It's fair to call the inspired Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso's fascinating album, Livro (Nonesuch 8814; 54:14), a production number, with no negative connotation intended. It can be lavish, lined with strings and horns, and exotic at times-built up with arrangements for real, breathing musicians rather than samplers. It is experimental in measured, musical doses, dipping in and out of tonality, standard meters, and expected structures. It features simple, seductively melodic designs, and the whole is driven with a rhythmic momentum that won't let you be. It surprises and soothes, and, beneath it all, Veloso's songcraft rises to the level that made him a legend beginning 30 years ago, when he was pushing the envelope of Brazilian musical innovation as part of the Tropicalismo movement. What else can we ask for in an album?
And, at last, the album is available as a domestic release in a music outlet near you. Recorded in Rio de Janeiro in 1997 and released in Europe last year, its Nonesuch release celebrates the ongoing evolution of a musician for whom the overused term "genius" begs to be dusted off. In a way, Veloso, now approaching 60, has reinvigorated his commitment to the inherent blend of pop purity and invention marked by Tropicalismo. The revolutionary imperative has mellowed into an evolutionary afterlife, and, here, sounds like the stuff of pure, unpretentious inspiration. Livre is a great album, pure and not-so-simple.