She could never really carry a tune--rather, she'd sort of bobble the melody, precariously balancing it between the notes that ran flat and ones that strayed a little sharp--and her voice packed all the punch of a hungry kitten's mew. But that didn't stop Astrud Gilberto from becoming a pop icon in 1964, when she contributed the dreamy, half-whispered vocal to Stan Getz's hit recording of "The Girl From Ipanema"; in fact, for listeners the world over, she was that lissome Carioca on her way to the sea. Gilberto went on to record several more albums in the 60s, singing both contemporary American pop tunes and classics from her homeland, and with her waifish exoticism and unruffled calm, she was perfect for a decade that considered Twiggy the model of femininity, offered flower power as the answer to global conflict, and had no trouble pairing "sexuality" and "innocence" in the same sentence. In the years since, Gilberto--who looks remarkably youthful as she approaches her 60th birthday--has learned a thing or two about singing, but she uses the skills she's picked up mostly to re-create that untrained ingenue. Her delivery is still almost offhanded; her phrasing remains artless and intimate; and while her pitch has certainly improved, it's stayed soft at the edges, so that she slips into a note rather than landing solidly on it. And amazingly, it still works. Some singers age well, but Gilberto seems not to have aged at all, and that makes all the difference between what she is--the eternal goddess of bossa nova--and the mere kitsch revivalist she easily could have become. Saturday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.