CéU's debut album -- originally released by Urban Jungle Records in Brazil in 2005 and reissued two years later in the U.S. by Six Degrees in conjunction with Starbucks -- is a lush blend of African-rooted North and South American music styles (MPB, samba, soul, jazz, Afrobeat, reggae) with cutting-edge contemporary production techniques. The radiant São Paulo vocalist is no doubt the star of this show, as she writes her own songs as well as sings them. The formative span of time she spent in New York City, where she found a rich array of influences, from classic jazz (Billie Holiday) and contemporary soul (Lauryn Hill) to hip-hop and electronica, greatly inform her music here. From song to song, CéU sings in a number of respective fashions, often channeling her influences. Her reverent cover of "Concrete Jungle" is the most overt instance of this, as she channels the spirit of Bob Marley for three-and-a-half minutes and does so quite convincingly. So while CéU may be the star of the show here, with her clear talent and varied wardrobe of influences, producer Beto Villares is the X-factor. He produces all but one of the 15 songs ("Ave Cruz" is the fine work of Antoñio Pinto), and he brings the songs to life in such a way that their blend of traditional music styles is melded tastefully, if not downright perfectly, with present-day advances in technology. He ensures that every song here has a prominent rhythm, even if it's a gentle soul groove or a jazzy lilt, even if that means he has to play the bassline himself (and in some cases he does, according to the revealing track-by-track credits). Practically every song features real percussion and bass playing (i.e., no programming, except on "Roda" and "Ave Cruz" -- each outstanding), as well as frequent acoustic guitar, all of which gives the album an organic earthiness that most so-called worldbeat albums lack, not to mention the productions of globally appropriating downtempo electronica acts like Thievery Corporation. Yet at the same time, Villares makes frequent use of studio effects, multi-tracking especially, and moves the percussion and bass to the forefront of the mix, and he also incorporates the turntablism of DJ Marco on most tracks. So even if the music of CéU is earthy and, for the most part, actually hand-played rather than programmed, it's just as contemporary in technique and style as that of Thievery Corporation, to again reference one of the most impressive concurrent downtempo electronica acts. CéU consequently fits in well with fellow cutting-edge female Brazilian artists such as Cibelle, Bebel Gilberto, and Marisa Monte who straddle classic as well as contemporary styles of music, and while each of these women is thankfully unique in her own wonderful way, they as a group represent what seems to be a growing, forward-looking Brazilian music movement whose appeal is increasingly global in its reach. This CD was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007 for Best Contemporary World Music Album.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier