Maria Bethania

This reissued recording hasn't really improved since its 1988 debut, but a dozen years of perspective does highlight some gems in a largely over-produced, pop-oriented product. About half of the tracks cover songs by her brother, tropicalia pioneer Caetano Veloso, and all benefit from her strong, deep voice and dramatic delivery.

"A Terra Tremeu / Ofá" begins with a brief a cappella recitation by Bethania, then swings into quiet choral work by the ever-entertaining Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bethania's vocal re-emerging in counterpoint. The twelve years have been kind to "Recado Falado," quiet and jazzy, moody with soprano sax, simple cascading melody spotlighting Bethania's powerful alto vocal. Jeanne Moreau's nasal, rumbling spoken French above a melancholy piano in "Poema dos Olhos sa Amada" still moves me to humorous recollection of "Blazing Saddles" (she's tired of love ...), but Bethania's vocals now edge towards Cesaria Evora's sadder morna. Veloso's "Eu e Água" remains the most effective track here, lively and traditional with strutting Bahian percussion, guitar and bass behind Bethania's insistent vocal. The compelling "O Ciúme," is another Veloso composition with an almost martial beat and features the lighter voice of Gal Costa in alternate verses and final duet with Bethania.

This reissue contains four bonus songs, including "Anos Dourados," a jazzy Jobim composition which is invaded and conquered by a thousand and one strings, and "Doce Espera," smooth and poppy but with an interesting, sunburnt ominousness. Most of the remaining tracks on the CD come off as MPB elevator music, but Maria still bats about .500, and justifies consideration, especially for Bethania's vocal. - Jim Foley

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