Mark Anthony Master of Crossover Relives 70s Ballads


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Growing up in the Washington housing project in East Harlem in the 1970s, the singer Marc Anthony came to realize early on that every family's identity was based on the music they were blaring out their windows toward the courtyard below.

As he moved about, he recalled this week, he would hear Marvin Gaye coming from one apartment, Ray Barretto from another, the Bee Gees from a third.

Marc Anthony at a benefit on Tuesday to raise money for the Maribel Foundation, which was started by his wife, Jennifer Lopez. At the age of 41, with a dozen CDs to his name, Mr. Anthony remains a child of all those influences, refusing to limit himself to just one. He bounces between records in Spanish and English, and in concert hopscotches from salsa and freestyle hip-hop to mainstream pop and, in a benefit show Tuesday night, rock songs like the Eagles Hotel California. Now hes complicated the mix even further with Iconos, a newly released album of Spanish-language romantic ballads popular when he was a boy.

I'm not a salsa singer who wants to sing in English, and Im not this American kid who wants to sing Spanish, he said during an interview at the estate here on Long Island where he lives with his wife of six years, the actress and singer Jennifer Lopez, and their 2-year-old twins, Max and Emme. My thing is music, period.

The new record, a break from his crossover offerings, released in late May and already in its second week at No. 1 on the Billboard Latin music chart, is a logical choice. Mr. Anthony was born Marco Antonio Muiz, which happens also to be the name of a popular Mexican singer who his Puerto Rico-born father, a musician and hospital worker, and mother admired along with other balladeers like Juan Gabriel, Jose Jose and Roberto Carlos, all of whom are represented on the record.

These are the songs we all remember from our infancy onward because our parents listened to them constantly: passionate, emotional songs that we may not have fully understood back then, said the producer, songwriter and arranger Julio Reyes, who worked on the record with Mr. Anthony. The challenge is to pay these songs respectful homage while inviting a younger audience to get to know them and feel the same about them as we do.

But cover albums (Iconos contains two new tracks that Mr. Anthony and Mr. Reyes helped write in a melodramatic style similar to the other songs) are often regarded as holding actions, and so it may be here. After a detour to play the title role in the movie El Cantante, a 2007 biopic about the life and death of the salsa singer Hector Lavoe, and time to settle into his marriage with Ms. Lopez, his second and her third, Mr. Anthony seems to be at a crossroads.

He can do whatever he wants movies, records, live shows, television because people like him, so hes privileged in that sense, said Leon Ichaso, the director of El Cantante and Crossover Dreams. But audiences come and go sometimes, so he has to find his footing once again. It is always a risk to go this slow for somebody who is a live wire like Marc, and it seems like he has been marking time.

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