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Artist: Gilberto Gil

Album: Gilberto Gil

Label: Water

Review date: May. 18, 2007

In the 1990s, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label drew attention to Tropicália with new albums by Tom Zé and a popular Os Mutantes compilation. Interest in the subversive late-1960s Brazilian art movement has been stoked even more over the past few years by singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso’s incredible cameo in the film Talk To Her, a series of successful Mutantes reunion shows (with big-ticket opening acts including the Flaming Lips and a “roadie” named Devendra Banhart), a Soul Jazz compilation, and a traveling exhibition that was displayed at the Barbican in London and at the Bronx Museum Of The Arts. Gilberto Gil — now Brazil’s Minister Of Culture — was one of the founders of the movement and was arrested by Brazil’s military government in 1969. He left the country for several years after his release from prison.

Gilberto Gil was recorded during the singer’s three-year exile in London and released in 1971. It’s his only entirely English-language album, and while the lyrics aptly express some of the excitement and loneliness that must have characterized his time in the UK, the songs feel just a little bit awkward to my ears. I feel the same way when I hear the English-language versions of Os Mutantes’ songs. Gil made a valiant effort to switch to the language of his new peers and his new audience, but live versions of songs like “Sgt. Pepper” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From The Skies” (included here as bonus tracks) only serve to highlight his limited skills as an English lyricist. To my ears, the songs from Caetano Veloso’s exile period feel significantly more natural. For this reason, I probably wouldn’t recommend this particular album to someone who’d never heard anything by Gilberto Gil before.

While I personally prefer several other albums on which Gil sings in his native language, this is still an incredible record in many aspects. It shows one of the most important figures in Brazilian music at the creative peak of his career, making a huge change in his music and mostly succeeding. His voice is gorgeous, he does amazing things using nothing but guitars and percussion, and he only has help from one other musician. There are only a handful of Gilberto Gil records that are much better than this, and plenty more that are a lot worse. Check out one of his many late-career Bob Marley covers to see what I mean.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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