Back when the Mamas and the Papas and the Beach Boys were spreading sunshine all over the Hot 100, Brasil ’66 was selling a breezy yet refined blend of bossa nova and American easy listening. Lani Hall, one of the two singers, gave the group its soul. She swayed like a flower child and never spoke. Her voice, though bright and cloudless, made even happy songs sound wistful. In 1972 her soon-to-be husband, trumpeter Herb Alpert, produced a series of LPs for her on A&M; only when she began recording in Spanish did she score an unlikely breakthrough. Then she vanished. Though the couple have been on the road together for the last 15 years, Hall remains a mystery.
On her first solo album since 1998, the familiar ache in her voice has deepened. Her singing aims straight for the heart. The songs constitute a summing-up, an urgent imparting of all she’s learned. On most of Seasons of Love she revisits tracks from past albums; their pop trappings have been replaced with spare, ambient, Latin-tinged production. Everything is steeped in the fading light of late summer.
The title song, new to Hall, comes from Rent. In it she urges us to lead loving lives in what little time we have. “Smile,” sung in Portuguese and accordingly retitled “Sorri,” is a plea to soldier onward through one’s tears. In “Waters of March,” she notes “the promise of spring” with a fragile wishfulness. Around every corner is Alpert, her shadow voice and safety net. His West Coast sound is known for its casual cool; Hall lifts him to a new degree of expressiveness. “Now You Know,” Bobby Troup’s 1950s hand-holding musical corsage, is sung for Alpert, the enduring love of her life. The fact that she still sings with such melancholy is part of Hall’s fascination.