, in 1986, and has followed that with several others, gathering prizes and accolades along the way. On his new release, Versatae, he puts his own spin on some familiar songs, mostly from the pop and rock realms, some that you might not guess would translate so well to this style. Apart from a couple of tracks toward the end of the disc, this album contains solo guitar pieces.
Rafael Riqueni opens the album with Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven,” an interesting choice to cover, for of course it’s a very personal song. But as is the case with most of Eric Clapton’s material it features some good guitar work, and so provides an opportunity for Rafael Requeni to shine. And it’s a pretty song, even if perhaps a bit heavy for an album opener. Rafael Riqueni delivers a moving and respectful rendition. He follows that with a cover of Santana’s “Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile),” here simply titled “Europa,” though it is that parenthetical title that is part of what makes this is a perfect number to follow “Tears In Heaven.” This is one of Santana’s most famous compositions (it was co-written by Tom Coster), and is an instrumental, making it an ideal selection for Rafael Riqueni. I love his approach to this piece. It is beautiful and stirring, and it fades out all too soon.
Ennio Morricone composed some absolutely fantastic music over his career, including for such films as The Battle Of Algiers, Teorema, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Once Upon A Time In America and Bugsy, among many others. On this album, Rafael Riqueni chooses to cover the main theme to Cinema Paradiso, giving us a touching and sweet rendition. That’s followed by a delightful rendition of “Just The Two Of Us,” the guitar so eloquently expressing the joy of the piece. He delivers some phenomenal work here, and this track is one of the highlights for me. “What A Wonderful World” is a song I have loved since I first heard it in my early teens. It never fails to move me. Rafael Riqueni here proves the song has that power even without its lyrics, though at times it’s difficult to keep certain lines from running through my head while I listen.
One of the album’s most surprising choices is “Dream On,” a song from Aerosmith’s first album. I listened to this band a lot during my childhood, especially the Toys In The Attic album. I saw them put on a great and fun concert in 1986, a free show at the Worcester Centrum. But the next year at that same venue, they had suddenly become incredibly polished, and that concert wasn’t nearly as enjoyable (they even shot a music video at the show). I definitely preferred the raw energy of the previous year’s show. After that (I was fifteen at that point), I kind of lost interest in them. It is a treat now to revisit one of the band’s most popular songs in this instrumental setting. Rafael Riqueni does an excellent job with it, giving me a fresh appreciation of the song. Follow Aerosmith with Henry Mancini? Sure, why not? Rafael Riqueni delivers a beautiful and thoughtful rendition of “Moon River.” He then goes back to classic rock with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” This is the first track I heard from this album, and is what got me excited about it. Led Zeppelin is another band I listened to a lot during my childhood and then moved away from, preferring to listen to the artists they had ripped off (such as Willie Dixon). But this gorgeous rendition is giving me a renewed appreciation for the band’s music. It’s not the full song, but it is enough.
Dolly Parton has written some excellent songs, including “I Will Always Love You,” a song that has become more associated with Whitney Houston (though Parton’s original is better in my opinion; you can hear it on her Jolene album), and one that Rafael Riqueni chooses to cover here. I wasn’t sure how this one would work without the vocals, but his guitar expresses the emotion so well. That’s followed by a cover of “Every Breath You Take.” This song was everywhere in 1983. It’s a beautiful song about stalking and possessiveness that many people thought was sweet and romantic at the time. Go figure. The entire record Synchronicity was great, arguably the best record of 1983. Anyway, Rafael Riqueni’s rendition is fairly faithful. Rafael Riqueni then moves in another direction, veering away from popular songs of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, and dipping into the 1920s with “Amapola,” a piece composed by Joseph M. LaCalle. It became more popular in the 1930s and early 1940s, and has been recorded by many artists over the years. Rafael Riqueni’s version has something of a magical sense to it, feeling like a wonderful fairy tale. He then delivers an excellent original number, “Cogiendo Rosas,” a piece that has its own magic. His playing here will transport you. And that’s how the main section of the album concludes. The remaining three tracks are bonuses, apparently not available on the vinyl version.
In August of 2022, a Ben E. King album titled Supernatural Soul was released. On this disc, classic Ben E. King material was re-cut, with additional performances added in. Rafael Riqueni plays guitar on “Spanish Harlem,” and that track is also included on this disc. It is the only track to feature vocals. That’s followed by a pretty, though short, version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” The disc concludes with that recording of “Spanish Harlem,” but this time with the vocals cut out.
CD Track List
- Tears In Heaven
- Cinema Paradiso Main Theme
- Just The Two Of Us
- What A Wonderful World
- Dream On
- Moon River
- Stairway To Heaven
- I Will Always Love You
- Every Breath You Take
- Cogiendo Rosas
- Spanish Harlem
- Spanish Harlem (Instrumental Version)
Versatae was released on CD on February 16, 2024. A vinyl edition is scheduled to be released on March 29th, and it is a nice pale green vinyl.