Elis Regina ‘Viva a Brotolândia’ (El/Cherry Red) 4/5

elis-reginaBrazilian diva and all-time great vocalist Elis Regina enjoyed major success from the mid-1960s onwards until her tragic death in 1982/3, but this excellent release combines two of her very earliest albums from 1961 and 1962 respectively. While those in search of her greatest ever album would do well to check out ‘Elis e Tom’ from 1974, or any of the plethora of ‘Greatest Hits’, for connoisseurs and just plain fans of Brazilian music, these earlier releases work a treat and her voice even in her mid-late teens is already highly distinctive and a cut above the rest. Interestingly, the instrumentation varies between Afro-Cuban, sometimes bolero-influenced, sometimes with a samba feel, and out and out pop. It should be remembered that just a bossa nova was hitting the US and elsewhere, English language pop and rock was crossing the Atlantic too. These albums are actually and thankfully free of the bossa nova influence and, in general, Elis Regina would eventually deploy a second generation of younger writers who were influenced by, but not part of that bossa nova craze. The first album’s title literally translates as ‘Long Live Teenage-Land’ and was aimed at that age pyramid. While some tracks now sound a little corny in their instrumentation, others are actually jazz-tinged and one can hear why, when Stan Getz heard the new sounds of Rio, he was so moved. Jazzy samba is the flavour on ‘Da sorte’ that opens up the album, while ‘Tu seras’ is a lovely mid-tempo number. Pick of the bunch is ‘Dor de Cotovelo’ that cooks up a heady stew and the jazz-samba ‘Mesmo de mentira’ is impressive also. The second album is a little heavier in tone with ‘Poema’ a heavy Afro-Cuban themed song. An indication of Regina’s future widening of repertoire to include other Latin American music forms can be heard on the sumptuous bolero, ‘Nos teus labios’. Caetano Veloso ought to reprise this. Big band jazz-samba is low on the ground overall, but does briefly surface on ‘Vou comprar um coraçao’ which delivers on every front. If one had to make a comparison of these early releases with another singer of the same magnitude, then it might well be Aretha Franklin and her pre-Atlantic recordings with Columbia. Like Franklin, the production team of Elis Regina were searching for the winning formula and did not always hit the right spot. There are a few horrendous pop efforts contained within that make one wince. However, these are few and far between and as a whole this pairing of albums is not only long overdue and welcome, but an essential part of any self-respecting Elis Regina album collection.

Tim Stenhouse