O espírito da paz
There are times in this information-overload culture when the bitstream of "news" becomes relentless and the signals grow irrevocably tangled, when nothing makes sense and the only solution seems to be to sit in a dark room and try to regain some measure of internal peace.
For those moments, there is Madredeus.
If ever songs of epic longing had healing properties, these do. They're remarkably centered short pieces, and though they bask in the melancholy quality the Portuguese call saudade, they communicate in uncluttered tones, radiating a calm missing from urban life. The mostly minor-key odes of O espírito da paz are based loosely on the Portuguese fado—that traditional pub music of endlessly mushrooming romantic disappointments. Here, the fado's confessions are surrounded by pensively plucked acoustic guitars, solemn cellos, and the occasional New Age synthesizer.
Though derided by some as "fado lite," these songs are deeply affecting because they are sung by a master of understatement, Teresa Salgueiro. Her luminous voice so captivated filmmaker Wim Wenders that he created a film, the 1994 Lisbon Story, around it. Salguiero uses little vibrato and no ornamentation, even in her weepy upper register. Rather than parading disappointments around, she simply leaves hints, and lets the laments speak for themselves. For whole stretches of this engrossing record, she's up there at seagull altitude where troubles are supposed to disappear, still carrying all kinds of hurt but sailing onward.
Genre: World, Portugal
Released: 1994, Metro Blue
Key Tracks: "Silencio," "O mar," "Ajuda."
Catalog Choice: Ainda (the soundtrack to Lisbon Story)
Next Stop: Mariza: Fado Curvo
After That: Amália Rodrigues: The Art of Amália Rodrigues
Book Page: 464