Review by: Julien Mansencal
Album assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
When I subscribed to the reviewing chain, I certainly did not expect to be assigned a Portuguese-language concept album about alchemy from a Brazilian musician. It is rather difficult for me to comment on albums when I do not know the first thing about the context of their release, the subject of their lyrics or even the guys and gals who made them: I need something to hang onto when throwing myself into it. Here, I got nothing, and I simply do not have enough time to learn Portuguese (there is actually one track in English on this record, but it’s the worst in my opinion), delve into Nicholas Flamel’s arcane manuscripts or immerse myself into the South American pop/rock/whatever scene of the 70s and the career of the estimated Jorge Duilio Lima Menezes. This only leaves the music and me, a frightened parachutist without a parachute.
So, what did I think of A Tábua de Esmeralda? Well, I quite liked it. The overall sound is really enjoyable, with LOTS of tasty acoustic guitar (the intro to “Menina Mulher da Pele Preta” reminds me an awful lot of Lindsey Buckingham’s acoustic work on some Fleetwood Mac tracks, especially the live versions of “Big Love”), and nice vocals from the female chorists or Jorge Ben’s himself. He has a really sweet voice, and the way it blends with those of the chorists gives a very down-to-earth feel to the entire proceedings, as if everyone was sitting around Ben next to a fire camp, just singing and having a good time together. There is a tinge of Latin percussion here and there which works quite well, and a bit of orchestration in other places which works just as well; that’s a melting pot quite unlike anything I’ve ever listened to seriously so far. My pickout track would be the last one, “Cinco Minutos”, despite the false advertising (it only lasts 2:57), where everything falls together and culminates in a gorgeous finale.
This winter of 2015 is cold here, but A Tábua de Esmeralda keeps me warm when I put it on after a harrowing day outside; and isn’t that what music should be all about?