The elegant and intelligent singer Cris Aflalo made her debut five years ago with Só Xer êma tribute to folk-pop composer Xerem (who also happened to be her grandfather) that was loving without being too reverent. It was one of the best albums of any kind released in 2004but she's been gone far too long.
So it was thrilling to come across the release of Quase Tudo Dá is a thrilling return by Aflalo, and this time it's not another tribute album. The songwriting credits belong to some other Brazilian heavy hitters (Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Arnaldo Antunes and others), as well as Aflalo herself, so this is clearly a coming-out party for the young artist.
And an extremely nice one it is. Most of these songs float easily into an acoustic folk-pop groove, but Aflalo and longtime collaborator Luis Waack make sure they still have a pulse. At first listen, "Matutu" sounds like any hushed-voice indie tunebut the 6/8 meter gives it a natural swing, and the wonderful guitar counterpoint and echoey weird percussion give it a whole lot of crunchy texture. Even the extremely low-key "Finzinho da Chuva" has an internal momentum based on nothing more than just an unforgettable melody and a couple of guitars.
This set does not lack for ambition; Aflalo takes on some very difficult songs, and manages to make them sound brand new. Gil's tricky "Língua do Pê" is a surrealist poem in its original incarnation, with lyrics like "Compomprepeenpendeper bulhufas" and "Espepeperanpandopo coisas pela aí," but Aflalo sings them like they mean a lot to her, and Rogério Rochlitz whips up an incredible organ solo behind it all. Nice bookending here with Veloso's "Um Tom" and Antunes' "Um Som," and both resonate nicely, even if the former (which translates to "A Tone" or "A Sound") lacks the original's sly references to both "Tom" Jobim and Veloso's own son Tom.
And Aflalo's own songs do not suffer much for standing next to classics like these.
It's a shame that there isn't more of an edge here, especially on the ballads, but that is the tradeoff with Brazilian music; the people down there just love their melodies and don't see anything wrong with them. It's a fair philosophy mostly, but those with American ears will not be convinced by "Conceição dos Coqueiros" or some of the other ultra-soft, non-banging tracks. (Aflalo's own "Imaculada," on the other hand, will be universally, and accurately, slobbered over for its 1950s-style guitar solo and the big fat horns that are in full effect everywhere.)
Overall, this is a superb effort for Cris Aflalo and Luis Waackit is pretty without cloying, smart without being too smart, and open-hearted. If she didn't take five years between her record projects, and if she was willing to take just a little bigger risk, the Sao Paulo-based singer-songwriter could be kind of huge everywhere around the world.
Tudo Que Respira Quer Comer; Conceição dos Coqueiros; Um Tom; Quase Tudo; Matutu; Imaculada; Lingua do Pê; Finzinho da Chuva; Sinto Seco; Um Som; Aroeira.