Nina Diaz’s debut solo album, “The Beat Is Dead,” is a whirlwind of emotion. It tells of Diaz’s difficult road out of a decade-long addiction to drugs and alcohol, and as such it sometimes evokes pain, hope, or regret. All its tracks feel deeply personal, but they are very different from each other, from the in-your-face self-assuredness of “Trick Candle” to the inward-looking confessions of “January 9th“.
It’s telling, then, that out of the songs from the album Diaz selected “For You” to translate and release as her first Spanish-language single, “Por Tí.” “For You” is a song of heartbreak, its tone one of earnest vulnerability. “For you, I’ll go all the way,” wails Diaz, “I scream your name over and over again.” Its spare, percussive instrumentation leaves the stage open for Diaz to display her smashing vocal talents, which in this song show the influence legendary rocker Joan Jett had on their development (Diaz is the lead vocalist for the all-female punk band Girl in a Coma, which Jett took under her wing).
Not surprisingly, “Por Tí” retains the tone and basic structure of the song. Unhurriedly it moves from slow and quiet to an emotional, maybe even melodramatic, climax, in which Diaz unleashes her needy, hurt, loving self for the world to see. As much as it owes to the classic ballads of American and British rockers such as Jett, it shows with surprising clarity how much they have in common with the songs of heartbreak made famous by Latin American women singers like Rocío Durcal and Ana Gabriel.
The shift in language is not perfect, however. The Spanish version of the lyrics often tries to be as literal as possible, which means that the poetic lyricism of the original is sometimes lost in translation. And, as great as Diaz sounds in Spanish, channeling such Latin rock divas as Gloria Trevi, it’s pretty clear that the Texas-based singer does not feel fully comfortable in the language. Her vowels are unnecessarily elongated, and her r’s, well, they don’t sound like Spanish r’s should sound.
These are minor quibbles, though. When a vocalist of Diaz’s caliber decides to broaden her range and try for something new, the proper attitude should be one of tolerance, and gratitude.