Bossa nova muse Nara Leao (1942-1989) briefly gave up her musical career in the mid-1970s, pursuing marriage and a college education... But of course the lure of song would prove to be too great for her, and Leao rejoined the world of MPB again, recording a series of fine albums before her long struggle with cancer, and untimely death in 1989.
This is the second of two pages looking at Leao's recorded work, covering the second half her career, as well as some of the many best-of collections that have come out over the years.
Nara Leao "Leao" (Box Set) (Polygram, 2003)
In 2002, the Polygram label embarked on an ambitious project to re-release all of Nara Leao's work in two massive box sets, including all her studio albums, live recordings, singles and rarities from a variety of sources. This second cube-shaped box set picks up where the first one left off, tracking Leao's career from 1975 to her passing in 1989. Generally speaking, the music is less arresting and more cloying than her earlier, classic work, but there is still great depth and soulful brilliance on many of the albums. The records reissued include: "Os Meus Amigos Sao Um Barato" (1977), "Debaixo Dos Caracois Dos Seus Cabelos" (1978), "Com Azucar Com Afeto" (1980), "Romance Popular" (1981), "Nasci Para Bailar" (1982), "Meu Samba Encabulado" (1983), "Abracos E Beijinhos E Carinhos Sem Ter Fim" (1984), "Um Cantinho, Um Violao" (1985), "Meus Sonhos Dourados" (1987), "Onde E Quando" (from 1989), "My Foolish Heart" (1989), "Garota De Ipanema" (1989), and a second "Raridades" disc. All these albums are reviewed below; the preceding box set, Nara, is reviewed in the first half of this discography
Nara Leao "Meu Primeiro Amor" (Philips, 1975)
A beautiful, quiet acoustic album which Leao saw as a companion to the bossa oriented Dez Anos Depois album. This has, perhaps, more of a choro bent to it -- delicate and sprightly. The songwriter pool is mainly drawn from less well-known, old-school composers -- Ary Barroso and Joao de Barro are the only names I recognize offhand. As Nara points out, this is music which people could no longer hear on the radio, so that's why she made the album. Nice job, too.
Chico Buarque/Various Artists "Os Saltimbancos" (Phillips, 1977)
Nara Leao performs in this recorded show/play, a children's album with music written by Chico Buarque. Other participants include members of the vocal group MPB4, as well as Buarque's sister, Miucha and her daughter, a rather young Bebel Gilberto.
Nara Leao "Os Meus Amigos Sao Um Barato" (Philips, 1977)
An album of duets with Chico Buarque, Tom Jobim, Joao Donato, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and others.
Nara Leao "Debaixo Dos Caracois Dos Seus Cabelos" (Philips, 1978)
A tribute to '60s jovem guarda teen idols Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos, with poppy torchsong arrangements by Roberto Menescal that are very similar to Maria Bethania's classic Alibi album of the same year. In my opinion, however, Leao mops the floor up with Bethania -- her voice is so much more gorgeous and compelling. HIGHLY recommended.
Nara Leao "Com Azucar Com Afeto" (Polygram, 1980)
A Chico Buarque tribute, which includes three duets with him. Sadly, not even Nara's delectable voice saves this album from the stereotypical tackiness of the glossy, disco-tinged MPB arrangements. Some of this is utterly unappealling; and even the more listenable tracks can take a little too much effort to enjoy.
Nara Leao "Romance Popular" (Philips, 1981)
Nara Leao "Nasci Para Bailar" (Polygram, 1982)
With arrangements by Joao Donato.
Nara Leao "Meu Samba Encabulado" (Polygram, 1983)
Nara Leao "Abracos E Beijinhos E Carinhos Sem Ter Fim" (Philips, 1984)
Pianist Cesar Mariano Camargo provides the arrangements while Roberto Menescal accompanies on guitar; the repertoire is a familiar mix of bossa oldies and more modern MPB. As with many of her later albums, Leao's vocals are gorgeous, while the accompaniment is super-cheesy and overly florid. Mariano Camargo's dismal choices of tinkly, slushy electric keyboard tones, in particular, drag this album down. But if you just concentrate on her voice, there's still a lovely center to this otherwise disappointing album.
Nara Leao & Roberto Menescal "Um Cantinho, Um Violao" (Philips, 1985)
A mellow album, with stripped-down yet rather glossy arrangements. As Nara croons sweetly, her old friend, bossa nova bandleader Roberto Menescal strums guitar in a variety of styles, ranging from gorgeous acoustic work to more questionable fusion-tinged pop production washes. Overall, this isn't the best of her albums -- Nara's vocals falter a little in places, and Menescal's Metheny-ish moments may trouble a few. But on the whole, it's a pleasantly restrained, relaxed album, and, as all of Leao's work, well worth checking out.
Nara Leao "Meus Sonhos Dourados" (Philips, 1987)
Leao sings North American standards ("Tea For Two," "As Time Goes By," "Embraceable You," etc.) in Portuguese translations... the arrangements by Roberto Menescal are a bit drippy and even drekky, but this is still a class act. The high point is a humorous intermingling of "Girl From Ipanema" with "I'm Headed For Rio (How About You)" which cuts to the heart of northern stereotypes of Brazilian frivolity. This has its moments, but is certainly one of the cheesier of her later albums.
Nara Leao "Onde E Quando" (Philips, 1989)
Nara Leao "My Foolish Heart" (Philips, 1989)
(Arranged by Roberto Menescal)
Nara sings North American standards -- songs by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hart, et. al. -- with Portuguese interpretations by Nelson Motta, Ze Rodrix, and several by Leao herself. The adapted lyrics tend not to be literal translations, but that's fine, since it's the feeling she was aiming for. Roberto Menescal's modern, synthy orchestrations are a definite drawback here -- too glossy, too gooey -- but Nara still shines as a vocalist. I initially recoiled at the cheesy-sounding keyboards, but gritted my teeth and kept at it, and found this to be a rewarding album, albeit one that I'd have to class as a "guilty pleasure": I enjoy Leao's interpretive powers, but the backing music is pretty tacky. Six of one, I guess, half dozen of the other.
Nara Leao & Roberto Menescal "Garota De Ipanema" (Philips, 1989)
A back-to-basics acoustic bossa nova album, full of all the standards -- "Agua De Beber," "Chega De Saudade," "Desafinado," etc... and of course, the title track. Menescal plays a nylon-string classical guitar, and light bass and perscussion grace a few tracks. The few sour notes are Menescal's... but even though he often leads the project into dubious, muzak-y territory, Leao is enchanting and the album is quite sweet. Recommended.
Nara Leao "Personalidade" (Polygram, 1991)
Nara Leao "Nara: Serie Grandes Nomes" (Philips, 1995)
A 4-CD set from the "Serie Grandes Nomes" collection. I haven't actually heard this box set, but by extrapolating from others in the series I have heard, I'd guess this is pretty awesome.
Nara Leao "A Arte De Nara Leao" (Philips, 1975)
This is a great collection to shoot for. As with all the albums in the A Arte De... series, this is top-notch stuff, covering her peak years. The CD edition has a fewer tracks than the original 2-LP version, but either edition should make you very, very happy. If you get this record, you will fall in love.
Nara Leao "O Melhor De Nara Leao" (PolyGram, 1998)
Nara Leao "Millennium" (PolyGram, 1998)
Nara Leao "The Best Of Nara Leao" (Universal-Mercury, 2000)
Nara Leao "Serie Sem Limite" (PolyGram, 2001)
Yummy! Finally, a decent, affordable best-of that surpasses the A Arte De collection... This 2-CD set is a blessing for Nara fans who've frustrated by how hard to find her best stuff has been -- it's very solidly programmed, spanning her entire career, but sticking mainly to the best stuff. Disc Two drifts into goopier, jazzier terrain, but since this is budget priced at a single-CD price, you won't hear me complain. If you get a chance, snap this puppy up.
Nara Leao "A Bossa De Nara Leao" (Universal-Mercury, 2000)
Nara Leao "Nara" (Box Set) (Polygram, 2002)
An amazing 15-CD box set, collecting all of her early albums. The extra rarities disc is quite nice. (Reviewed on page one of this discography.)
Nara Leao "Leao" (Box Set) (Polygram, 2003)
An equally amazing 14-CD box set, collecting all of her later albums, from 1975-89, with a second set of rarities as well. (Reviewed on page one of this discography.)
Nara Leao "Sunny Side Of Nara Leao -- Music For Sunday Lovers" (Universal-Japan, 2002)
A 26-song best-of, emphasizing Nara's more upbeat repertoire.
Nara Leao "The Cloudy Side Of Nara Leao (Music For Sunday Lovers)" (Universal-Japan, 2002)
A 30-song album, showcasing her more downcast (and politically-oriented) material.
Nara Leao "The Muse Of Bossa Nova: The Essential Nara Leao" (2003)
Nara Leao "I Love MPB: Amor Nas Estrellas" (Universal, 2004)
Nara Leao "Nara '67" (Cherry Red/El Records, 2006)
Nara Leao "Pure Bossa Nova: A View On The Music Of Nara Leao" (Universal, 2006)
Nara Leao "Programa Ensaio" (Biscoito Fino, 2006)
"Nara Leao: Uma Biografia"
by Sergio Cabral
(Editoras Lumiar, 2003)
A biography of Nara Leao, written em Portuguese.
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