A re-release of a 1958 Brazilian LP, Canção do Amor Demais should feel like a blast from the past for Brazilians, a intriguing present for lovers of bossa nova and samba, and a small treat for anyone who likes mid-century swinging female vocalists. Elizete Cardoso’s voice doesn’t have the brass of some of its North American contemporaries, but, like them, it sits on a musical borderline between operatic expression and intimate popular sentimental portrait: she was expected to know her way around the longer notes, but she addresses her lyrics to a microphone, not to a theatre. At their best they’re confided to you rather than performed at you. At the same time she is not completely like this. She has her mannered moments.
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1920, the daughter of an amateur singer and a guitarist, Cardoso moved from a successful radio career into live performances, then into album releases, before finally expanding into television acting. The songs on Canção do Amor Demais were composed for her by Vinicius de Moraes and João Gilberto, inventors of the sound that became known as bossa nova, a less percussive and dreamier variation on the samba. “Girl from Impanema”, the bossa nova‘s most enduring single, arrived four years later, sung by João’s wife Astrud. The songs on Canção do Amor Demais have a heavier sound than “Girl from Impanema”. They’re weighed down by a studio orchestra while “Girl” flits past on the wings of João’s guitar. “Girl from Impanema” is light and glimmery as mis; touch it and it will dissolve. Cardoso’s songs here don’t have that quality, although the album approaches it sometimes, in the flute at the start of “Chega de Saudade”, or in the guitar of “Outra Vez”. “Outra Vez” might be as close as Canção do Amor Demais comes to the affectless airiness that came to represent the essence of Brazilian music in the imaginations of the millions of non-Brazilians who liked “Girl”. That this song doesn’t lift off from the earth in the same way can be put down to, not this time the orchestra, but to Cardoso’s singing. Her voice has too much depth and breadth. A song like “Girl” needs its singer to sound as if she’s so laid-back and suntanned she almost doesn’t care. It’s a young sound, and Cardoso doesn’t sing young. She sounds like a woman who has grown experienced without also having grown bitter, rueful but far from broken.
This depth comes across beautifully in the title song, but it means that she suffers when she’s asked to address a lighter number like “Caminho de Pedra”. Trying to be carefree, she ends up with a slightly over-enunciated hardness. Allowed to be sadder, she lets her voice relax and melt. Throughout “Eu Não Existo Sem Você” she lingers at the ends of lines as if she’s been thinking over the ideas she proposing so deeply and lovingly that she’s sorry to let them go. To people who love the sound that this early bossa nova developed into, Canção do Amor Demais might seem more of a curiosity than anything else—but an interesting curiosity, not a failure but the sound of transition, old and new blending together in those years before the new pulls away entirely.