I don't think any U.S. label has done more to open up to us the many-splendored world of Brazilian music than Luaka Bop. Early in the imprint's history a series of compilations assembled by David Byrne introduced us to icons such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, and Gal Costa; in 1999 it dug deeper to release an anthology of vintage Os Mutantes material. Label boss Yale Evelev began working on a collection of music by Tim Maia a decade ago, but complicated negotiations with labels and with Maia's estate—he died in 1998 at 58—have delayed its release so that it's only finally coming out this October. Maia is perhaps the last great legend of modern Brazilian music still largely unknown in the U.S., despite being a superstar at home. In part because he lived in the States as a teenager (from 1959 to '63) he became a passionate fan of American soul, and over his career he developed an inspired Brazilian variant that proved hugely influential. He made his biggest albums for Polydor between 1970 and '73, but some of his most interesting records came later, in the mid-70s, when he began to more fully indulge his eccentricities and got involved in a religious cult—that's when he cut the two volumes of Racional for his own Seroma label.
Material from those records—including today's 12 O'Clock Track, "Que Beleza"—forms the backbone of the Luaka Bop compilation. A different version of the song appears on Racional Vol. 1, but the take on Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia comes from the far more rare Vol. 2. I first heard it on a promo copy of the Luaka Bop release in 2008, and I play just about every time I spin Brazilian music somewhere. It's different from (and superior to) the version on Vol. 1 because it includes a fantastic guitar solo clearly inspired by the playing of Ernie Isley—I only wish Maia had gone all the way and made a two-part single, as the Isley Brothers often did, so I could listen to that solo for another four minutes. Anyway, what we have here is satisfying nonetheless and ought to go a long way toward waking more people up to the genius of Tim Maia.