The road leading to Brazilian singer/songwriter Rodrigo Amarante's first solo album was a long one. The journeyman artist began his career in the late '90s taking a sideman role in the popular Brazilian rock group Los Hermanos and eventually emerging as the band's driving force and key songwriter. He was a member of the samba big band supergroup Orquestra Imperial, recorded in America with Devendra Banhart, and then formed the indie project Little Joy with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti. But it took nearly two decades until he was ready to make his most personal artistic statement, 2014's sublime Cavalo. A thoughtful and beautifully rendered blend of classic tropicália and indie folk and rock styles, Amarante evokes the pan-global creativity of Caetano Veloso, the wry and romantic charm of Paolo Conte, and the experimental pop meanderings of Andrew Bird. This is a unique record by an artist who is hard to define as he jumps from Portuguese to French to English throughout songs that are moody, melancholic, and at times jaunty. From the strange beauty of opener "Nada em Vão," whose sonic bed resembles Bibio's Silver Wilkinson album, to the spare, enchanting closer "Tardei," Amarante presents a diverse but ultimately cohesive set fixated on themes of quiet solitude, exile, and discovery. Two of the most striking tracks, "Mon Nom" and "Irene," sit together in the sequence, wistfully sung and gently played on solo classical guitar through a warm, gauzy filter that best represents the overall tone of Cavalo. When he does pick up the tempo, as on the Spoon-esque "Hourglass" or the bright, tropical romp "Maná," it changes the mood enough to further flesh out Amarante's unique personality without disrupting the album's flow. Already a well-known figure in the Brazilian pop scene, this wonderfully creative and understated solo debut ought to vault him further into international favor and critical success.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger