I hope by now that the impression abroad - that fado is the only Portuguese roots music - is known to be as false a stereotype as all Spanish music being flamenco, or all Americans, cowboys. Portugal has a rich variety of regional rural traditional musics, and indeed the melodies of some, particularly those of Alentejo, have shaped the urban Lisbon fado.
A unifying aspect of all these musics, though, and of the people in Portugal who perform and listen to them, is a great appreciation of melody, and warm, expressive singing.
Sara Vidal is a Portuguese singer and harpist, a member of the ensembles Diabo A Sete, Companhia Do Canto Popular and the particularly interesting A Presença Das Formigas, as well as other significant groups on the Portuguese scene, and with the Sons Vadios co-operative she’s making quite a difference in the promotion and recording of Portuguese roots music and musicians. She was also the singer with long-established Galician group Luar Na Lubre from 2005 until 2011.
Matriz is, surprisingly, her first solo album. It’s a collection of traditional songs from the Portuguese regions of Beira Alta, Beira Baixa, Alentejo, Algarve, Ribatejo, Trás-os-Montes, Minho and the archipelago of Madeira. In a well varied set of approaches to arrangements her light, sensitive vocals are accompanied variously by her harp and a team of other Portuguese musicians on piano, mandolin, violin, guitar, bagpipe, bass, percussion and backing vocals.
The arrangements are innovative, though the instrumental breaks, carefully crafted though they are, sometimes come across as fussily distracting from the flow of the song. The group vocals, with just percussion on traditional adufe frame-drums, of the Beira Alta song “Adelaidinha” is more satisfyingly direct, as is the simplicity of the harp, mandolin and percussion accompaniment to “Baile Do Ladrão” from Madeira and the guitar and mandolin of “Faça Ai Aim Meu Menino” from Algarve. And the bouncy “Idalina” is a pointer to the melodic roots of the up-tempo strand of Lisbon fado in Alentejo tradition.