Some voices are so compelling they win us over no matter what language they sing. Cesaria Evora has one of those - a buttery, delicate but strong alto that would be entrancing in the harshest tongue but is positively hypnotic when spilling out the soft consonants and gentle cadences of Portuguese.
Evora comes from musical traditions that sound exotic to most American ears; the morna of Cape Verde blends influences from Brazil, Africa, and Great Britain into something dark and melancholy but also soothing. The rhythms are sometimes danceable, but more often stretch languidly across the room like overgrown vines. Her new Voz D'Amor (Bluebird) comes with news of a U.S. tour that, sadly, doesn't include Texas dates. Bluebird has also reissued some of the singer's early work - like Distino di Belita, which was previously unavailable in the States, and her 1995 breakthrough album Cesaria - making it a good time to meet Miss Evora, even for those of us who can't spring for a trip to California or the Northeast just to see a concert.
(Evora's neighbor and occasional collaborator Bau, makes and performs on stringed instruments as commonplace as violin and as rare as the ukulele-like cavaquinho. A collection of his formerly import-only instrumental recordings, Cape Verdean Melancholy, is out now on Evolver; these tracks are sometimes dated and often come off as synthetic and impersonal compared to Evora's music, but Bau appealed enough to Pedro Almodóvar for the filmmaker to use "Raquel" in Talk to Her.)
Italian songwriter Paolo Conte has been successful overseas for decades, but until this year his only U.S. release was a greatest-hits collection. The sophisticated folks at Nonesuch set out to remedy that this spring with Reveries, a gorgeous collection of freshly re-thought renditions of older songs. Ranging from French chanson to tango to Italian songs that don't fit into easy categories, the selections flow beautifully from one to the next, with lushly romantic jazz- and piano-heavy arrangements that match Conte's low, cigarette-stained voice. One hates to turn works of art into something as crass as a soundtrack for seduction, but this columnist can imagine Reveries accompanying wine-drunk candlelit evenings in a lot of happy households.
In the same artistic neck of the woods, American chanteuse Cassandra Wilson has a new one, Glamoured (Blue Note), just a week or two away. Expect, as usual, a few covers drawn from far outside the jazz canon - Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee" gets dragged out to the shed and tinkered with, Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" becomes all about percussion - and a few, like "Crazy" and Sting's "Fragile," that were just a matter of time. Above all, expect the most sexual voice in jazz today (ever?), continuing to prove that jazz singers needn't stay with the same old standards.
The Current's Gilbert Garcia is giving it a thorough once-over, but this singer-oriented column would be incomplete if it didn't at least mention a new release from Rufus Wainwright, whose Want One (DreamWorks) is as full of swoopingly fey orchestral pop as his previous disc, the addictive Poses. Less catchy and more dressed-up pretty than its predecessor, the album finds Rufus dropping more allusions to pop culture while copping some weird (am I misreading this?) Sarah Bernhardt poses.
In keeping with this spirit of redundancy, I'm going to harp for the second column in a row on Cafe Tacuba. It's for your own good, you know, because you really will be sorry if you don't rush out and purchase Cuatro Caminos (MCA) today. Having just caught them at the Austin City Limits fest, I can attest to their jaw-dropping stage presence, and singer Élfego Buendía's subversive whine - here aggressive, there comic, always demanding your ear - certainly needs to be on any list of the most distinctive voices on the "New Releases" shelf.
Indie rock die-hards who like their singers raw and awkward (I mean that in a good way) may be familiar with Scout Niblett, whose new I Am (Secretly Canadian) just came out. The fervently lo-fi Niblett - who often goes long stretches with no accompaniment other than her own drumming or a minimalist guitar line, and treads the same emotional territory as PJ Harvey and Cat Power, will be at Emo's in Austin on October 12. Scout's a far, far cry from Cesaria Evora - but who says voices are only supposed to be sweet and gentle? •