September 2, 2013

Caetano Veloso, "Abraçaço"

The man is in possession of one of the most beautiful singing voices on the planet. And after a 45-plus-year career, he could easily just decide to settle comfortably, traveling the world, playing breezy bossa hits and raking in the dough. But no, he pushes forward, challenging himself and his audience by writing bizarre songs and recording complex music. This new record follows in the tradition of the last two, Zii e Zie and . His band is the same crew (known as "banda cê") of three 30-something indie rock musicians -- guitarist Pedro Sá, drummer Marcello Callado, and bassist Ricardo Dias Gomes who also sits at the Rhodes on occasion. These guys play like a tightly coiled snake. They can back up Caetano's gentle coo with some sprightly beach grooves, like on the title track (which is pronounced "ah-bra-sa-so" and means "a great big hug"), and then they can turn on a dime and spit fire and art-punk energy. Mostly, they work in ostinato mode. Even when Caetano's acoustic guitar defaults to classic Brazilian bossa, the band is ticking out a tight pulse, with Sá's angular and edgy distorted guitar scribbling beautiful lines all over the pretty pictures (when I first heard the guy, I joked that he was the Brazilian Marc Ribot, and I'll still hold that to be true, even as he proves himself to be a daring, original player). But at the front of it all is Caetano. Few singers are better at conveying emotion and drama so gently in song. You can hear the man smiling or frowning as he sings, and he can turn a sigh into the most subtle twist at the end of a phrase. He sells it with every syllable. Abraçaço is ripe for repeated listens -- everything is mixed with such clarity I can spend a whole spin listening to just the bass, or just the percussion lines. But it keeps coming back to that shit-hot lead guitar and Caetano's voice. Even at 71 years old, he has a voice so rich and unique that it hits me like no other. Funny, here I am going on about how Abraçaço is a tremendous work of art, even though I don't speak a lick of Portuguese and I have no idea what he's saying.