Virginia Rodrigues

Mares Profundos

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Brazilian contralto and Caetano Veloso protégé takes a conceptual route on her third record -- her first for the Deutsche Grammophon label -- and delivers one of the most engaging albums of the year. She focuses her otherworldly voice -- a delicious stew that's part Amalia Rodrigues, part Odetta, and all bliss -- on the legendary Afro-sambas of Vinícius de Moraes and Baden Powell, the team responsible for "Girl From Impanema." Rodrigues, who is a member of the polytheist Afro-Bahian candomblé cult and a fierce supporter of the African culture of Bahia, reverently interprets these 12 meditations on divinity and ceremony with stunning grace. Producer/guitarist Luis Brasil, along with Veloso and executive producer Joe Boyd, creates warm, blue-as-the-ocean soundscapes that wrap subtle percussion, shimmering guitars, and mid-'60s string sections around the always-present Rodrigues like a rainbow, showcasing her peerless segueing from folksinger to operatic chanteuse. One can only marvel at the lush, serpentine arrangements on "Canto de Ossanha," "Lamento de Exu," and "Bocoche" -- the latter would sound right at home on Milton Nascimento's '70s masterpiece Clube Da Esquina. Her two previous records, Nos and Sol Negro, were gorgeous, moody soundtracks to the Brazilian netherworld that bristled with tropical darkness. Mares Profundos, despite its seemingly weighty subject matter, is by far her most accessible, danceable, and easygoing effort, and likely made many a critic's year-end list and carved out a third impressive notch in her young, remarkable career.

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