Robert Christgau on Elza Soares's Disruptive Brilliance

The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Soares's 'Deus É Mulher,' two records from Tom Zé, and two from Iara Rennó.

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Jul 27 2018, 4:41pm

The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967- 2017, will be available from Duke University Press in October. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher (Deck) Soares was a major samba star for decades—a more robust singer than Gal Costa or Maria Bethania, say, with a voice you can still stream till you drown in it should that option appeal. But I prefer the disruptive Soares masterminded by producer Guilherme Kastrup on 2016's The Woman at the End of the World (A Muher Do Fim Do Mundo)—the same Soares I got to witness holding forth from atop a pyramidal six-foot throne at an enthralled Town Hall in May, 2017. This Kastrup follow-up surfaced a year later, as Soares turned 81, and once again it roughs up the suave beauty of carioca convention. You don't need to know the title translates to God Is Woman to register how Soares's no longer curvaceous contralto makes the lyrics sound skeptical and soul-deep at the same time. But spelunk around and find a few clunky translations anyway. "Hyenas on TV," say—what in the world could that be about? For a credo, how about "To be happy at the moment is the strength that envelops me"? And to sum up her spiritual goals? Defining "clarity" as "the day so lucid," "a lucky remnant," "the shadow of death," and—best of all—"uncomfortable." A MINUS

Tom Zé: Sem Você Nâo A (Irara) Zé isn't just a great artist. He's an ever-evolving one, an 81-year-old who sings this album with a warmth and verve that does equal justice to his melodic grace and his sing-song hooks. But the songs themselves are less intriguing than usual. Written for children 30 years ago, their lyrics apparently add up to an associative fable about the alphabet losing the letter A. "Is that A for amor?" one wonders, and maybe Portuguese speakers can figure out an answer, although that answer won't strictly speaking be Zé's—the words are by his illustrator friend Elifas Andreato. But for the rest of us it's just Zé's kiddie record, an apt but minor addition to a major legacy. B PLUS

Iara Rennó: Arca (YB Music) Second-generation sambista gathers all-female ensemble for rock-tinged, salt-flavored reflections on her artistic heritage that can now be downloaded free from her website ("Mama-Me," "Sonâmbula," "O Que Me Arde") ***

Tom Zé: Tribunal do Feicebuque (Irara) For non-Lusophones, the wittiest moment of the avant-garde jingle writer's five-song rejoinder to the haters who Feicebuque-shamed his Coke commercial is the Microsoft fanfare that announces the enterprise, and he knows it ("Irará Iralá," "Zé a zero") ***

Iara Rennó: Flecha (YB Music) Whatever it signifies, it's the second and less musically pointed of two linked mini-albums that translates "arrow," where the first is "bow" ("Ritmo de Moçada," "Se Amanhence") *

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