Mick Jagger – who has recorded and sung on stage with Ana Moura – has described fado music as Portugal’s version of the blues, though its overriding aura of tragedy is perhaps more akin to opera.
If the great Amália Rodrigues was the undisputed fado queen, singing with a raw intensity every bit as dramatic as Édith Piaf or Maria Callas, her spiritual heir Mariza spectacularly introduced the Rodrigues legacy into the 2000s, texturing her crushing power with style and elegance.
Ana Moura is a mellower inheritor of this deeply evocative legacy, providing a more subdued yet nevertheless affecting link in that same proud and colourful chain. Her main collaborator is Jorge Fernando, who once played alongside Rodrigues and, with the brilliant Custódio Castelo, not only adds some of the lovely fluid acoustic guitar work that paints busy backdrops behind Moura’s mournful voice, but is also the album’s producer, musical arranger and predominant songwriter.
Neither Fernando nor Moura have previously been afraid to veer from fado’s venerated café history as the expressive voice of Portugal’s underclass – apart from Moura’s exploits with The Rolling Stones, there were previous dalliances with pop and rock and enticing talk of a Prince collaboration. But the three acoustic guitars/one voice format of this fourth album pitches it at the pure heart of the fado tradition.
Her melancholic intimacy dominates the moment it sashays out of the speakers over Castelo’s masterly Portuguese guitar on the title-track (which translates as Take Me to a Fado House), setting a mood of mesmerising sorrow. This is a mood that’s sustained, even when the pace lifts and the mood brightens on Tozé Brito’s Como Uma Nuvem No Céu or enters poppier territory on Rumo Ao Sul, a Fernando song that wouldn’t be out of place in a smoky jazz club.
The one departure, the upbeat Não Ė Um Fado Normal (This Is No Ordinary Fado), features Portuguese folk group Gaiteiros de Lisboa and proves Moura has plenty more strings to her bow. Sleeve translations of the songs in both English and French are indicative of her growing international standing, but by nailing fado with such natural soul, she scarcely needs much else.
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The international success of Mariza has raised the profile of Portuguese fado but it's put other singers in the shade. This is a shame because there are other fine voices. One of these is Ana Moura. This is her fourth album and she numbers Mick Jagger and Prince among her fans. She's a class act, with a voice of clarity which is to the fore on this excellent disc with a small ensemble, including Custodio Castelo on Portuguese guitar. --Simon Broughton, London Evening Standard, 29 October 2010