Back in 1994 when this was released, I was just stumbling into learning about Brazilian music and came to this album via its New York pedigree – my hero Arto Lindsay produced the record, she covers the Velvet Underground, Laurie Anderson has a guest spot, Philip Glass does an arrangement and so forth – but it’s Marisa Monte’s talents that held me to the record, not any of her pals. I was won over by Monte's gorgeous, lilting voice, by the sheer beauty of the tunes, and by the variety on display.
Turns out that not only was this record a precursor for the group Tribalistas she later formed with two of her cohorts here – Carlinhos Brown and Arnaldo Antunes – but it also has proven over the nearly 20 years since its release to stand strong not just as her finest hour (well, 50 minutes anyway) but as also one of the finest records out of the MPB movement that she’s a part of. MPB is short for Música Popular Brasileira, an all-embracing style of Brazilian pop music that arose in the post-Bossa Nova era and showed love for all styles of Brazilian music. Monte here takes on Bossa Nova, a funky Jorge Ben classic (“Balança pema”), an introspective Velvets classic (“Pale Blue Eyes”), some moody saudade from Paulinho da Viola (“Dança da solidão”), and a 1950’s samba, never stepping wrong at any point. But even more than showing her effortless grasp of Brazil’s musical breadth and history, it’s a showcase for the new tunes (mostly written by her and her Tribalistas pals) which are of a piece with the time-tested ones she covers and which show her and her associates’ mastery of pop music.
Kicking off with Carlinhos Brown’s “Maria de Verdade” the album sets itself quickly into a lovely summery groove before taking you on a tour of Brazil’s many styles and moods of music. And in fact, even above Lou Reed and Jorge Ben and Paulinho da Viola, Brown takes tops honors on the record, though not with the uplifting groove of the lead cut; it’s his spectacularly lovely tune “Segue O Seco” that’s the killer of the entire album. It’s a mid-tempo groover with a wistful tone, bordering on melancholy without surrendering its hope fully to that feeling – it’s simply too gorgeous to step down to that. After the strong opening songs, the record starts to jump around stylistically before settling on a more uptempo ending kicked off by Jorge Ben’s cut, then leading into the mellower Laurie Anderson guest spot and then closing out with the celebratory samba “Esta Melodia” – well, it’s celebratory until you tune into the lyrics, which are loaded with heartbreak but set over such an irresistible melodic line and surging rhythm that you can’t help getting swept up in the fun of it.
Bouncing from style to style, mood to mood, Marisa Monte’s talent is nowhere in her catalog more evident than here, on her best album. And in spite of the cream of Brazil’s modern MPB movement at her side, in spite of the great songwriters she honors (and works with), in spite of the guests she’s pulled in to help out (and did I also mention Gilberto Gil and Bernie Worrell’s spots on the album?), it’s her authority as singer, bandleader, and musician that holds the whole thing together. It’s a brilliant record, and despite everyone else I talk about here, it’s Marisa’s album - her masterpiece, in fact.
- Patrick Brown