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Madredeus singer Salgueiro already one of the greats

O Porto
O Porto
By Madredeus

MetroBlue / Capitol Records: 1999

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This review first appeared in the June 5, 1999 edition of the American Reporter.

If there's a more pure voice than that of Teresa Salgueiro, it's been carefully hidden from the public.

Of course, a beautiful voice alone does not artistry make. Witness Karen Carpenter or Whitney Houston; great pipes, dross music.

Salgueiro, however, is a singer of Portuguese fado, that wonderful, smokey salon music of Lisbon. So the material she tackles as vocalist for Madredeus is by its very nature more challenging, more interesting than anything Carpenter ever took on.

Still, even a great voice and good material aren't always enough to create magic. Kitty Kallen, vocalist for the Harry James Orchestra, had one of the sweetest voices of the Big Band era and fronted as solid a band as any (comparable to the Basie outfit in both style and talent). Yet her singing never approached that of Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday, both of whom had that indefinable quality that separates great artists from mere performers. It's why Kallen is mostly forgotten today, while Fitzgerald and Holiday are revered.

Salgueiro has that magic in spades. She is, already, one of this century's great singers, even if she's not yet well-known outside her native Portugal, even if she's still a young woman.

Salgueiro is the face of fado today. She is possessed of a voice even more tantalizing than that of another fine fado singer, Fernanda Maria; higher, purer in tone, surer in pitch.

Unlike Maria or, say, Cristina Branco, Salgueiro is part of an ensemble, a team. Madredeus as a whole only makes Salgueiro better. The other four musicians push her, support her, provide a stable backdrop and, not incidentally, compose nearly all of the songs.

From a purists' standpoint, Madredeus isn't really – or at least, isn't only – fado. Leader and founder Pedro Ayres Magalhaes admits as much in interviews, citing influences from British folk rockers Jethro Tull to Tijuana rock guitarist Carlos Santana.

But the music is so grounded in fado, with fado and Lisbon's lifeblood running through everything the band does, that it is still fado in the way that Astor Piazzolla's experiments in the '50s and '60s were not only still tango, but actually redefined what tango was. It is likely Madredeus will have the same impact on fado.

As for Salgueiro, on Madredeus' newest release, a two-disc set recorded during concerts on last year's tour in support of their "O Paraiso" album, she proves that she is in very select company. Seat her next to Edith Piaf, next to Lady Day and Ella. For you need not speak a word of Portuguese to understand Salgueiro's singing, to share her expressions of love and heartbreak, hope and disappointment. It's all there in the voice.