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Various Artists
Brazil - The Greatest Songs Ever
Cuba - The Greatest Songs Ever

Petrol / EMI Records

I've come back to this series of cd's several times with mixed emotions. First off, these are historical recordings with no information in the cd booklet about the performers, the dates or locations. Instead, I get recipes for mojitos and sofrito. Second, to bill these as the greatest recordings of all times is misleading, and really irritating.

EMI houses a huge library of world recordings for the 60s through the 90s. They had the foresight to record almost every musician in South America during those decades. To their credit, these recordings hold up in sound, but in a last ditch effort to market these recordings to a new and younger audience, the company has sacrificed authenticity for sizzle. Starting this series under a new, hip name and label doesn't cover up their age. Whoever went into the vaults to assemble these collections certainly knew what they were doing, but again little credit is given. The packaging in this series is visually attractive. Pristine covers that have immaculate photos of fruits that may somehow be related to the country represented. I listened to the banana and the orange, or Brazil and Cuba respectively. The packaging should be an immediate hit at your local Starbucks, which is becoming more and more of a repository for this kind of recording.

From the beginning of the Brazilian offering, it was apparent I wasn't in for much of a ride. Starting with "Mas Que Nada," done in a substandard nightclub imitation of the Sergio Mendes hit, I knew these were not going to be the greatest performances. Moving onto Marco Valle's original "Summer Samba," which always sounds so nice, and through old tracks by Elis Regina and Djavan, I was ready to accept this cd as a nice collection of older recordings. But then, a desecration of The Anthem, "The Girl From Ipanema" changed my mind. C'mon folks, Jobim wrote it - he does it best. And the Gilberto's made it a hit - they do it best. With the thousands of versions of this, why did this one make it onto the cd? I even played it to my Brazilian friend and her only reaction was, "This is very old."

The orange fared a bit better. With the many years that Cuban music simply was not available in the United States, this could have been an illuminating and important collection of music. But that darned packaging gets in the way. This is a "mainly mambo" album that has some smokin' tracks. Don't know who Alfredo De La Fe is? You still won't after searching the liner notes, but his violin work in this early track is up to his usual high standards. This still would be a fun record at a summer party with salsa savvy people. But wait, that's the same vision the producers must've had. If you are a serious music lover interested in undiscovered treasures from the past, well, I'm afraid you are out of luck with this series, because you'll be able to hear them but never know anything about these wonderful music makers. I don't much care for the mojito recipe either.

-Steve Wagerman

[Editor's note: To avoid (or contribute to) confusion, earlier releases bearing the same titles and artwork were released in 2002 (Brazil) and 2004 (Cuba) under the Time-Life label. These recordings have entirely different tracks than the Petrol Records reviewed, and are most assuredly the genuine Greatest Songs Ever as they feature " Guantanamera" and Astrud Gilberto's "Girl From Ipanema." A reality show is currently in the works to determine a clear winner, based solely on your votes! ]

Track listings:

1. Mas Que Nada by Elza Soares
2. Samba De Verao by Marcos Valle
3. Aquarela Do Brasil by Daniela Mercury
4. Pais Tropical by Wilson Simonal
5. Garota de Ipanema by Leila Pinheiro
6. Madelena by Ivan Lins
7. Se Eu Quiser Falar Com Deus by Elis Regina
8. A Namorada by Carlinhos Brown
9. Nação by Clara Nunes
10. Foi Um Rio Que Passou Em Minha Vida by Paulinho Da Viola
11. A Rosa by Djavan/Part. Especial: Chico Buarque- Gentilmente Cedido Pela Universal Music
12. Que E O Que E by Gonzaguinha

1. Idilio by Laito Y Su Sonora
2. Nadie Se Salva de la Rumba by Los Naranjos
3. Tumbao Pa'changuito by Maraca
4. El Manisero by Chira And Septeto Nacional
5. Mambo con Cha Cha Cha by Maraca
6. Sonaron Los Canonazos by Laito Y Su Sonora
7. Lagrimas Negras by Septeto Nacional
8. Para Mi Santo by Charanga Latina
9. No Puedo Vivir by Orquesta Tipica Ases del Ritmo
10. Mi Violin Charanguero by Enrique Alvarez y su Charanga Latina con Alfredo De La Fe
11. Todo El Mundo Quiere Bailar by Grupo Sonorama
12. Largo de Guajira by Ad Libitum

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