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Elis Regina - Ela (1971)

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ELA
Elis Regina
1971 Phonogram
CD Reissue 1998 Philips

1 Ih! meu Deus do Céu
(Ronaldo Monteiro, Ivan Lins)
2 Black is beautiful
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
3 Cinema Olympia
(Caetano Veloso)
4 Golden slumbers
(McCartney, Lennon)
5 Falei e disse
(Baden Powell, Paulo César Pinheiro)
6 Aviso aos navegantes
(Baden Powell, Paulo César Pinheiro)
7 Mundo deserto
(Erasmo Carlos, Roberto Carlos)
8 Ela
(César Costa Filho, Aldir Blanc)
9 Madalena
(Ronaldo Monteiro, Ivan Lins)
10 Os argonautas
(Caetano Veloso)
11 Estrada do Sol
(Dolores Duran, Tom Jobim)

Produced by Nelson Motta
with studio assistance from Roberto Menescal
Arrangements by Chico de Morais
Front cover by Aldo Luiz


----------------------

Today, January 19, marked 30 years since the death of one of Brazil's most beloved divas, Elis Regina. The last few years of her career saw her recording lots of crap, but during the 60s and the better part of the 70s she had a long string of solid records, even if the quality of her repertoire (and the number of songwriters from which she drew) dwindled over time. I've picked this record not because it's representative or a masterpiece or anything like that -- it's neither - but because I think it probably gets overlooked since it is chronologically sandwiched between a couple of her other records that overshadow it.

I always considered this sort of a weak effort but the album has grown on me over the years. It is sort of Elis' foray into the nascent Brazilian soul movement of the time, a genre for which she wasn't particularly well-suited. There were two big hits off it - Madalena from Ivan Lins, and Black Is Beautiful from Marcos and Paulo Sérgio Valle. The former is classic Elis Regina and deserved to be a smash hit; the latter is much better on the original 'Garra' album from Marcos Valle. The lyrics are so bizarre by today's standards (and rather politically incorrect, although kind of hilarious) that I really can't picture anyone other than Marcos Valle pulling it off. The thing about the Brothers Valle is they could be very clever, subtle, and ironic without seeming to be any of those things, and I've speculated elsewhere on the different interpretations a listener could give their song 'Black Is Beautiful'. But with Elis' schmaltzy, cabaret-style version, what you get is an over-literal, superficial reading of the tune that drags on for at least a minute too long. And like many things superficial, it was a bigger success.

In fact this album stands out for Elis and/or Nelson Motta's choice to tackle material that was pretty strongly associated with other popular artists. The most obvious of these being, naturally, her taking on The Beatles` "Golden Slumbers". Although I didn't like it the first time I heard it, I`ve changed my mind about it and now think its damn cool and is one of the strongest cuts here. Her version of Cinema Olympia, a song written by Caetano Veloso but associated with Gal Costa after appearing on one of her first records, is kind of redundant and pointless, although I appreciate the funky wah-wah guitar. And, sure, Elis could sing the phonebook and I would be happy, but when taking on material associated with one of her peers as esteemed as Gal, she ought to bring something more to the song, instead of less... Much better is her irreverent recording of Caetano's, "Os Navegantes", which appeared on his "white album" recorded as something like a Portuguese fado. Here, the verses are sung like a soul ballad, and the choruses are organ-fringed lounge jazz. The tune never takes off with the fire that Elis was capable of imparting to it, but in a way it's her restraining of herself that makes it work. Not sure about the lounge arrangement though; this song makes me wonder what the whole album would have sounded like with Erlon Chaves on arrangements, who had done some wonderful work with Elis. The song "Mundo deserto" by Erasmo and Roberto Carlos is pretty bad ass. I like Elis singing their songs. Probably the most unexpected tune is a Jobim/Dolorus Duran piece that closes the album, `Estrada do sol`, which is almost outrageously bombastic and pretty goddamn original. It's a great closer for a bit of an uneven album that I continue to appreciate more over time.

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