Buck Black – Mississippi Bluze Mass (1973)

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Buck Black
Mississippi Bluze Mass
Released 1973
Greene Bottle Records GBS-1007
A1          Love Is All            3:11
A2                        Miss Vegalopps                2:40
A3                           Only A Fool         3:53
A4                           You No Longer Care For Me        3:23
A5                           If I Had You         2:22
B1                           Stuff I Uze           3:27
B2                           Something I Never Had                 3:37
B3                           You Ain´t Smart                 2:34
B4                           Back Home To You           4:27
B5                           That´s Why I Love You    3:36
Vinyl ripping and processing by Flabbergast May/June 2012
Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue
Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio
Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair
light settings; individual clicks and pops taken out
with Adobe Audition 3.0 – resampled (and dithered for 16-bit) using iZotope RX
Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag&Rename.

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The trippy album cover design and the weird name are enough to make most people who stumble across this album think that it’s going to be a lost psychedelic funk freakout. It’s not. There’s barely any songs that crack the three minute mark and the only solos are taken by saxophone and trumpet (or in one case, harmonica); with the exception of the tune “Stuff I Uze” which seems to be a cuckold’s love song to a drug habit, there is very little here to even place this record in the hazy days of 1973. Even calling the album “funk” (as record dealers seem to have done) is misleading, unless we understand “funk” in the way it was thought of perhaps in the late 60s rather than the early 70s. Buck “D. D.” Black owes a lot to sweaty southern soul of early Stax and Muscle Shoals and none of these songs would sound out of place nestled in that body of work. The horn arrangements are meticulously written and executed, the rhythm section is tight as Botox, and Buck’s vocals cover a wide range of soulful.

Well then, why was this record totally overlooked and to this day (as far I know) remained without a reissue?
Good question.

The first thing is probably that it was released on a private press label, which although given a catalog number ending in 07 has no other releases out there that I could find out about. A second reason might be the packaging, which I happen to love but which could have put off potential fans of this music by its slightly ominous ‘black cross’ design and graphic of a squatting naked girl with her feet nailed to a wooden plank and wrists nailed to.. something, maybe the graphic of the text above her head. Then there’s the weird vaguely occult sigil above her head. It’s good to remember that for every potential record buyer who stumbles across an album cover like this and says “What the fuck IS this? I have to have it!”, there are a hundred others who will stop at “What the fuck is this?” and then just keep looking through the record bin for the next Seals & Croft album. But the music isn’t nearly freaky enough to satisfy a lot of the people who fall into the first category, who probably brought the record home and listened to it once (like the copy I managed to find, which looks practically unplayed). The album gives the appearance of being some kind of concept album, supported by the verbose rambling about the albums ‘conception’ on the back cover, and the inner gatefold’s designation of the first side only as the ‘Bluze Mass.’ If you’re expecting the Electric Prunes, don’t. There really isn’t any overriding concept stringing these songs together unless it’s something so esoteric that only Buck Black could see it. I think the bottom line is that grand concept albums were all the rage in `73 and Curtis Mayfield had proven that they could be pitched to the Black American public.

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Which brings us to what is the more crucial element that holds this back from true greatness – the lack of a real producer. The album could have used a southern-soul equivalent of a Curtis Mayfield or Donny Hathaway directing and shaping the whole project. Buck’s instincts are right, but he needs someone to help tie it all together. Take it easy, Buck, you’re working too hard, let someone else take charge for a while. I’m talking about things like pacing and song sequencing: the album eventually falls into a predictable pattern of fast song / slow song that makes the it seem much longer than its 30 minutes, even if it never falls into tedium. Although when taken individually each song is a gem in its way, after you put them all together the melodies can begin to sound too similar. What’s needed is someone to make the executive decision to cut one of them out, or combine two of the ideas into one song, or perhaps go one step further and write a bonafide HIT song for the album with the golden Mayfield or Hathaway touch and freshen up the proceedings. But I wouldn’t personally want to make those judgment calls. It should be stated that the record gallops off to a promising start in terms of variety and pacing in the first ten minutes: the uptempo “Love Is All” lyrically lectures us to love our fellow man regardless of the color of his skin or social standing, and that we’re all just a hair’s breadth away from standing in the welfare line (well, except for the 1%..), and the choruses are topped with punchy 8-bar brass runs that would have incurred the jealousy of many a horn-rock band like Chicago or Blood Sweat & Tears. They follow this up with the swamp-funk of Miss Veegalopps, a tambourine-driven gospel revival that involves a lot of jumping up and down of the protagonist, punctuated with the aforementioned harmonica solo. Then we get the first soul-infused ballad of the album, “Only A Fool”, which opens with descending piano chords plunked down alongside a pretty heavy rhythm section. Buck lets loose and shows us his vocal range, dipping into baritone and flying to falsetto in the same lines, preaching about how love blinds us even when someone is “running [their] low-down rotten stinky funky game” on us. Simple and effective.

From here on out, it’s love songs of one variety or another. There’s the swinging, almost jump-blues of “You No Longer Care For Me” and the up-tempo soul nugget of “If I Had You.” But it’s on the album’s second side that the fast/slow pattern I mentioned before actually kicks in. Again, on their own, each of these songs carries their weight, but in the context of what’s come before they seem a bit like a rehash. Repeated listens have mitigated this impression somewhat as I’ve come to appreciate each tune’s merits, but first impressions are important in the fickle music world, and the impression still holds in this case. It’s not until the regal chord changes of the penultimate song, “Back Home To You” that I feel really engaged with the album again. This is Buck’s songwriting as its peak, belting out a soul ballad worthy of the repertoire of an Otis Redding or Sam Cooke. I can’t see why a song like this wouldn’t have been recorded by a ‘star’ if it had been offered as a demo to a major studio. But it’s obvious Mr. Buck Black has his sights set on grander things. The final track is one hell of a closer. Melodically distinct and saddled with a propulsive groove, it also makes us realize we haven’t heard a vocal harmony on the entire album – probably a key failing on a record like this. Here we get Buck harmonizing with himself, which is pretty obvious even if you don’t read the album credits. It works nicely but other voices are also nice on a good soul record. But the lyric “there ain`t nothing that Buck wouldn’t do” should perhaps be taken literally. This is 100% his project. The credits list a Jackson Howe as the producer, who has some engineering and production credits with Muscle Shoals and some folk-rock-country artists. But I get the impression that Buck was kind of a control freak, and/or that Howe didn’t have much inspiration to take control – to add to the sonic impression, there is a somewhat hilarious photo of him with his head bowed and cradled in his hands at the mixing board, an image of studio frustration if there ever was one.

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Nothing has been said yet about the identity of Buck Black, because he’s an enigmatic figure about which I know next to nothing. He has a vocal credit on the album “Gris Gris” by Dr. John, but you wouldn’t know this from THAT album’s jacket because everyone there has a bizarre nickname (a tradition that Buck carries onto this album). Thanks to info picked up at another blog, I figured out that his real name was Dave Dixon (‘D.D.’) and confirmed that he is in fact credited on Gris-Gris. That album was recorded in Los Angeles, in spite of all its hoodoo swamp atmosphere. Mississippi Bluze Mass was actually recorded in Mississippi, but mixed in “parts West” in unspecified studios. It’s recorded and mixed remarkably well, in fact sonically it’s a joy to listen to, although it is a shame that it was pressed on cheap OPEC-crisis era vinyl which produces a high-pitched whine in between the tracks.

So what was Buck’s aka Dave Dixon’s story? Maybe someday we’ll learn it. I’m thinking he lived on the West Coast for a while pursuing a career in the music business, grew frustrated and moved back home to Mississippi and eventually made this album. From the photos, he appears to be a man in his forties, perhaps even fifties. But if this is a debut album it doesn’t sound like the work of a novice – this guy was drawing from lots of experience, playing and singing and bands and writing songs, somewhere.

So, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “lost masterpiece” but maybe an unjustly forgotten near-miss. There are a lot of obscure, private-press records from the early 70s which are obscure for good reason, and whose appeal rarely reaches beyond the type of folks who read the Head Heritage `zine. “Mississippi Bluze Mass”, though, could have reached a broader public if it had more guidance in the studio. Whether it might have lost some of its charm in the process is a question that can’t be answered.

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Andy Bey – Experience and Judgment (1974)

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ANDY BEY
EXPERIENCE AND JUDGMENT
Released 1974 on Atlantic (LP 1654)
This pressing 1998 Koch Jazz (KOC CD-8520)
This pressing is HDCD encoded

1 Celestial Blues 3:24
2 Experience 2:57
3 Judgment 2:58
4 I Know This Love Can’t Be Wrong 4:22
5 Hibiscus 4:39
6 You Should’ve Seen The Way 2:31
7 Tune Up 4:11
8 Rosemary Blue 3:24
9 Being Uptight 3:05
10 A Place Where Love Is 4:38
11 Trust Us To Find The Way 2:39
12 The Power Of My Mind 2:55

Recorded at Regent Studios, NY

Andy Bey – Vocals, Acoustic Piano
Buddy Williams, Jimmy Young – drums
Wilbur Bascomb – Bass
William Fischer – Electric Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Synthesizer, Percussion
Electric Bass – Wilbur Bascomb
George Davis – guitar (Track 2 only)
Richard Resnicoff – guitar
Engineer – Bob Liftin
Guitar – George Davis (2) , Richard Resnicoff (tracks: 2, 3, 8, 9)
Selwart Clarke – Violen, viola

Produced by by William Fischer

———————-

Yes, this is one ugly album cover. But what’s inside is as beautiful a record as you’re likely to come across.

A long long time ago I promised a flood of music from Gary Bartz. I didn’t deliver on that promise. What can I say, my life is a morass of unfulfilled potential and broken promises. At least, that’s how it seems some of the time.

Until I put on this and then everything is suddenly fine. Andy Bey is easily one of the most underrated figures in music. His work with Horace Silver and Gary Bartz especially is phenomenal. And this album is, well, eternal. It’s largely a laid-back affair, brimming with the echoes of cosmic soul in ways that aren’t too different from a lot of other contemporary albums, but this one has a certain fire and heart that just isn’t very common. It begins with a slowed down take on his ‘Celestial Blues’ that he had already recorded with Bartz’ NTU Troop. First time I heard this version I didn’t know how to react. I felt like a fly suspended in sweet funky amber. Followed by ‘Experience’, the most frantic and uptempo tune on the record, full of lyrics that would be difficult for anybody but Andy to sing and make sound this cool in elongated melodic gospel shouts from the lotus seat. “Judgment”, the other side of the coin, is slowly and heavier on the funk with some wickedly-recorded wah-guitar sounding like the microphone was in the hallway during the session. Andy deserves more credit as a pianist than he usually gets but it must be said that keys man Bill Fischer steals the show here. Acting as producer and also composer on some of the tunes, he definitely has a ‘mark’ of production here – but with his exquisite taste in analog synth tones and the absolutely perfect mix, you won’t hear me complaining about his production. His synth work and electric piano weave in and out of the music faster than an arcade old-school centipede, there and gone halfway before your awareness has caught up. In trying to find some more info on this album on the All-Knowing Interwebs, I have seen this album compared to Gil Scott-Heron in a few places. Which really makes no sense in terms of Gil’s vision and gestalt.. Where there IS a similarity is between this album and Brian Jackson, Gil’s co-conspirator. Now, THAT makes sense to me.

Really really I mean it, not a bad song here. The scaled-down funk poetry of ‘Hibiscus’ hits all my buttons in the right place, perfect in every way of composition, lyric, execution, tonalities, textures, production. A heavily spiritual mind-expanding vibration just billows forth from your stereo speakers (or, um, iPod earbuds, I guess) to envelop you. “You Should’ve Have Seen The Way” is easily the funniest song about meditation I’ve ever come across. Granted, that makes it kind of a big fish in a small pool, but still… Story of guy taking a friend’s advice by trying to clear his mind and find his way through meditation, but he just can’t stop thinking about making love to a woman. Deep, metaphysical, sensual as hell. For all the buddhist vibe on this album it’s good to know Bey and company can keep it real. “Tune Up” is a more serious tune on a similar wavelength, one of my friend TY’s favorite tracks on this. More lyrics that would sound weird from anyone but Andy Bey, “like hypnotizing yourself up to a certain point,” it just kind of works on you and achieves in the listener an analog of what he’s singing about.

So far there is nothing remotely commercial about whats been presented here (jazz purists be damned, this stuff is too obscure and deep to be selling out to anyone). Then we should be all the more surprised by the next tune, a ballad lifted from Neil Sedaka. That’s right – Neil fucking Sedaka! And he just kills us with it. It becomes a love sonnet sung from across the veil of mortality, sung from a dead man to his widow. Granted all that was already in the lyrics but goddamn if Andy Bey doesn’t make it all come together and work on this album. By now we are 3/4 through the album and the remainder is pretty low-key and mellow. Nothing to grab you like what’s already come before but just enough going on to keep you engaged, going out on a wonderfully optimistic and sensual mindsex epic of “The Power of My Mind”.

It’s always weird to stop and think about how friends are brought together out of seemingly random occurrences, some drifting apart, some always there, some coming back like cycles of the moon. And when I ask myself why it took me so long to post this record, because it had been on my ‘short list’ for about a year now, I think it must have to do with that elusive ephemeral thing called friendship. I remembered it, suddenly, and sent it to someone who I think may have needed it right then. And a few days later we were having an intense conversation that ostensibly had nothing to do with this album but yet also had everything to do with this album. And that is one of the great qualities of “Experience and Judgment” – although you can call it ‘soul jazz’ or ‘spiritual jazz’, it is of an earthly sort of cosmic consciousness, one imbued with the substance of day to day living and struggle, that keeps its lyrics even at their most abstract from flying untethered into the blinding light of oneness, instead staying in the air for a while to light our way as we listen. I can’t recommend this album enough.

p.s. the HDCD mastering is a nice touch. Several digital players can recognize the coding and provide the up-sampling, leave a note if you want to know more.

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password: vibes

Tim Maia – Tim Maia (1973) (24-96 vinyl)

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This post inaugurates a Tim Maia project that will hopefully inaugurate a separate Tim Maia page that will be a repository for all things Tim. In the meantime I want to register that this is in some ways a PROTEST for the disgraceful boxset that has just been issued by Universal records (shamelessly called ‘Tim Maia Universal’) that gives his hardcore fans absolutely NOTHING. No rarities or unreleased tracks, no material that was not released on Universal (which excludes at the very least three very important records), and I will bet you $20 that they also butchered the audio in the mastering by making everything as loud as everything else. It is a travesty that an artist as important — and as popular — as Tim Maia could have the majority of his catalog fall out of print for so long, only to be reissued in such a careless format in what is simply a money-making venture in time for the holidays. I had been hearing about this boxset being in the works for over a year now, and I had hoped that my doubts and reservations would be proven wrong. They weren’t. As with the Jorge Ben box, it is better than NOT having the music in print, but they could have done a lot better. (For Jorge Ben, we at least got 2 discs of hard to find and unreleased material). I am going to end up buying the damn thing anyway, because I am what it is called “a completist” about these things and am therefore cursed. But I ain’t going to like it.

With no further ado, here is…

TIM MAIA

Tim Maia”

Released 1973 on Polydor (2451 041)

1 Réu confesso (Tim Maia)

2 Compadre (Tim Maia)

3 Over again (Tim Maia)

4 Até que enfim encontrei você (Tim Maia)

5 O balanço (Tim Maia)

6 New love (Roger Bruno, Tim Maia)

7 Do your thing, behave yourself (Tim Maia)

8 Gostava tanto de você (Édson Trindade)

9 Música no ar (Tim Maia)

10 A paz do meu mundo é você (Mita)

11 Preciso ser amado (Tim Maia)

12 Amores (Tim Maia)


Vinyl -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply) > Creek Audio OBH-15 -> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard -> Adobe Audition 3.0 at 24-bits 96khz -> Click Repair light settings, some isolated clicks removed using Audition -> dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Tags done with Foobar 2000

Musician credits:

Drums – Myro

Bass – Barbosa

Piano – Cidinho

Organ – Pedrinho

Lead electric guitar – Paulinho

Acoustic guitar – Tim

Twelve-string guitar – Neco

Conga and tumba – Ronaldo

Gonzá and tamborine – Roberto

Cow bell – MitaTrumpets – Waldir Barros, José C. Amorim

Tenor sax – Aurélio Marcos

Baritone sax – Maurilho Faria

Trombone – Edmundo Maciel

French horns – Znedek Suab, Carlos GomesVocals- Paulo Smith, Sheila Smith, Gracinha, Edinho, Genival (Cassiano), Amaro, Tim

Arrangements – Tim Maia (arranjos de base), horns and strings – Waldir A. Barros

Produced by Tim Maia

Recording engineer – Ari Carvalhaes

Assistant engineers: João, Paulinho, Luiz Cláudio, Jayro Gaulberto

Mixed by Ari Carvalhaes and Tim Maia

Rehearsed at SEROMA Studios and recorded at Phonogram Studios, Rio

This is Tim Maia’s fourth album, and it really seems as if the guy had the Midas touch, simply could not make a bad record. His third album (also self-titled) was a bit of a drop-off in consistency, although by no means a weak effort. This record, though, is a masterpiece from start to finish. It opens with “Réu confesso” which unsurprisingly was the huge hit of the summer when it was released. Written for a girlfriend with whom Tim had just separated. This song was his attempt to get her back. It didn’t work, but it ended up being one of the biggest hits of his career. The other huge hit off this album was “Gostava tanto de você”, written by Édson Trindade. Both are heavy-hitting soul classics. “Compadre”, with its loping but heavy beat, warm vocals, lyrics of friendship, and strummy acoustic guitar (left channel) balanced against a quietly-mixed Hammond organ (right channel) is yet another perfect track. “Over Again”, sung in English, would fit well alongside any of the soul hits on the US airwaves in 1973. “Até quem enfim encontrei você” is another uptempo, breezy love song, not all that different from ‘Réu confesso’ to be honest but I am not complaining. The melody is distinct and it may have been another hit for him.

The album has some lovely soul ballads: “New Love”, once again in English; “A paz de meu mundo é você” which has a church hymnal quality to the melody and chord progression; and the austere solo guitar-and-voice “Preciso ser amado” are all excellent, although I would like to hear an alternate take of the latter as it seems to lack a little bit of the emotion Tim usually puts into his voice. There are a few all-out funk soul workouts on this record — “O balanço” with its punchy horns and wah-wah guitar are contrasted by Tim’s mellow (nearly slurred) vocals and the drummer laying on the ride cymbal. The clean-tone of the rhythm guitar is delicious too, making this tune sort of my special ‘secret’ favorite among the more obvious things to love here; “Do Your Thing, Behave Yourself” begins as another mid-tempo melodic swinging piece with uplifting vocals about taking it easy and remembering that unhappiness doesn’t last forever, if you just do your thing and so on, and then what is a great song becomes even greater as it goes out on a rocking crescendo that should remind us that Tim had once been a leather-jacket wearing Jovem Guarda rock rebel. The albums closes on a solid funk instrumental, “Amores”, with some nice fuzzy guitar lines. I remember the first time I heard it, I kept waiting for the vocals to kick in, as it sounds like one long build-up to a vocal number. Perhaps the band used this jam to warm up the crowd before Tim got out on stage (when he decided to finally come out on stage..). In the context of an LP, it has the effect of making me want to flip the record over and listen to the whole thing again, which is just fine by me. “Gostava tanto de você”, as has already been said, was the other huge hit off this album, and for good reason. Kicking off with a very-sample-worthy snare drum and tom-tom intro and then ripping into a gorgeous arrangement with horns, strings, and timbales giving a triumphal lift to what are bittersweet lyrics. There are rumors and urban legends about what the lyric is about, most of them having been invented on the internet, and Nelson Motta does nothing to clarify the matter as he simply doesn’t mention the content at all.

In fact Nelson Motta spends almost no time at all talking about this album in his sloppy biography of Tim, “Vale Tudo,” merely mentioning that the two singles off it were a huge success and then going on to give us more details about what Tim had for lunch. It is unfortunate, because I for one would like more insight into the creative process in the studio, what the vibe was like, and so on. Tim was notoriously picky about sound — something which Motta does in fact devote a bit of time writing about – and this album is mixed unbelievably perfectly, it is as if he finally managed the auditory orgasm he had been building towards in his first three records. This is also something like the pinnacle of the first phase of Tim’s career — after this album, things would become a lot more complicated. In fact, exactly as the album was being released, Tim got out of his contract with Polydor and was only in communication with them to collect his royalties. He had been courted by RCA-Victor, and he had his sights set on putting out a double album.

It has been said (somewhere, not by me), that there is a mysterious curse surrounding the creation of double albums. They are usually the mark of hubris and overindulgence, and it seems something usually bad happens — The Beatles began their process of splitting up during The White Album being one famous example, but there are plenty of others. Often the results are artistically very gratifying but frequently the whole process is very taxing on the mental health of those involved and often the results end up financially a disaster. Such was the case with Tim Maia, who ended up turning his double album project into a work of religious proselytization for the Cultura Racional sect. But that story is for another post. Let this album, then, mark the `end of the innocence` for Tim Maia, and what a joyous sound it is.

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Cassiano – Imagem e Som (1971)

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IMAGEM E SOM
Cassiano
1971 RCA Victor
BSL 1551
Reissue 2001 on BMG/RCA ‘100 Anos de Música’ Series

 

1 Lenda
(Lula Freire, Marcos Valle)
2 Ela mandou esperar
(Cassiano, Tim Maia)
3 Tenho dito
(Cassiano, Tim Maia)
4 Já
(Cassiano)
5 É isso aí
(Cassiano)
6 O caso das bossas
(Zil Rosendo, Dabliu Namor)
7 Eu, meu filho e você
(Cassiano)
8 Primavera (Vai chuva)
(Silvio Rochael, Cassiano)
9 Minister
(Cassiano)
10 Uma lágrima
(Cassiano)
11 Canção dos hippies (Paz e amor)
(Professor Pardal)
12 Não fique triste
(Cassiano)

Genival Cassiano was one of the architects of Brazilian Soul music, although his work is eclipsed (and rightly so, in my opinion) by his friend Tim Maia. Tim was actually an admirer of Cassiano’s vocal group Os Diagonais and drew inspiration from them for his own sound, and the two soon came to be friends and collaborators. Os Dianonais provided backing vocals for Tim’s records and live shows in the early days. Not only does Tim have a few writing credits here, but he is also singing backup, uncredited, as part of Os Diagonais. (NOTE: I do not have any proof of this, yet, other than my own ears. I have been searching through Nelson Motta’s biography of Tim, “Vale Tudo”, for some evidence, but as yet have found none. While its an entertaining read, it is kind of sloppy in terms of presenting his recorded work, so I don’t consider this a *denial* of his participation). Likewise, Cassiano played guitar on several of Tim’s albums.

But how to consider this album on its own terms? Well, it was his first album under his own name, and is a bit uneven, but it has its transcendent soul moments. Oddly, for the man who is credited as being so adept at creating the vocal harmonies of Os Diagonais, his voice takes a while to grow on me — he lacks the swagger and charisma of his friend, Tim Maia. The first track, the Marcos Valle song Lenda, is to me an odd choice to open the album, as there are a lot of other tracks that grab the attention more. The album picks it up a notch with two collaboration with Maia and by the time it hits “Já”, credited solely to Cassiano, the album has found its pace. The orchestrations on this album stand out — meticulous, full brass and string arrangements in the same style as those on Tim’s records of the same period, all of this goes to distinguish what was truly a ‘movement’ in Brazilian music, and a rogue one at that, going against the grain of what the critics of the time thought was worthy of praise. Other exemplary stand-out tracks here are “Eu, meu filho, e você”, “Canção dos hippies,” and “Não fique triste.” I should also point out the prominent use of vibraphone on this record — another thing in common with Tim’s records, alas – that is a particular delight to me.

A historic and somewhat-rare album of the Brazilian Soul scene, I hope you enjoy this!

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