There are few sounds on the planet as elegant as fado: its characteristically dramatic vocal style and the sweet, delicate tone of the Portuguese 12-string guitar create a refined feeling of inescapable longing and sadness. For all its current international chic, however, this was once hearty peasant music, often performed by prostitutes for the entertainment of neighborhood toughs. On her most recent album, Sensus (Decca), Cristina Branco uses Portuguese-language poetry (set to music by her husband, guitarist Custodio Castelo) to explore unrestrained eroticism, simultaneously expanding the definition of fado and harking back to its earthy roots. In "Cantigas as serranas" an extended metaphor of farm fields lying untended describes a neglected lover, while a song like "As maos e os frutos" is more direct: "Your impetuous body is like a river / Where mine gets lost." Her sensual yet tightly controlled phrasing is ideal for these often blunt expressions of physical desire. Most of the songs stick to classic guitar-based arrangements, but on "O meu amor," by the great Brazilian singer-songwriter Chico Buarque, Branco sings with only piano and bass for accompaniment. Her voice isn't as big or bold as that of Mariza, heir apparent to the fado throne vacated by the death in 1999 of the legendary Amalia Rodrigues, but this album suggests she may prove to be the greater force in the evolution of the genre. Saturday 9, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $22, $18 for kids and seniors. All ages.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.