Red Hot + Rio 2: hot and cold | Bleader

Red Hot + Rio 2: hot and cold

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For nearly two decades the Red Hot organization has been producing eclectic anthologies "to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues." Most of these releases have been built around some intriguing concept: Red Hot + Riot (2002) paid homage to Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti, and Dark Was the Night (2009) focused on early American gospel, blues, and folk—the title is derived from the classic Blind Willie Johnson song "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground."

On June 28 the organization released Red Hot + Rio 2, its second effort revolving around Brazilian popular music. The first anthology, from 1996, focused on bossa nova, and this new installment takes a broad look at tropicalia. Like all the other Red Hot comps, it's a sometimes maddening mixed bag—the big-name artists (John Legend, Of Montreal, Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello) who are usually the reason folks pick up something like this weigh it down with mediocrity. On the plus side, the compilers generally have pretty hip tastes, and this two-CD set includes some very good stuff, usually by artists most Americans have never heard of, the majority from Brazil.

Bland neosoul crooner John Legend contributes an original tune, played by a band that includes Brazilian musicians Mauro Refosco and Guilherme Monteiro; they chip in some tasteful but relatively generic bossa rhythms, but Legend's performance is about as close to the spirit of tropicalia as it is to Tuvan throat singing. Elsewhere Seu Jorge handles the vocals on a new Mario Caldato remix of Beck's "Tropicalia," his tribute to the movement (which didn't share much with it musically). In fact, many of the vintage Brazilian tunes featured aren't tropicalia material, even though some were written by major tropicalia figures (such as Gilberto Gil's mid-70s gem "Ela," covered here by Curumin).

I won't ask you to read about all 33 tracks, but I do have some favorites. Contemporary Brazilian singer Vanessa da Mata teams up with Seu Jorge & Almaz for a version of her lovely song "Boa Reza" (which you can check out below), and expansive LA folk singer Mia Doi Todd is joined by Jose Gonazlez on a gorgeous reading of "Um Girassol da Cor do Seu Cabelo," a Lo Borges composition from his classic collaboration with Milton Nascimento, Clube da Esquina. Also especially and unexpectedly good is "Nú Com a Minha Música," a gentle collaboration between the great Marisa Monte and Devendra Banhart, with help from Rodrigo Amarante (Los Hermanos, Little Joy) and Dadi Carvalho (Novos Baianos); it's a cover of a Caetano Veloso song from his album Outros Palavras, which was released a full decade after tropicalia had run its course.

I suppose historical accuracy isn't the point, and anyway, many of the cross-cultural efforts here embody the spirit of tropicalia if not its precise sound. Some of Brazil's best are involved, albeit in occasionally minor roles: Apollo Nove, Céu, Clara Moreno, DJ Dolores, Fernanda Takai, Isaar, Moreno Veloso, Orquestra Contemporãnea de Olinda, Otto, Thalma de Freitas, Tom Zé, Trio Mocotó, and more.

Vanessa da Mata with Seu Jorge & Almaz, "Boa Reza":

Today's playlist:

Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Women, Public Strain (Jagjaguwar)
Tom Rainey, Pool School (Clean Feed)
Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson, Gift (Topic)
Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony (Blue Note)

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