Daniela Mercury

Feijão com Arroz

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By the time this appeared, Mercury was already the undoubted "Queen of Axé," the music of her native Salvador in Brazil, but this, possibly her finest studio outing, put the title beyond doubt. Starting off by mixing her trademark sound with a mid-tempo reggae beat on "Nobre Vagabundo," she kicks into high gear for the out-and-out salsa of "Rapunzel," just to show the range of her style. From there it's classy Brazilian popular music (MPB) all the way, with one of the highlights being the slower, ballad-like "A Primiera Vista," her biggest Brazilian hit, and the theme music from a popular soap opera. Throughout, Mercury keeps a light, ineffably Brazilian touch on the proceedings, the musicians nimble-fingered -- especially a superb horn section, whose charts really do add to the punch and melody -- without ever going over the top. Even the funky "Musa Calabar," with its choppy rhythm guitar workout, never descends to banality. Mercury wraps her voice sensually around every word on the album, teasing and tasting it before torridly letting it out, a far cry from the cool sexiness of Astrud Gilberto. Ultimately, Mercury doesn't put a foot wrong on this disc, singing with total control, even on the rather unusual closer -- a cover of the '60s Japanese hit "Sukiyaki." From start to finish, a tour de force.

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