The recordings themselves date from the early 1930's, and they sound like it: lots of surface noise, limited dynamic range, and since they were recorded on 78 rpm records which could only accommodate about 3 minutes on each side, the track "Aquarela do Brasil" had to be released as "Part 1" and "Part 2." (Incidentally, "Aquarela do Brasil" was recorded in 1939, so the cover information is somewhat deceptive).
But none of that matters once you start listening. The scratchy sound literally fades away, and you're transported back to a time when things were, in many ways, simpler than they are today. Think about it: World War I had only been over for a little more than a decade, and it would be another decade before the US (and Brazil) became involved in World War II.
I'm not saying that it was a perfect time, or an easy time. The world was still suffering from a global depression that would persist for years, there was political uncertainty and unrest on virtually every continent, and Brazil itself was under the dictatorial rule of Getúlio Vargas. But you forget about all of that when you listen to this classic Brazilian music, impeccably sung by Francisco Alves and Mário Reis.
Francisco Alves, known as "O Rei Da Voz," recorded almost 1,000 songs during his 35 year career, and is considered by many to be the most successful Brazilian singer of all time. Remember, these were songs that appeared on 78's, so at the very most, two songs could appear on one record. The math is simple: at the very least, he produced about 500 different records.
Most of his recordings were solo efforts, and listening to a collection aptly entitled "O Rei Da Voz" on Spotify, many of them sound like popular songs performed by male singers in the US from the same time in history: rather romantic, slow tunes, which haven't aged quite as well as the livelier numbers found on this collection of duets.
Francisco Alves had just signed a contract with RCA a few days before he died in a car accident at the age of 54.
Mário Reis was also a famous singer from the same era, and he performed not only with Alves, but also recorded several duets with Carmen Miranda.
So what's so great about this album? To be perfectly honest, until I saw the film "Histórias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas," which I reviewed a few weeks ago, I would have had a hard time answering that question. The inclusion of the track "Fita Amarela" caught my attention because it showed two of the main characters in the film listening to the song, sharing a pair of iPod earbuds.
I kept rewinding to hear the song, and each time it grew on me just a bit more. If you don't have an appreciation for older music, this album isn't going to appeal to you, but if you give it a chance, you'll see why Alves was so incredibly popular. You don't sell almost 500 records if you're not good, and Alves was very good indeed.
Here are a few samples from YouTube:
And here's Alves singing a patriotic song recorded in 1942, supporting the war effort:
Here's his Portuguese version of the classic "Bésame Mucho":