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Over the last half century, few countries have had as many international recording stars as Brazil. The famed names of its rich musical traditions have the same renown as its rock-star soccer players: Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Milton Nascimento, Tom Zé, Elis Regina, Flora Purim, Jorge Ben, Carlinhos Brown, Seu Jorge, Marisa Monte to name just one possible dream-team XI. An artist who didn’t quite resonate abroad—who never glittered in the yellow national-team jersey, so to speak—is Erasmo Carlos. At 75, Carlos remains beloved at home, but he hasn’t been widely heard outside Latin America, which is a shame. As we’re reminded by these reissues of his work from the early 1970s, his talents were enormous.
Three of his albums—Erasmo Carlos E Os Tremendões (from 1970), Carlos, ERASMO… (1971), and Sonhos E Memórias 1941–1972 (1972)—have been given a new life thanks to Seattle label Light in the Attic. A smart essay by Allen Thayer, along with his detailed liner notes and translated lyrics, provides valuable context for the package.
Born in 1941, Erasmo Carlos first gained fame with Roberto Carlos as co-hosts of the musical television show “Jovem Guarda” (young guard), which debuted in 1965 and was aimed at teenagers enamored with American rock’n’roll and the British Invasion. Erasmo, no relation to Roberto, was a heartthrob; he sported a new haircut on every magazine cover he graced. In 1968, though, “Jovem Guarda” was canceled. Times were a changing and Erasmo was at sea. “No one wanted to know me,” he said in a 2006 interview that Thayer cites.
But Carlos still had his guitar and his voice, a fantastic and versatile one. He left São Paulo and returned to his hometown, Rio de Janeiro, where the new Música Popular Brasileira and Tropicália—a creative movement to counter the CIA-sponsored military junta that grabbed power in 1964—were fomenting. Despite his teeny-bopper reputation, Carlos still had street cred among the new, edgier players on the scene, like Caetano Veloso. This was in part because of his Rio roots and in part because he had talent, much of it still undeveloped at that point.
That’s where the story of these records begins. And what a new beginning it was. Though these albums were among the least commercial and least “successful” of Carlos’ career, he is in full soul-baring mode during these years, as if he has nothing to lose. He mixes all the genres of the place and time (pop, rock, folk, samba, bossa nova, psychedelia, soul, funk) within a feijoada of horns, flutes, strings, distorted guitars, and vocal harmonies.
His 1970 effort Erasmo Carlos E Os Tremendões starts out soft with “Estou Dez Anos Atrasado” (“I’m Ten Years Too Late”), which has a goofy bombast not unlike the theme from the original “Batman” series. But the remaining tracks on the album are magnificent, filled with surprising twists and vocal leaps. “Gloriosa” boasts a catchy melody and full string arrangement, organ, flutes, and fuzzy guitar, while the gentle ballad “Espuma Congelada” ends up in distorted Tropicália territory by way of Sgt. Pepper’s. The effervescent “Coqueiro Verde” reflects Erasmo’s umbilical attachment to samba. “Teletema,” a simple ditty written for a telenovela, is a quiet showcase for the wonderful textures of Erasmo’s voice, a gift that carries all three of the recordings. He almost whispers though it—“Soft/Celestial body/Goal, half/My sanctuary/My eternity/Illuminated/My way finally”—and reveals a vulnerability and depth.
The slow tempos of “Menina” and “Vou Ficar Nú Para Chamar Sua Atençao” are perfect vehicles, too, for his keen sense of phrasing. Carlos does a gorgeous version of “Saudosismo,” penned by Veloso—who, by 1970, was in exile in London after a short prison stay in Brazil. (The song could be read as a middle finger to government authorities, who, as Thayer writes in the notes, would surely have been made aware of its existence.) It’s juxtaposed, oddly, with the familiar and patriotic “Aquarela do Brasil,” which could work as well in a documentary on the pro footballer Pelé or a Varig airline commercial. Still, Erasmo’s rendition is irresistible.
Carlos, ERASMO…, out the following year, saw a slight shift from Erasmo’s 1970 effort. It was co-produced by Manoel Barenbein, who had helmed the landmark Tropicália album just a few years prior, and featured several of its backing musicians. Carlos, ERASMO… also included “De Noite Na Cama,” written specifically for Erasmo by Veloso while still in exile. “Masculino, Feminino” is a beauty, a slow duet with the angelic-voiced Marisa Fossa that has the feel of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—if there were red wine and Marlboro Lights. In “É Preciso Dar Um Jeito, Meu Amigo” (“Gotta Find a Way, My Friend”), written with his old partner Roberto Carlos, Erasmo has drive and urgency in his voice: “But I’m ashamed/With the things I’ve seen/But I will not be silent/Accommodated in comfort/As so many out there.” Meanwhile, “Agora Ninguém Chora Mais” is a Jorge Ben original that’s reinvented as a driving, plugged-in, harmonized group chant: “The whole world cried/But now no one cries anymore/Cry more, cry more.”
Sonhos E Memórias 1941–1972 is the most focused and measured of the three albums and serves as a kind of personal diary (Carlos was born in ’41). There are photos of Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Andy Warhol on the cover, and (perhaps more importantly) a team shot of Rio’s Vasco da Gama soccer club. In “Bom Dia, Rock’N’Roll,” Carlos references Elvis, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, and Carole King and James Taylor. The music is anchored by a rhythm section that would become the jazz fusion trio Azymuth, who gained momentum later in the ’70s and into the smoother jazz ’80s. With exceptions like “É Proibido Fumar” and the second half of “Sábado Morto,” which takes an unexpected vocal turn, Sonhos E Memórias 1941–1972 feels less chance-y than the previous two albums.
After all, it was risk that got Carlos to this point. On his 1970 album, when he was at his lowest, he recorded what became a hit song, one that brought him renewed notice and enabled future work and creative freedom. “Sentado à Beira do Caminho” (“Sitting on the Side of the Road”), perhaps a wink to an American classic) is majestic. Erasmo, backed by little more than an organ and an acoustic guitar, sings as if he’s speaking directly to us, and, in the process, reassuring himself: “I can’t stay here anymore and wait/That one day suddenly you will come back to me… I’m sitting on the side of a road that has no/end.” And then this, a fulfilled wish: “I need to get this over with/I must remember that I exist/I exist, I exist.”Share