This Kind of Love is Carly Simon's debut for Starbucks' Hear Music imprint, and it is even stranger than 2007's Into White, where the seed for this recording was sown. Simon was approached by no less than songwriter Jimmy Webb to make a Brazilian record. According to her notes, this was an event of pure synchronicity, as she had been listening to a great deal of Jorge Ben's and Caetano Veloso's music. That may be, but it was on Into White where she recorded Luiz Bonfá's classic "Manha de Carnaval," the theme from the film Black Orpheus. Webb arranged and co-produced the album with Frank Filipetti, who also engineered the session, with musical direction by longtime collaborator Peter Calo. Some of the session players include the great percussionists Cyro Baptista and Rick Marotta; drummer Robby Ameen; bassist Lincoln Goines; Calo, Ben Mauro, David Saw, and others on guitars; and Webb doing everything from playing bass and acting as concertmaster to playing synth and piano. Simon is part of the band as a player this time out as well, playing piano and Fender Rhodes. Teese Gohl is back again doing orchestrations and Elena Barere acts as concertmaster on most tracks.
Inspiration and intention aside, this is not a bossa nova record, nor is it a samba date. Not in the least. Brazilian musicians may be here, but they serve to enhance the spiritual aesthetic of this recording. Brazil and its music are present primarily as inspirations and references to the textures, sounds, atmospheres, and colors that evoke the lush sensuality of its landscape, music, and people. There are Brazilian-style cuts here, such as "Hola Soleil," written by Simon, her son Ben Taylor, and Jacob Brackman. The guitars are pure samba, and the contrapuntal percussion lines of Baptista and Marotta wrap themselves around the sensuous guitar lines that rely as much on jazz as samba, as Simon's vocals are underscored and highlighted by strings and an 11-member children's choir. In contrast, Webb's "The Last Samba," written especially for Simon, uses a stripped-down band led by Webb with Marotta on cahones, a lilting flute solo by Aaron Heick, and a lovely upright bassline by Goines. The rhythms may be samba crisscrossed with bossa, but the melody is pure Webb adult pop. It's slow and sexy, and Simon in her lower register is positively elegant in her delivery. Ben Taylor wrote the truly beautiful "Island," among the album's highlights with its shimmering acoustic guitar lines, percussive interplay by Ameen and Baptista, and the rock-solid bottom bassline of Goines. Simon pulls out the depth of feeling in the tune; she underscores every single sorrowful line with the professionalism and honesty that only a real songwriter can deliver. Daughter Sally Taylor wrote more in the Bahia vein on "When We're Together," which would also be a great selection for Michael Franks to cover. The Dobro touch by Calo is unexpected and quite pleasant, Simon's vocal quavering in its delivery here, offering a scintillating portrait of the first flush of new love.
But the real delights are Simon's own songs -- she wrote or co-wrote ten of the 13 on the disc. The aching "So Many People to Love" is a sparse, spontaneous, sadly sweet finger-popping swing tune she wrote with Carole Bayer Sager. It doesn't sound like anything else here, but that's because Wade Robson, who did the vocal arrangement, also produced it and recorded it in a different place. This is the kind of pop song that is perfect for Simon's voice; it slips and slides in the same way Rickie Lee Jones' voice does. And the small graininess in her delivery brings out the soul that none of her standards records could. The skeletal guitar that accompanies her on the first lines of "Hold Out Your Heart" are quietly stunning. When the strings and backing vocals enter, they wipe away the years of "pop music progression" and take listeners back to a purer time -- when lyrics would communicate in sync with music written specifically to offer a dramatic aural portrait of an emotional slice of life or an episodic one. It's graceful and quite beautiful when it reaches up and everything swells. The only thing that doesn't work here is the weird take on rap that is "People Say a Lot," a jumble of Dobro, big strings, programmed loops, and Simon's delivery -- a square, stiff reading of old-school rap for the entire intro that becomes a vocal counterpoint exercise in show music. It should have been left off the set, period. Her wily flamenco-tinged "They Just Want You to Be There," while using simple vernacular, more than makes up for it, though. The set closes with "Too Soon to Say Goodbye," written as a eulogy for Art Buchwald at his request. It's a slow '70s-sounding singer/songwriter balladic waltz, kissed by the New York cabarets and Broadway. For Carly Simon's fans, this will ultimately be a most welcome return to her songwriting form. This is the best album of mostly original material she's cut since 1979's Spy.