Brazil and the United States may not seem to have much in common, but they share a similar cultural legacy brought about by the intersection of African and European people. That partly explains Brazil's rich pop music history, with its forays into jazz and rock tempered by Caribbean and African rhythms. Brazilian pop icon Caetano Veloso grew up exposed to American music and borrowed enthusiastically. In the liner notes to "A Foreign Sound," his second English-language album, Veloso writes that "people all over the world would like to find a way of thanking American popular music for having made their lives and their music richer and more beautiful. Many try. So do I."
Veloso's way of giving back is by recording a disc of American tunes from such disparate sources as, on the one hand, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and on the other, Nirvana ("Come as You Are") Talking Heads ("[Nothing but] Flowers") and Stevie Wonder ("If It's Magic"). Veloso even tackles the abstract avant-garde punk skronk of DNA (a group led a quarter-century ago by Arto Lindsay, who subsequently worked with Veloso), covering the band's jittery "Detached" with aplomb.
It's a testament to Veloso's skills as a singer and interpreter that he makes such excursions work, his more outre or unconventional choices sitting comfortably alongside such standards as "Nature Boy" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Even Bob Dylan's angry epic "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" gets an original reading, with Veloso in enviable control of his breezy lilt as he twists Dylan's lyrical daggers.
If the subdued chamber-pop experiment of "A Foreign Sound" is Veloso's way of saluting his American inspirations, then American Arto Lindsay's recent work is a way for him to reconnect with his Brazilian roots. Although born in the United States and primarily associated with New York's '80s avant-garde scene, Lindsay was raised by missionary parents in Brazil during the '60s, just as Veloso was first finding fame there. Lindsay even claims that some of the unintelligible lyrics he sang in his band DNA were in Portuguese.
Lindsay has regularly worked with a number of prominent Brazilian artists as a producer, songwriter and translator. But it was only in the '90s that the music he made as a solo artist began explicitly to reflect his Brazilian connection. Beginning with 1996's "O Corpo Sutil/The Subtle Body," Lindsay has released a string of entrancing albums that bridge the rhythms and spirit of Brazil with such New York elements as hip-hop and experimental rock.
Yet the new CD "Salt," as with its five similar predecessors, isn't nearly as edgy as Lindsay's pedigree might imply. The weird sounds burbling beneath songs such as "Habite Em Mim" and "Personagem" simply add to the atmosphere, which is fostered by the cool sophistication of a handful of regular Lindsay collaborators such as bassist Melvin Gibbs and keyboardist Peter Scherer. Their light touch also allows the listener to concentrate on Lindsay's lyrics, which, moving in and out of Portuguese with a languid grace, float above the music like strangely erotic poems. "I'm going to jump on the stage of your lap," Lindsay coos in Portuguese in "Garden of the Soul." "I'm going to fall into your beautiful reflection."
If Lindsay at this point seems like he can create gorgeous records such as "Salt" in his sleep, that makes perfect sense. Lately, each Lindsay record sounds like an aural daydream, and for fans of melting-pot music, they're modest little dreams come true.