With some 50 albums to her credit over a career of more than 45 years, Maria Bethania is a Brazilian songstress who deserves greater attention in the United States. And now with the DRG Brazil’s September release of three new albums never before released in this country, another opportunity is here and attention must be paid.
The Essential Maria Bethania: Love Letter is a two-disc set of a concert in Rio de Janeiro recorded on April 16, 2013. The concert marks the singer joining forces with a new band featuring pianist Wagner Tiso, after ending what the liner notes call her “three decade” association with guitarist Jaime Alem. Tiso, the notes point out, comes from a different Brazilian culture from Bethania and “gives the music a subtle twist.” She comes from the area of sea and beaches, he from the hilly regions, adding perhaps a more introspective note to the music. The concert, as one would expect, includes old favorites and Brazilian pop classics as one can immediately tell from the audience reaction to the opening notes of some of the songs, a bit of poetry, and some new material from her recent studio album. The essential in the title is no misnomer.
Additionally, DRG Brazil is releasing two studio albums: Oasis, which includes some of the material recycled for the concert, and My Backyard. The first pares down the instrumental accompaniment, stresses the subtlety of the singer’s vocals and the beautiful simplicity of her performance with songs like “Lagrima,” “Casablanca” and “Salmo.” The second disc, recorded, according to the liner notes, as a way of relieving the emotional turmoil after the death of her mother at 105, focuses attention on her national heritage, “voices of the past that formed part of the creation of Brazil … personified in Bethania’s artistic life.” It also contains, as a bonus track the one song that may be recognizable to American audiences unfamiliar with Brazilian music, Tom Jobim and Aloysio de Oliveria’s “Dindi.”
While there is no denying that a knowledge of Portuguese would significantly add to the appreciation of Bethania’s music, it is equally undeniable that the emotional honesty of her vocals comes through in spite of any language gap. She has a beautiful voice that exudes passionate intensity. There is a reason she has made all those albums, whatever the language. This is a woman who can sing.
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