In Portugal, fado queen Amália Rodrigues commands the sort of reverence that one would give to Miriam Makeba in South Africa, Celia Cruz in Cuba (though Cruz now resides in the U.S.), Edith Piaf in France, Umm Kalthum in Egypt, or Cesaria Evora in Cape Verde. In other words, Rodrigues is considered a national treasure -- she isn't just liked in her country, she's loved. So when Dulce Pontes is exalted as "the new Amália Rodrigues," it is a major compliment. However, bestowing that title on Pontes is problematic in various respects. First, it's a lot to live up to. Second, Pontes is her own person; O Primeiro Canto, her fifth album, demonstrates that she is a clone of no one. Although Rodrigues' influence is quite strong on this album, Pontes' individuality comes through on the up-tempo "Patio dos Amores" as well as haunting, dramatic ballads such as "Porto de Mágoas," "Garcia Perdida," "O Que For, Há-De Ser," and "Fado-Mãe." Americans who associate the Portuguese language with Brazilian singers might be surprised to hear how different Pontes' use of the language is -- Portuguese sounds a lot different in Portugal (where it originated) than it does in Brazil. Just as French sounds like a lot different in Quebec than it does in Paris and British English doesn't sound like American English, Pontes' use of Portuguese is much different from what one would expect from a Brazilian singer like Flora Purim or Gal Costa. Pontes and Costa sing in the same language, but they pronounce words differently. One thing Pontes does have in common with Brazilian singers is a certain soulfulness. Pontes brings a tremendous amount of feeling to these performances, and while comparisons to the great Rodrigues are well-intentioned, O Primeiro Canto leaves no doubt that she is an excellent fado singer in her own right.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson