Sara Tavares,
(Times Square, 2006)

A good friend of mine returned from vacation some years ago, raving about a wonderful singer-songwriter he had happened to catch performing in Lisbon, Portugal. At the time, Sara Tavares had two albums to her credit, and although the second went gold in Portugal, there was no hint of a U.S. release. The good news for U.S. listeners is that after five years of waiting, Tavares's third album Balance was released here on Times Square Records in mid-2006.

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the songs from Balance for the first time live when Tavares performed at a club called SOB's (Sound of Brazil) in New York City as part of a stateside mini-tour to promote the CD release. Tavares is a gifted musician, singer and songwriter whose music is somewhat difficult to label, with influences that includes gospel, funk and soul (as her website describes it), mixing African rhythms into contemporary pop songs. Tavares wrote all the songs, played many of the instruments, arranged and produced and even participated in the mixing and engineering, and has come up with a beautifully written and great-sounding record. In America music like this is often lumped into the "world music" category, but this work has much more to offer than what that label implies. Tavares is an artist of the first order, with many more threads in her musical weave than most singer-songwriters.

Tavares has a sweet and appealing voice and her music is acoustic guitar-based, with a bounty of delightful rhythms reflecting the multicultural influences that are part of her background. She was born in Portugal to parents who are natives of Cape Verde, Africa. The lyrics in Balance are a product of these influences; most songs are in Portuguese, with a little English and a little French in the mix as well. The title track, "Balance," has numerous connotations, according to Tavares. In Portugal, the noun balanco refers to music that swings; there is a Lusophone African use of the word balance to describe something really good. Tavares says "for me the song 'Balance' is about balancing yourself; between sadness and joy, day and night, salt and sugar. It's about balancing emotions." Even without knowing Portuguese, the concept of balance is so universal you can easily get the song, no matter which language you speak.

The same is true of "Bom Feeling." You don't have to be Portuguese to figure out that the good feeling that permeates this song also gives it its title. "Lisboa Kuya" is about the city of Lisbon and features a gorgeous melody, nice acoustic picking and some very tasty rhythms. "One Love" alternates verses between Portuguese and English to maximum effect. "Amor e" changes things up a little with a spoken lyric over a very sweet rhythm. "Dam Bo" is a superb mood piece with some great guitar work. "Guisa" has a simple arrangement of voice and guitar in the service of one of the most memorable melodies on the record; simply beautiful.

"Muna Xeia" is soft and contemplative with a haunting melody, on the same order as Bruce Springsteen's "Philadelphia." At six-plus minutes it's perhaps the album's most compelling, if understated, track. In concert, Tavares describes her music as "lullabies for adult people," which is apt, even if some of the rhythms are a little more involved than you might normally expect from a lullaby. Tavares is an exciting find and a huge talent, and Balance is a CD well worth seeking out.

by William Kates
28 April 2007

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