Cesária Évora

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It's been three years since Cape Verde's barefoot diva last released an album, and many more since her morna sound was the darling of critics. A new generation of Cape Verdean singers has come of age and made its mark, and her star has faded somewhat. However, that doesn't mean the quality of her work is any less than it was before. If anything, becoming free of the pressure of great fame has helped her. There's more of a carefree feel to this disc, as evidenced on the upbeat opener, "Serpentina." Of course, it simply wouldn't be Évora without some of her trademark morna, but even its innate sadness is suffused with an underlying joy. At 68, her voice might not have quite the suppleness it had when she burst onto the world stage 20 years ago, but it's still a delicious, sensual instrument, still part-Portuguese, part-Brazilian, and still instantly identifiable, her music drawing from sources African, European, and Latin, but with the unique flavor of Cape Verde. She's graduated to grand dame status now, a mother figure to those following in her (bare) footsteps. However, this shows that she's far from sitting on her laurels. She's still setting the standard for everyone else, not only in the way she handles the songs -- as skillful as Ella Fitzgerald, and with every bit as much sophistication -- but for the material itself, some of it from the superb pen of Teofilo Chantre, one of the best writers from the islands. It's a joyful return by someone who still deserves her diva title.

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