Teresa Salgueiro has been making solo albums since 2006, but 2012's O Mistério marks a new point of departure for the internationally revered Portuguese singer. All of her previous records were content to present Salgueiro in the role of sublime interpreter and/or musical anthropologist, as she explored the musical heritage of Portuguese, Brazilian, and Italian culture. O Mistério, on the other hand, is the first album of original material credited to her name, and to her notable cast of supporting musicians: Carisa Marcelino (accordion), Óscar Torres (double bass), André Filipe Santos (guitar), and Rui Lobato (drums and percussion); Lobato also co-produces, together with Salgueiro and António Pinheiro da Silva, who had worked with the singer on several Madredeus' albums. While Salgueiro is, for the first time, the sole author of all lyrics, the music is collectively signed by all five, with extra input from Pedro Duarte Pestana on four tracks. More often than not, the expressions "world music diva" and "collectively" are seldom used together. Salgueiro's music is an exception to the rule, up to the point that in order to record this album, the quintet built a studio in a 16th century convent located up in the hills near Lisbon facing the sea, and secluded themselves for a month to complete their work. It is rare to find an album by a singer of her stature in which so much attention has obviously been devoted to the instrumental passages and arrangements, which never function as mere backdrop but always as a counterpoint -- or the other way around -- Salgueiro's voice is not treated as a separate entity but as another instrument, enmeshed in the fabric of the music. The very musical structure of the pieces (it may be inaccurate to call them "songs") is quite remarkable, for instead of verses, choruses, or bridges, the listener is faced with long, meandering expositions in which the instruments (Salgueiro's voice included) keep an even and yet ever-changing dialogue among themselves. If it feels like watching a river flow, then it has probably accomplished its objective, for this is, above all, pictorial music of the first order. It could presumably be charged with accusations of sameness -- it is, after all, quite hard to rate one track above or below another -- but that would be missing the point of making an album of this kind, in which absolutely everything is of one piece -- and that extends to Salgueiro's pensive lyrics, which are as reflective as the music. In this sense, O Mistério is closer than any other previous Salgueiro solo album to the stunning homogeneity of form and content of the best Madredeus records. Likewise, it is almost disorienting how it can pass both as a work of ambient or avant-garde tendencies and 1,000-year old folk music. The key difference, however, is the new minimalist approach of employing only guitar, accordion, and double-bass. Madredeus' music usually cannot help but sound stately; this is humbler and more intimate. As with all things in life, there is always a trade-off, but here that is ultimately strictly a matter of personal taste. While on some of Madredeus' albums Salgueiro could sound ethereal to the point of being distant, here she's certainly more personal. Conversely, some of O Mistério's most austere passages may not feel quite majestic enough to accompany Salgueiro's soaring voice. It is probably physically impossible for a singer like Salgueiro to make an album that is less than exquisite, so she should be rewarded for making music that -- besides being plain beautiful -- is consistently intriguing, if not challenging. Whether O Mistério launches a new phase of her career, or whether the singer will alternate between original and traditional material, remains to be seen. At any rate, if it is a new beginning, it certainly is a most impressive and welcome one.
AllMusic Review by Mariano Prunes