When musicians become professionals, sometimes passion becomes dial-up perfection: technically adept, but missing something that stirs the soul. That’s why listening to Polo Montañez is so satisfying. A Cuban lumberjack who always dreamed of singing professionally, he got his break at 47—when most popular musicians are in retrospect— with a recording contract in 1999. His debut first broke in Colombia, before becoming an unlikely hometown hero in Cuba. Unfortunately, his storybook rise had a tragic ending with his death as a result of a car crash shortly after recording Guitarra Mia. Here Montañez takes listeners to the Cuban countryside with an acoustic backup band and no horn section. Even without brass, faster tunes swing tough and his rough-hewn voice wrings the heartfelt pain out of his achingly beautiful ballads. Was he the best singer in the world? Hardly, but he sounds fiercely determined to make every moment count. Listeners will be grateful he made it there, even if but for a moment.