanza Spalding and a little of Erykah Badu’s neo-soul. It’s the record I’ve been taking to barbecues this summer: accessible enough to keep everybody bobbing along, intriguing enough to ensure the music fans all come and ask who she is. By now, I’ve written her name down for people so many times I’m beginning to feel like her British agent.
Now 30 and living in Brooklyn, Rubinos was raised in Hartford, Connecticut. Her Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father filled the house with salsa, rumba and merengue, and she says those rhythms still “shake through the cheese grater of my mind”. As a child, she loved Mariah Carey and Missy Elliott, then fell for Prokofiev, Ravel and Miles Davis as a teenager. At Berklee College of Music, she fused it all together.
Distinguished by a keyboard sound that had the confrontational grind of an electric guitar, exuberant basslines and lyrics delivered in both English and Spanish, her 2013 debut, Magic Trix, saw her flexing her experimental muscles, syncopating wildly and singing of a man who tied her heart “in knots/just like a Polish sausage”. Hailed as “a lightning bolt” by online music magazine Pitchfork, it was a thrilling, if uneven, start. But she has really found her feet now.
Black Terry Cat makes confident use of R&B grooves as a base from which to explore more exotic sounds. So opener Don’t Wanna Be builds from a tensely tapped hi-hat into an organ and saxophone-drizzled slice of soul over which Rubinos raps that she’s “on planes to make your head space bigger”.
She gets political against the fiercely serrated beat of Mexican Chef, which was inspired by a walk she took around the Big Apple, noting the hipster waiters playing indie music in the front of restaurants while the Latin sound of bachata came from kitchen doors. You can feel her righteous rage mounting in the pavement-pounding delivery as she spits out: “French bistro? Dominican chef/ Italian restaurant? Boricua chef/ Chinese takeaway? Mexican chef… Brown cleans your house/ Brown takes the trash/ Brown even wipes your grandaddy’s ass.” [. . .]