Vachier & Associoados
For some artists taking risks means breaking new ground, recording material that one's peers will not dare to touch. For an artist who has built a tremendous reputation for breaking new ground, the riskiest move can be reaching into the commonplace. In A Monte, Amélia Muge, while still continuing her experiments with a blend of Portuguese art music and folk music, takes her art in the one direction that she has so far managed to avoid: the realm of fado. (This is not to say that Muge's music has been completely without fado influence, just that she has not given it nearly the attention she has other Portuguese folk music.)
The album opens in typical Muge fashion, with "A Monte I," an exciting, drum-heavy vocal and bagpipe song (featuring the wonderful gaiteiro José M David). Typical of the work of Muge and David, the sound is timeless, with ancient sounds blending with modern ones. The second track is in the mode of much of the non-fado Portuguese folk music of the last 25 years with a little too much tinkling piano, but Muge's voice is expressive and musical. Like most of her records, the music moves between poles, uneasily remaining in the realm of the sentimental, then, taking a dramatic turn to the exotic, whether by way of instrumentation or dissonance. The effect, when it works, as it does on most of the tracks on A Monte, is gripping. But this is like saying that Mozart has written, yet again, another stellar symphony.
What seems oddest thing about this record was not the brilliance of Muge's balancing act; I have come to expect that from her. What made me check to see if this was indeed the same record was Muge's aforementioned journey into fado. While the accompaniment to the song "O Fado da Sereia" would have struck audiences as unusual 20 years ago, exposure to Madredeus, Maria Ana Bobone, and Dulce Pontes has made the piano, synthesizer and cello seem normal. On track 9 ("Se Não Tenho Outra Voz"), with its Portuguese guitar accompaniment, Muge seems to have joined the ranks of Mariza, Cristina Branco, and Misia. In the era of the declining years of the great Amália Rodrigues, when the field was rather barren, this would have been a safe move. However, in the midst of an exciting renaissance of fado, this is gutsy. There are several outstanding fado singers on the scene today, and Muge could have easily avoided the fado and any comparison to the great young voices out there. Muge takes the risk by singing two fairly traditional fados and proves to be a more than worthy fadista. However, in keeping with her sense of adventure, she does not remain there, but tackles Laurie Anderson (Muge manages to make Anderson's highly personal sound her own with "A Garra do Macaco"), electronic sounds (of particular note is the techno-infused "A Irmandade Dos Sonhos"), neo-medieval harmonies, and extended linguistic and literary experiments. Like her previous work, A Monte is hypnotic, exciting, and yields more on multiple listenings. This will be a classic. - Erik Keilholtz
CD available from cdRoots