The New Bossa Nova
Among late-20th-century music wizards, few, if any, can match the track record of guitarist/bassist-turned-mega-producer Larry Klein. You know him for two decades of sterling work with ex-wife Joni Mitchell, for Madeleine Peyroux’s breakthrough Careless Heart and the even better follow-up, Half the Perfect World, and for shaping and steering seminal albums by everyone from Robbie Robertson and Don Henley to Peter Gabriel (the landmark So), Bob Dylan and Holly Cole. Now, again blending his personal and professional lives, Klein is married to multiple-Grammy-nominee Luciana Souza and has produced her Verve debut. It should be a match made in chanteuse heaven.
Remarkably, though, Klein has managed to take one of the most distinctive and interesting vocalists of the post-millennial era and reduce her to a dull study in soporific mewing. What could possibly be considered “new,” apart from the fairly contemporary vintage of most of the songs, about a dozen tracks wrapped in tepid bossa arrangements with nary a spark of freshness or originality (apart from dollops of brilliance whenever trumpeter Chris Potter manages to break through the ennui)?
There are some terrific tunes here, including Mitchell’s “Down to You” (sharp as Wisconsin cheddar when handled properly, which Souza, despite the obvious Mitchell-ness of her delivery, doesn’t), James Taylor’s “Never Die Young” (rescued only by Taylor’s presence as Souza’s far sager and definitely more alert singing partner) and Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows” (one of the finest, and most admirably adult, love songs of the rock era). A fine half-dozen others, from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Walter Brecker, Donald Fagen, Elliott Smith and Sting, are reduced to pleasant innocuousness. Most astonishing, the sole Brazilian track, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s effervescent “Waters of March,” stripped of the ebullient mysteriousness that dozens of other singers have managed to capture, is as flat as day-old tap water.