Back in 1976, Brazilian singer Gal Costa recorded one of the finest tribute albums ever of her native land. It was devoted to the great Bahian composer and musician, Dorival Caymmi, and that album has been an ever-present on this writer’s required Brazilian listening pleasures ever since. French singer Lio, who is of Portuguese descent, has decided to offer her own tribute to the great songwriter, but has wisely avoided a direct comparison by choosing a largely different repertoire of his compositions. The result is a pared down series of twelve songs with a basic rhythm section comprising acoustic guitar, keyboards, accordion and percussion.
For non-francophone speakers, Lio needs a few words of introduction. When barely sixteen years of age in the late 1970s, the young singer came to prominence with the pop hit, ‘Banana Split’, which was a massive hit in France. Blessed with a sweet sounding voice and photogenic Latin diva looks, further pop success was always likely and that came in the 1980s with the humorously titled, ‘Les brunes ne comptent pour des prunes’, which roughly translates as, ‘Brunettes do not count for nothing’, something of a rallying cry of sorts. The album is arranged and produced by long-term collaborator Jacques Duvall and is, in general, reflective of the more melancholic side of Caymmi’s songwriting craftmanship. A jazzy take on, ‘Nesta rua tão deserta’, impresses with some deft brush work and vibes. In marked contrast, the more orchestrated, ‘Morrer no mar’, inventively recreates the acoustic sounds of the cello and viola. The influence of samba-rock pioneer, Jorge Ben, surfaces on the minimalist mid-tempo ‘Nunca mais’, with guitar, bass and percussion, which demonstrates that less can mean more, while the gently uplifting ‘Doralice’ features a whistled intro and acoustic guitar, and the arrangements bear a strong resemblance to those of Joao Gilberto. The one genuinely uptempo number and probably most recognised of all the songs here is ‘Samba de minha terra’.
The genesis of the project actually began in seemingly unlikely territory in the north-east of France and the town of Valenciennes where Jacques Duvall played fellow musician, guitarist and friend Christophe Vandeputte, some of the Brazilian album interpretations of Caymmi’s work. As the bilingual French and English inner sleeve notes affirm with no little irony, ‘Not exactly the same latitude as Bahia’. Nevertheless, this ‘Made in France’ production works a treat and is respectful of the songwriting tradition of the Caymmi family who, collectively, are probably Brazil’s first family of song alongside that of Jobim. If one criticism could be voiced of the album as a whole, it is perhaps that a greater number of uptempo song could and should have been attempted. A pull out graphical illustrated image of Lio confirms the Latin diva status, complete with characteristic tropical pose, holding a cavaquinho (small Portuguese string instrument).