Despite the bald-faced attempt to piggyback on the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, Samba Social Club: The Ladies Edition is one of the most consistently enjoyable of the “Pure Brazil” series. Its success is due to Brazil’s wealth of great female samba singers, particularly of the veteran, rootsier variety. The disc opens with the late, great Clara Nunes, a pioneering champion of a more Africanized samba sound. Like several of the singers here, her powerful voice holds its own among the rain of percussion and rhythms, caressing the melody while punching up the unrelenting swing. Beth Carvalho and Alcione are also featured, and show why their smoky voices have been favorites among samba aficionados.
The Rio Bahia Carnival disc is mostly fun, if a bit of a muddle. While not actually the music played during Carnival, these are songs that are either about Carnival or reflect the upbeat street party music. Like some “Pure Brazil” releases, the selection seems arbitrary. The great group Timbalada is represented by “Agua Mineral,” which is not among their best, while Gal Costa’s wonderful “Festa Do Interior” is actually about São João celebrations in June. The Bahia part of the album is represented by pop groups like Banda Eva and Banda Beija, and it’s fun, if somewhat disposable pop. The Rio portion has more samba gravitas, if such a thing is possible, with songs from Beth Carvalho and Wilson Simonal.
The “Pure Brazil” series is apparently a way for Universal to recycle material from its archives. While this laudable effort can bring attention to overlooked performers, the discs would feel more substantial with liner notes and information about the songs. These two latest entries continue to show the “Pure Brazil” series to be good, but with a bit more effort, it could be really great.