The New Melancholic Voices of Fado

The elegant blend of vocals, the twelve-stringed guitarra portuguesa and viola that is the fado might have had a mysterious birth, and a even more shadowy childhood, in the popular musical style emergence from the seedier side of Lisbon’s underbelly in the early to middle years of the nineteenth century, but it is the fado’s ability to crystallize human joy and heartbreak that make it a lasting art form. For fado’s fans, and for those searching for that bit of seductive mystery that is intrinsic to the fado, there are some new recordings out there to soothe the melancholic soul.

First up is Casa Do Fado (Iris Music 3001 960, 2006). This 2 CD set literally drips with the loveliness of 50 years of fado classics performed by the masters of the fado. Opening the first CD is the charmingly rousing “A Tendinha” with the songbird vocals of Amàlia Rodrigues. Don’t be fooled by the sweet, music box quality of instrumentals like “Fado Estoril” and “Fado Em Mi Menor,” they possess the ripe instrumentation and skill that the likes of Django Reinhardt might envy.

Casa Do Fado has some gems by Adelina Fernandes, Maria Ana Bobone and Maria Teresa de Noronha. Madalena de Melo’s “Divinisado” is a seductive play of trills falling away to reveal to utter heartbreak, the kind of which the fado is famous for. Male fadista João Braga’s “Na Rua Do Silencio” and the roughed over vocals of Manuel Cardoso De Menezes on “Fado” ripen the CD’s richness in that inexpressible characteristic emotional pull that fado strives to wring from every performance.

Katia Guerreiro’s Tudo ou Nada (Le Chant Du Monde 274 1420, 2006), with guitarists Paulo Valentim and João Veiga, contrabassist and acoustic bassist Rodrigo Serrão and pianist Bernardo Sassetti shine with tracks “Disse-te Adeus À Partida,” “Ser Tudo Ou Nada” and “Minha Senhora Das Dores.” Guerreiro’s vocals on “Vaga” and “Saudades Do Brasil Em Portugal” flow like honey over the flavorful fado instrumentation.

Murmúrios (Music & Words/l’Empreinte Digitale, 1999), featuring Cristina Branco, recorded in 1999, is another delight with opening track “Fado Perdição,” and it just gets better with the melancholic “Abandono.” Teamed with musical director Custódio Castelo on guitarra portuguesa, Jorge Fernando on viola and Marino De Freitas on viola baixo, Branco executes some elegant vocal turns of phrase on tracks “Fim” and “Lírios” while expressing a sweet lightness to more upbeat pieces like “Mágoa” and “Há Palavras Que Nos Beijam.” Title track “Murmúrios” is a triumph for Branco’s clear, soaring vocals, breathing such lovely sadness into delicate instrumentation.

>Having said that, Cristina Branco’s latest CD, entitled Ulisses (Decca, 2005), is even more delightful. Her spare opening track “Sonhei Que Estava Em Portugal/ Anda Luzia” is startlingly pretty. Collaborating again with Custódio Castelo on guitarra portuguesa, the compositions possess a more sophisticated, richer feel. Castelo is joined on Ulisses by Ricardo J. Dias on piano, Alexandre Silva on guitar, Fernano Maia on bass guitar and Miguel Carvalhinho on classic guitar.

With the same bright, clear voice, Branco’s vocals have a different, more experienced vocal phrasing than Murmúrios that speaks to her evolution within the structure of the fado. “Alfonsina Y El Mar,” “Redondo Vocábulo” and “Navio Trieste” are fascinating and seductive, as is her version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Cristina Branco has definitely found a place for herself on the fado map with Ulisses.

Also of note is Ana Laíns on her debut recording Sentidos. The emotionally charged vocals on tracks “Se Tu Viesses” “Eu” and “Vou Trair A Solidão” make Laíns’s CD a treat. Fernando Araújo joins in on bass, Bernardo Couto on guitarra portuguesa, Diogo Clemente plays acoustic guitar, and straying from the standard fado compositions are Ruben Alves on accordion, piano and melódica, Ricardo Mota on cello and Vicky on percussion.

“Negra Cor” floats above the desolate emotional landscape with Laíns’s lonely, longing vocals, but it’s “Pêra Madura” with its gentle rhythm and a chorus call back and forth with Laíns that really charms with an earthy roots feel.

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Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.