Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Rockaliser 30: Caetano Veloso, A Little More Blue (1971)

[Welcome To the Rockaliser 30, a month-long series devoted to classic albums that have been eclipsed, forgotten, misheard, or otherwise not given their propers. This is Day Eight. Archive here.]

In 1971, Caetano Veloso was exiled from his native Brazil and singing in a second language, a man alienated in practically every respect. In A Little More Blue’s opener, Veloso runs through a litany of tragic moments, ending each verse with the observation that he feels even worse than he did when they happened. A little more blue than then.

Veloso’s songs on Blue are a world away from the Tropicalia he was writing at the end of the 60’s, including the iconic tunes he penned for Os Mutantes. Here he mines a rich vein of psych-folk that sounds a bit, well, alien. It’s Veloso’s own, Brazilian both in the accented English (every line sounds like it was delivered with both eyes closed), and the jazzy inflections. The strange noises that fly out of his mouth (see "Maria Bethania" below) might strike some as bizarre, but they're an outgrowth of his creative drive, and sound natural among the incantations here.

Blue was recorded in London, a city that appears in the lyrics. It’s an album that has few peers, outside of Veloso’s own catalog, but it does remind me of another classic downer-folk LP--Robyn Hitchcock’s I Often Dream Of Trains. Both albums are pure London--two of the million moods that city has inspired--in their spaced-out and depressed meditations.

Veloso muses on his sister, Christmas, and violent Mexican films during Blue. But “If You Hold A Stone” is his centerpiece, and it’s monstrous one. In it, Caetano lays out an iconic sound, at once folksy, distinctly South American, and momentous. It’s a song that looks you dead in the eye, demands your attention, and only grows from there:

If you hold a stone/hold it in your hand/if you feel the weight/never be late/to understand

On the page, Veloso’s lyric looks like an aphorism, but in his song it’s mythic. He’s joined by a chorus, and weaves his way through the lyric, adding extra syllables to “understand.” It’s the work of a great songwriter, and a great singer, fighting despair with the few tools left to him.

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