Bebel Gilberto :: Bebel Gilberto
Brazil's sonic output has become global over the last decade, in numerous guises: hardcore electro-rock by way of Nacao Zumbi, tempered, textured electronics via Suba and Ott, tropicalia-turned-witty-English-cover-songs a la Caetano Veloso, tropicalia-turned-stale-reggae circa Gilberto Gil, the incredible Tribalistas, funk samba in the lineage of Jorge Ben, a whole fusion of all these in digital renderings, and more "chill-out" comps than one can ever toss in the can. Listening to this flood of mediocrity one would think the entire country has swallowed a giant Quaalude chased by mojito after mojito.
Fortunately Bebel Gilberto isn't mediocre, at least not on record (her live show leaves much to be desired). Brazil seems to foster strong, nearly Mafioso control over its familial ties - recent efforts by Maria Rita, daughter of Elis/a> (absolutely wonderful) and a US tour by Belo Velloso, niece of aforementioned Caetano and sis Maria Bethania (god-awful) show the importance of sharing names. The latter rides the family mark to churn out redundant bossa nova fit for a tourism board bored meeting, while Rita actually did something new, taking chances and paying off splendidly.
Gilberto's namesake comes from the land's infamous João and singer-love Miúcha. With that buying power she was bound to hit, regardless of how horrendous her dug-from-the-archives debut, De Tarde, Vendo O Mar, proved to be. Tanto Tempo spat in the face of an earlier mistake by becoming the global coffee shop record to be, to this day still the soundtrack for many barista days. She does nothing to evolve bossa, and may be a tourist counselor's nocturnal commission, but that doesn't matter because her voice is so damn sexy. With access to any musician in the country (and by now, planet), the production on her records - especially the topic of this review, her sophomore solo effort - is top-notch. Like Caetano (a god, really, but he didn't have to release the easy listening crossover Foreign Sound), Bebel caters to English-speaking [CD-buying] friends. It's not that those songs are bad, they're not, but it sounds like she's trying too hard. Still, they devour most Portuguese-slinging bossa-wannabes.
After her debut was treated electronically with a remix album, she continues by adding light digitalisms that turn out to be strongest: "Aganjú" and "Cada Beijo," the former tweaked by Carlinhos Brown, Brazil's most inventive and consistent mind (and hands) this day. As mentioned, she's weaker in English - a cover of the Os Mutantes/Caetano Veloso heart-tugger "Baby" is cute, at best, trite if you're not in the mood, which is more than half the time. Her Portu-glish turns out OK, though, as a touch of melancholy adds depth to "Simplesmente." Overall, she's too happy to really enliven you, and nowhere near bluesy enough to make you feel much. Bebel's voice is easy to get lost in, not enough to comfort you when love up and leaves with the neighbor's daughter. Not that music need do that, and if you're dealing with sheer entertainment it's fine. If we're talking about the soul of a culture - say, Brazil - check out Chico Sciece pre-car-crash and Suba pre-studio-fire (in which he died saving, of all things, Bebel's master tapes).
Not nearly as inventive as Cibelle's Brazilian electro-moshing (on record or live), Bebel's legend is destined to grow. Whether that's a good thing or not is unimportant. She'll keep releasing decent-to-pretty-decent records until she completely sells her soul to the tourism board or has a major run-in with heavy drugs and "finds" rock On roll like her inspirations did. Ironically, the most interesting aspect of her live show, keyboardist Didi Gutman, left for his start-up Brazilian Girls. He's kept the tasteful accommodations while embellishing on the groove, and found a vocalist, Sabina Sciubba, who could kick Bebel a good one, vocally, lyrically and physically, on stage or anywhere else. And she does it in seven languages, not just two.