Fado is not a genre that’s well-known to the average listener, but after hearing vocalist Maria Mendes’ jazzy version of that melancholy Portuguese music style, one is easily transported into its depths. On Close to Me, Mendes executes an eloquent love letter to her homeland of Portugal, but instead of using fado’s traditional stringed instrumentation, she adds a symphonic touch.
Mendes’ third album, Close to Me is also her most personal. Her previous releases, 2012’s Along the Road and 2017’s Innocentia, consisted of more straightforward standards; this time, by tapping into her roots, she becomes more adventurous. Throughout the album, her elegant vocals are warmly embraced by the sounds of an outstanding orchestra, the Metropole Orkest, led by pianist/composer John Beasley, who also produced the album, played keyboards, and wrote the orchestrations.
The album opens with the soft, haunting “Há Uma Música do Povo,” as Mendes serenades listeners in her native tongue and engages in some light chanting. On the vibes-led “Tempo Emotivo” and “Hermeto’s Fado for Maria,” she shows off her adept scatting ability. While most of the tunes are bossa nova-ish, Mendes changes the mood midway through with the chilling folk standard “Barco Negro”—first recorded by fado legend Amália Rodrigues in 1954—which she begins by singing a cappella, beautifully. It may be the most stirring track on the album, but nothing here disappoints, as Mendes cleverly revives an age-old genre that clearly is not mournful when sung by this graceful vocalist.
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