Madredeus ‘Essência’ (Eter/Sony) 4/5

Portugese folk, but not fado, is normally seldom heard outside the Iberian peninsular, but in the case of Madredeus they have become internationally recognised, thanks in no small part to their participation in the Wim Wenders’ 1990s film and cinematic homage to the capital ‘Trip to Lisbon’. Now some fifteen years later and the line-up has changed substantially with only of the two founding members remaining and a new lead singer in Beatriz Nunes. However, the distinctive sound is immediately identifiable and the fusion of classical and Portugese folkloric sounds just as intoxicating as it ever did. Possibly the strongest piece and one that will serve to promote the album as a whole is the driving ‘Palpitiçao’ with heightened tension create by the clever use of guitar and collective strings, and in particular the inventive trombone sound effect on cello. Nunes possesses an almost angelic sounding voice and uses this to the full on the opener ‘Ao longe o mar’ and her delicate vocals are showcased to perfection on ‘O Paraiso’. The mournful ‘Amanha’ with extended string passages is beautifully performed by the instrumentalists. For a change of mood ‘A estrada da Montanha’, with a guitar-led intro and use of organ is a mid-tempo number that is an absolute winner and more of this style from Madredeus would be most welcome. If one had to make once criticism of the album, then it would probably be that there is an imbalance between the quieter paced numbers and the uptempo ones, but long-time fans will doubtless not be concerned by such trivia. For those new to the group, a fine introduction to a formation that sounds as committed as ever. Exquisitely crafted and refined music. Tim Stenhouse