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A Juana Molina liberated by electronica

Special to The Times

Is Juana Molina the bravest woman in Latin music?

The Argentine songstress could exploit her physical beauty if she wished, but instead she projects an image of ethereal austerity. She could draw from her gifts as a former television comedian, but her material emphasizes gravity and contemplation over humor. She could hide her obvious shyness beneath a full-fledged band but prefers to go solo.

Until recently, in fact, Molina performed accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Alejandro Franov. But he lost his passport days before an international tour, and Molina was forced to reconfigure her entire show. Well done, Franov. Molina’s one-woman performance Thursday at the Troubadour was far more riveting than anything she has ever done.

Like many artists before her, Molina has been liberated by electronica.

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On Thursday she anchored her delicate guitar and sleepy vocals on atmospheric keyboard loops that evoked the work of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno (King Crimson was a teenage favorite of Molina’s).

Watching her at work with a battery of electronic equipment was like witnessing the act of an expert illusionist. She was particularly dexterous combining instantly manufactured loops with the live element of her performance, adding to the mix dissonant keyboard solos and bizarre vocal effects.

During “Misterio Uruguayo” (a track from “Segundo,” the second of her three albums), she triggered an impromptu loop of her own vocals, then delivered the song’s wry lyrics harmonizing with herself. Compared with Molina’s hesitant shows at McCabe’s a few years ago, the moment was overwhelmingly rich and sensuous.

Other than the occasional reference to the vicissitudes of life in Argentina, Molina’s ambient-folk is truly international, which explains why she enjoys a cult following among the KCRW (89.9 FM) crowd. She is closer to Bjork and Beth Orton than to Paulina Rubio or Shakira -- a clear sign that contemporary Latin music is becoming increasingly eclectic and sophisticated.

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