Paulinho da Viola – Foi um rio que passou a minha vida (1970)

PAULINHO DA VIOLA – Foi um rio que passou em minha vida
1970 (EMI 852504 2 )

1. para não contraria você ( paulinho da viola )
2. o meu pecado ( zé keti )
3. estou marcado ( paulinho da viola )
4. lamentação ( mauro duarte )
5. mesmo sem alegria ( paulinho da viola )
6. foi um rio que passou em minha vida ( paulinho da viola )
7. tudo se transformou ( paulinho da viola )
8. nada de novo ( paulinho da viola )
9. jurar com lágrimas ( paulinho da viola )
10. papo furado ( paulinho da viola )
11. não quero vocé assim ( paulinho da viola )
faixas bônus ( cd )
12. sinal fechado ( paulinho da viola )
13. ruas que sonhei ( paulinho da viola )

This is a fabulous record, with everything you would expect and nothing less from the inimitable Paulinho da Viola. Great musicianship, flawless songwriting, Paulinho’s voice (like butter!). It starts with a song, it ends with another song, it has highlights, it has a cool album cover, it is recorded really well, it is mastered by the masterful mastering engineer Pete Mayhew at Abbey Road, ba ba ba ba yadda yadda yadda, you get the idea.

What I REALLY wanted to write about was one of the bonus tracks on here, ‘Sinal Fechado’, released as a single.

I thought about providing a straight translation of it, but it would be hard to do it justice in any language but its own. The lyrics are simple, really, with scant repetition, arranged as a dialogue between two people in alternating lines. The idea is beautifully simple – two former lovers who have not seen each other in ages, running into each other on the street at the same corner. One of them (let’s say, a man – it’s never specified) is about to cross the street, and they have only a moment to talk before the traffic light changes. He apologies for not having more time to converse, “Forgive me, but hurry is the soul of our times…” [literally, ‘business’] The other implores him not to worry about it, she too has to run. When will you give me a call? We need to catch up. Next week I promise, maybe, we’ll see each other. Who knows? It’s been a long time… Yes, it has been a long time.
“I had so many things to say, but I disappeared in the dust of the streets.”
“I too had much something to say, but the memory hid from me.”
Please, call me, I need to
Drink something, quickly.
Next week….
The signal…
I’ll look for you…
It’s going to change, it’s going to open…
Promise, don’t forget, don’t forget…

As it’s presented this way, this is a stirring vignette of romance and estrangement, love and distance. The lyrics play off the halting arpregiated and rather dissonant chords of Paulinho’s guitar that run through the song, punctuated only briefly by syncopated chords more familiar to samba and bossa nova. The string arrangements accent the tension, weaving a second melody that feels like a third voice in the dialog, the unspoken subtext. Extremely powerful, the song manages to feel both stark and warm at the same time. It terms of structure and execution, it’s quite different from Paulinho’s usual styles of writing, creating the suspicion that this is more than just another melancholic love song among many. The entire piece also works as a metonym for the feelings of Brazilians held under the heel of the military dictatorship (which grew considerably more oppressive in the same time Paulinho was writing this song, after the passing of Institutional Act No.5 that decimated political rights and civil liberties). Looked at from that perspective, everything becomes multivalent and laced with double-meaning. This was a technique used by many Brazilian songwriters – Chico Buarque most famously – to evade the censorship to which all popular music at the time was being subjected. A certain grim satisfaction was attained by fooling the authorities, a joke at their expense in a way – and if any questions or doubts were raised by the censorship board, the composer could simply respond, “It’s a love song, that’s all.” Throughout the seventies, songwriters adopted this as a deliberate technique – however I am not sure if that’s what Paulinho da Viola was doing here. In many ways it’s a tired and academic question, to look for the ‘hidden meaning’ of a work of art. Part of the magical quality of so many varieties of song is the refusal to spell things out, to assign hard and fast correspondences to word, tone, context, hard facts… I am not interested in robbing the composer or the listener of that magic. But I think it’s safe to say that many listeners in 1970 heard this song with ears informed by the political and social oppression that was becoming more and more part of daily life. The song was covered a few years later by Chico Buarque on the record “Meus Caros Amigos,” and later by Elis Regina on “Tranvsersal do Tempo” as part of a show that was rife with this shuttling back and forth between the emotions of interpersonal relations and political realities. They are not, after all, discrete phenomenon. People loved and lost and married and had children all the while that people were being “disappeared” in Brazil, in Chile, in Argentina… Just as the unjust war in Iraq has affected so many lives for six years and counting, or the inexcusable massacres in Gaza leave scars on our eyes. People move on and live their lives and find ways to nourish their spirit, attempting dignity no matter how ignoble the situation, putting energy into their families, their work, their art. “Hurry is the soul of our times,” indeed, but songs as perfect as ‘Sinal Fechado’ make you stop, and listen.

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Mississippi Fred McDowell – Live at the Gaslight (2000) VBR

Fred McDowell was a one-man blues orchestra. Although sometimes playing in a trio setting, the recordings most considered ~classic~ consist of just him on voice and guitar, sometimes electric, sometimes acoustic. Like most, if not all, of his contemporaries in southern blues from the same era, he would cover all the bases with finesse and dexterity, supplying syncopated rhythms, counterpoint, and melody that can easily make you forget you are only listening to one person. Also like these contemporaries, McDowell was as comfortable playing uptempo as he was playing slow and mournful. He had what music critic Robert Palmer called ~deep blues~, and he had it in spades. There is an isomorphic unity to voice, word, and instrument here that has given me some insight as to why blues – really good blues, anyway – lifts my spirits when I feel I’ve reached my threshold for loneliness, regret, saudades.

Open tunings and bottleneck slide are also not exactly a novelty in southern blues, but McDowell stands out from his peers on this point for many reasons. His playing was extremely dynamic and gripping – precise when it called for precision, ragged and loose when the vibe called for it, subtle as a breeze or blunt as a hammer. Although I have yet to be disappointed by any of his recordings, and although I usually like my blues slow and smoldering, I have to mention how remarkable McDowell’s faster, uptempo material was. Urgent, full of fire, unhinged, building tension that begs for a release that never quite comes.

The material can become repetitive, especially on a long two-disk collection like this one, but there is corresponding trance-like magnetism as well created by that repetition. In the live performance documented here, McDowell is accompanied by a bassist (on fretless, I believe) who manages to be both unobtrusive and also to keep up with Fred’s tempo and meter changes that often confounded his occasional rhythm sections. By the second set, the audience is lit up enough to attempt clapping along to some numbers, which I find annoying but thankfully not obnoxious enough to the point of distraction. This is a worthy, perhaps even essential, document of Fred McDowell at the peak of his musical powers during the `blues revival` of the 1960s.


Live at the Gaslight PART ONE

Live at the Gaslight PART TWO

Eccentric Soul – Soul Messages From Dimona (2008) [VBR]

Dimona, Israel. Between 1975-1981, a group of American ex-pats took their native sounds of Detroit and Chicago and intermingled them with the messages of the Black Hebrew culture. The results are a heavenly mix of spiritual soul and jazz with an undercurrent of gospel psychedelia. Featuring the Soul Messengers, the Spirit Of Israel, Sons Of The Kingdom, and the Tonistics, Soul Messages From Dimona is the only living document of a thriving community at both the center and fringe of the world.

“Our success educationally, industrially and politically is based upon the protection of a nation founded by ourselves. And the nation can be nowhere else but in Africa.” ~ Marcus Garvey

Or maybe Israel?

While Marcus Garvey voiced a Black Nationalist movement in the 1920s, his words carried on for decades, inspiring various communities like the Nation of Islam and the Rastafari, who even view him as a prophet. The Black Hebrew Israelites were equally influenced by Garvey’s doctrine of purity and redemption, but in place of Liberia, their holy destination was Israel. In 1966, Ben Ammi Carter accumulated hundreds of followers from Chicago and Detroit suburbs, preaching their linkage to Judah and the Ten Lost Tribes. Among Carter’s followers were some supremely skilled musicians, including Charles Blackwell and Thomas Whitfield who would later help form the Soul Messengers. The road from Chicago to Dimona is a long one, and to reveal the journey would take too much time and ruin part of the fun of unearthing the story yourself. It’s enough to say that the tumultuous voyage eventually ended in the desert city, just west of the Dead Sea. As Numero Group describes it, this record is yet “…another stop on the soul diaspora tour.” But it might be more accurate to call this an otherworldly musical revelation. The dance floor-filling bass lines, spiritual grooves, and Jackson 5 family chants combine for a sonic journey that’s as adventurous and fascinating as Carter’s pilgrimage itself.

Soul Messages From Dimona stands out as one of the most conceptually cohesive compilations in the Numero Group catalogue. Certainly this can be attributed to the esoteric nature of the recordings. Then again it wouldn’t be Numero Group if it wasn’t esoteric. But it’s also displayed in other ways. The 16 songs on the album are divided among only four bands with the bulk of the selections coming from the Chicago-based Soul Messengers. There are no brief, minute-long outtakes or rehearsals that often fill up Eccentric Soul track lists. Instead, the tracks are fully fleshed-out with lyrical content that oscillates between general messages of salvation and deliverance, to more specific references to Judaic principles and history.

Anyone familiar with the label’s output will recognize the thick slices of funk, cool jazz, and soulful harmonies that make up Soul Messages. But this, more than any other album, seems to encompass all of the flavors and genres of Numero Group’s far-reaching discography. The Spirit of Israel provides a slightly psychedelic rendition of the spiritual “Daniel” that’s full of background gospel response. “Hey There,” by the Sons of the Kingdom, unwinds with an especially “soft jazz” horn refrain before it picks up cadence and develops into a full-bodied mesh of layered harmonies. The Sons’ second track on the compilation is a rather clunky, paranoia-filled future jam. The band pleads and wails that modernization will lead to some kind of apocalypse.

One of the most interesting features here is recognizing the different styles adopted by these artists. For instance, the Tonistics’ first entry “Holding On” is righteously funky and chock full of teenage spunk. But on “Dimona (Spiritual Capital of the World)” the boys sound more collective and free to linger on harmonies. And certainly this penchant for mixing it up is apparent on the hefty contributions from the Soul Messengers. They switch from freak-soul instrumentals to Hebrew croons to straight jazz. With all of these bands, the unexpected twists in sound are almost always a positive.

There is a noticeable innocence in the words of the Spirit of Israel’s second contribution. “A Place to Be” begins with a flock of female singers chanting, “It’s a place that’s free and easy / It’s a world of love and peace.” The tone is joyous and carefree, and of course, painfully ironic in light of the Middle East’s sociopolitical climate over the past decades. Then the lead singer enters with equally optimistic aspirations: “I just want to live in Israel. Live a life of purity. Away from the wild and wicked world, teach my children how to be free.” The song is gorgeously simple with only a light guitar strum providing the background instrumentation. But the way it speaks to the hopefulness and values of the Black Hebrew Israelites is no small measure.

At the time of this music’s production, Carter and his Black Hebrew followers were charging toward Israel without reservations. It was the revered holy land, free of the racial struggles and oppression that had afflicted the black American community for so long. The image of Dimona today, as a battered textile industry and placement ground for those Jews that Israel doesn’t quite know what to do with, well, that image doesn’t matter. Soul Messages is an incredible historical document. It’s an exploration of a very specific musical niche that, like all great albums, sounds utterly familiar, as if we’ve been listening to it for years and years.

1. Burn Devil Burn
2. Our Lord and Savior
3. Holding On
4. Daniel
5. Hey There
6. Go to Proclaim
7. Equilibrium
8. Prince of Zeal
9. Modernization
10. Heaven of Heroes
11. Victory
12. Dimona (Spiritual Capital of the World)
13. Junky Baby
14. Place to Be
15. Messiah
16. Savior in the East

Hey pal! I´ve been elsewhere lately and haven´t kept track at all. But suddenly I got a feeling of emptiness and was looking for you elsewhere. And now here… Doesn´t like your message at all. Whatever your situation is like I hope to see you around soon again. Take care and best wishes from one of your friends in cyberspace.
When you´re in the mood please check out this album. It´s really groovy!

Updated link (sorry)