Clube Da Esquina.
My persistence w/ the record - and once you get to a certain age, and in this era of chronic Attention Deficit Syndrome, when can you be bothered persisting w/ something which doesn't immediately grab you? - can be laid down to one fact: three major-league music-dork buddies of mine, completely independent of each other, all hail this album as possibly their all-time favourite piece of recorded music. And if not thee favourite, at least right "up there" (raise hand up high) on the list. When such grandiose statements are made by people I don't possess a total contempt for, I have to stand up and take notice.
The album itself was originally released in 1972 (its original label of release in Brazil remains a mystery to me; it's either a Universal or EMI affiliate) and was Nascimento's 4th full-length effort. As a white undie-rock enthusiast (I've done my demographic research) you may not be aware of Nascimento's work, though in his homeland of Brazil he is considered a bit of a national treasure, in the same way as, say, Bob Dylan is in the US or Van Morrison in the UK. He also enjoys a huge following in certain parts of Europe (especially France), and much like many revered music veterans of his era, his post '70s work has been a wildly uneven affair which likely wouldn't thrill you a great deal if you were to hear it. Again, it's the early work you need.
Clube Da Esquina was written and recorded w/ his cohort, Lo Borges, a musician/writer/producer arranger who not only cut some cool discs of his own in the early '70s, but was also a member of the Clube Da Esquina, the name given to the group of musicians from Nascimento's area. You taking notes on all of this?
But firstly, Nascimento was not really a "Tropicalia" music artist, that mini-movement in Brazil which combined rad (or at least anti-govt.) politics w/ a bizarre hybrid of Beatles-damaged psychedelic pop and Brazilian sounds, although he was friendly w/ many of its protagonists (he later recorded w/ Gilberto Gil). Which means that his music doesn't possess the bubblegum pop-art feel of Os Mutantes or Tom Ze. His songwriting strikes me as much more earnest and personal, and his style of songwriting, which is free-flowing and doesn't tend to rely on a regular verse/chorus set-up reminds me mostly of Van Morrison ca. Astral Weeks or Veeden Fleece and Tim Buckley's more psychedelic works. I have never heard his music compared to either artist - most people seem to bring up the Beatles - though at least in my mind they're most definitely who he sounds the most like.
His sweet, light voice soars over the mostly acoustic backdrop, which is also augmented by strings, choral voices, keyboards, Latin percussion and occasionally fuzzed-out psychedelic guitar. Track 19, "Trem de Doido", in particular, has the most awesomely beautiful guitar lines, soaked in distortion in a manner which makes the song peak like no other track on the record. Nascimento sings in Portugese, though the language barrier is no drawback from its immense power. Much of it contains the same wordless quality of Buckley's far-out platters: it's the feeling which counts (though there's a lyric sheet in English included, if you must).
Milton Nascimento also released two other albums I can vouch for: Milagre dos Peixes and Minas, both from roughly the same era and both were reissued on CD via the Water label (4 Men With Beards' "sister" CD imprint) several years ago, and so far as I know are still readily available. Clube Da Esquina possesses a certain quality which has taken hold of me in recent weeks. As a package and statement - 21 songs in just over an hour, housed in a front cover which explains nothing (that's on the back) - it has the same sense of impenetrability that other fave 2LP sets of mine contain, recordings such as Don Cherry's Orient and Miles Davis' Get Up With It.
I generally find vinyl to be a pain in the arse these days. Sure, they look nice and they impress your friends, but practically speaking (due to two infant children just waiting to destroy everything around them living under my roof) they're not something I can just throw on the stereo at a moment's notice, which means the CD format is usually my vehicle of choice. In this case, the 2LP format is what you need. Clube Da Esquina, just like Get Up With It, Orient or Space Ritual, makes more sense split between 4 sides of vinyl, just as it was intended, and its whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. It's way too early to start talking about its placement in Greatest Ever lists, but I can most definitely recommend Clube Da Esquina.