There aren’t many solo artists who can claim to have been part of one of the most successful bands of all time. Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante can. His debut solo album Cavalo will be released on 5th May 2014, on Mais Um Discos. He was a member of Los Hermanos. Their four albums sold millions of copies. However, Los Hermanos were put on hold in 2007. That’s when Rodrigo formed Little Joy.

Rodrigo, Binki Shapiro and The Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti had first met in 2006. That’s when they first toyed with the idea of forming a new band, one that had nothing to do with their respective bands. With Los Hermanos having been put on hold, this was the perfect time. Little Joy were born in 2007. This Brazilian American supergroup were soon signed to Rough Trade. Then in 2008, Little Joy released their eponymous debut album 2008. It was released to critical acclaim. Sadly, Little Joy proved to be their only album. Now six years later, Rodrigo Amarante is about to embark upon his solo career. This is just the latest chapter in the career of Rodrigo Amarante.

The Rodrigo Amarante story begins back September 6th 1976. That’s when Rodrigo Amarante de Castro Neves was born in Rio De Janeiro. Music seems to have been in Rodrigo’s blood. By the time he headed to University in Rio, he was already a multi-instrumentalist. That’s where he met Marcelo Camelo and Rodrigo Barba, who were founding members of Los Hermanos.

Marcelo and Rodrigo asked Rodrigo along to rehearse with Los Hermanos. Having played at several rehearsals, Rodrigo was asked to become a permanent member of Los Hermanos. He’d go on to play on their four albums.

For their first album, Los Hermanos, Rodrigo wrote the single Quem Sabe and Onze Dias. He also played traverse flute. Released in 1999, Los Hermanos was the start of the band’s rise to becoming one of Brazil’s most successful and critically acclaimed bands.

This continued with Los Hermanos’ sophomore album Bloco Do Eu Sozinho. Released in 2001, Bloco do Eu Sozinho marked Rodrigo’s coming of age as a songwriter and musician. One of Rodrigo’s best songs was A Flor, which he cowrote with Marcelo. It gave Los Hermanos one of their biggest hit singles. However, Los Hermanos’ third album would surpass everything that had gone before.

After a gap of two years, Los Hermanos returned with Ventura in 2003. During this two year break, Rodrigo seemed to have matured as a songwriter. Ventura featured some of Rodrigo’s best songs. Among them were Último Romance, O Velho E O Moço, Um Par, Do Sétimo Andar and Deixa o Verã. Critics hailed Rodrigo one of the finest songwriters of his generation. This resulted in him stepping out of the shadows. No longer was he just a sideman. Now he was a fully fledged member of Los Hermanos. Ironically, as this happened Los Hermanos’ career stalled.

When Los Hermanos returned with 4 in 2005, it wasn’t as successful as previous albums. The songs were penned by Rodrigo and Mercelo. Despite the quality of the five songs Rodrigo wrote, O Vento was the only hit single. It seemed Los Hermanos’ career was at the crossroads.

Despite this, Rodrigo won the Best Instrumentalist in the Prêmio Multishow awards in 2006. This was well deserved, given he’d played such an important role in Los Hermanos success. However, in 2007, Los Hermanos were put on hold. This resulted in a change of direction for Rodrigo.

Rodrigo decided to spend time on the Orquestra Imperial. This was a collaboration between Rodrigo, Moreno Veloso, Nina Becker, and actress Thalma de Freita. They headed to California and started writing Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon with Venezuelan singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart. That’s also where Rodrigo met Binki Shapiro and The Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti.

This was 2006. That’s when Rodrigo, Binki  and Fabrizio first toyed with the idea of forming a new band. They decided it should have nothing to do with their own bands. With Los Hermanos having been put on hold, this was the perfect time. Little Joy were born in 2007. This Brazilian American supergroup were soon signed to Rough Trade. Then in 2008, Little Joy released their eponymous debut album 2008. It was released to critical acclaim. Sadly, Little Joy proved to be their only album. Since then Rodrigo’s collaborated with a number of artists.

Among them are Adam Green. Rodrigo featured on his 2010 album Minor Love. He also cowrote and arranged O Que Você Quer, a track from Marisa Monte’s 2011 album O Que Você Quer Saber De Verdade. However, during this period, Rodrigo, whose been living in Los Angeles since 2008, has been working towards his debut solo album Cavalo.

Cavalo features eleven songs. They’ve come about as a result of the six years Rodrigo’s spent living in Los Angeles. Looking back, he didn’t expect to spend so long in L.A. Rodrigo “didn’t expect to moor my boat for long.” During that time, he’s felt like an “exile,” but an exile whose been made welcome. Rodrigo has and has enjoyed his time in L.A, especially the feeling of being anonymous. That wouldn’t have been possible in Rio. Not after having been a member of such a high profile band as Los Hermanos. This has allowed Rodrigo to become an explorer or onlooker. It’s also allowed Rodrigo to almost reinvent himself. He’s even invented what he refers to as “an accomplice to which I am also the channel, the one I name Cavalo.” So Cavalo is essentially ten songs about the adventures of Rodrigo Amarante during the last six years in L.A, which I’ll now tell you about.

Nada Em Vão opens Cavalo. It has a wistful, dreamy sound. The arrangement meanders along. A muted guitar and keyboards  accompany Rodrigo’s scatted vocal. Occasionally, a drum punctuates the arrangement. Mostly, it’s understated, with doo-wop harmonies, keyboards, percussion and a sultry horn escaping from the arrangement. They’re the perfect foil for Rodrigo’s heartfelt paean.

Percussion, growling horn and bass accompany Rodrigo’s vocal on Hourglass. This is a very different song. It has a much more rocky sound. Having said that, it’s a musical pot pourri. Everything from funk, soul, new wave and psychedelia influences Rodrigo. There’s even an eighties influences. Grizzled horns and the rhythm drive the arrangement along as Rodrigo draws inspiration from Don Henley and Robert Palmer. His vocal has a lazy, lysergic influence. This result is a genre-melting, psychedelic stomper full of slick poppy hooks, 

Just a picked acoustic guitar and subtle percussion accompany Rodrigo’s vocal on Mom Nom. Emotion and sincerity fill his vocal, as the band plug-in. The rhythm section and chiming guitar accompany him. Meanwhile, waves of horns disappear into the distance. There’s a sixties psychedelic influence on this folk-tronic waltz which features a heart-wrenching vocal from Rodrigo.

Although just a lone guitar accompanies Rodrigo on Irene, that’s all it needs. It’s hugely effective and means you focus solely on Rodrigo’s impassioned delivery of the lyrics. His vocal is captivating. It literally oozes emotion and is spellbinding in its beauty.

Maná sees a return to the Latin rhythms that Rodrigo’s so familiar with. His guitar is panned hard left and percussion right. That leaves room for the rhythm section and Rodrigo’s joyous vocal in the middle. During this call to dance, Rodrigo reminds me of Paul Simon. However, Paul Simon has never fused Latin, funk, rock and poppy hooks. Rodrigo does and it’s truly irresistible and joyous.

A wistful piano opens Fall Asleep, setting the scene for Rodrigo’s vocal. His vocal veers between melancholy and hopeful, as he’s transformed into a troubled troubadour. Behind him, a probing bass helps the distant piano drive the arrangement along on what’s one of the most beautiful and pensive songs on Cavalo.

From the get-go, the word ambient seems the perfect description of The Ribbon. Ethereal harmonies and an acoustic guitar combine before Rodrigo’s vocal enters. It’s tender and thoughtful. Harmonies accompany him. They sweep in and eventually replace Rodrigo’s vocal. His lyrics have a poetic quality and are delivered with feeling and passion. Meanwhile, the arrangement grows in power and drama. Thankfully, it never overpowers the captivating beauty of Rodrigo’s vocal, which is one of his finest.

O Cometa has an understated introduction. Just an acoustic guitar and percussion join Rodrigo’s heartfelt vocal. Later, drums played with brushes and melancholy horns sweep in. They too are understated. So are the tender harmonies. They’re like pieces of a jigsaw and with Rodrigo’s guidance, everything seems to fall perfectly into place.

The piano is an often underrated instrument by musicians. Not on Cavalo. Here, Rodrigo uses it to toy with your emotion. It also adds to the drama of this hugely atmospheric track. Here, Rodrigo sings call and response. His vocal is forlorn and despondent, as if memories are coming flooding back to him and he’s reliving the pain and hurt again.

Cooing, ethereal harmonies and an acoustic guitar open I’m Ready. Then when the harmonies drop out, Rodrigo’s heartbroken vocal enters. It’s like a cathartic outpouring of grief and pain at the loss of his son, whose been taken away by its mother. Rodrigo sounds almost numb, as if he can’t be hurt any more. When he sings: “I’m Ready” it’s as if he’s daring her to try and make him feel worse than he already does. That I don’t think will be possible. This is the most moving songs on Cavalo.

Tardei closes Cavalo, and features Rodrigo scatting and playing his trusty acoustic guitar. His vocal is heartfelt, tender and emotive. When it drops out, ethereal harmonies sweep in. They accompany Rodrigo, and together, play their part in what’s an ethereal and beautiful way to close Cavalo.

Rodrigo Amarante’s debut solo album Cavalo is a departure from the music he’s recorded with Los Hermanos and Little Joy. It’s very different. However, Cavalo has something in common with the music of Los Hermanos and Little Joy, its quality. That’s undeniable. 

Often, the arrangements are understated and feature just Rodrigo and his trusty acoustic guitar. He dawns the role of troubadour as if born for the role. Many of the arrangements are understated and spartan. That’s no bad thing. It allows Rodrigo’s vocal to take centre-stage. He delivers a series of understated, tender, heartfelt, emotive and soul-baring ballads. Sometimes, he’s also accompanied by ethereal harmonies. They prove the perfect foil for Rodrigo Amarante. However, there’s more to Cavalo than ballads.

This includes ambient, folk, funk, Latin, pop, psychedelia and rock. Two very different tracks are Hourglass and Maná. Hourglass is a psychedelic stomper, that’s full of slick poppy hooks. Mana is simply irresistible and joyous. These two tracks show a very different side of Rodrigo Amarante on Cavalo, which will be released on 5th May 2014, on Mais Um Disco. Cavalo is the long-awaited debut album from one of the giants of Brazilian music, Rodrigo Amarante.

The former member of Los Hermanos and Little Joy has come a long way in the six years he’s been living in Los Angeles. Rodrigo has discovered a new side to his music. It’s much more introspective and thoughtful. It’s as if the six years he’s spent in L.A. has resulted in inspiration for the eleven songs on Cavalo, where Rodrigo takes centre-stage. This is a role Rodrigo Amarante seems born for. He’s a storyteller who brings his lyrics to life. During each song, he sounds as if he’s lived, loved and survived the pain, hurt and heartbreak he’s singing about. So much so, that you find yourself empathizing with Rodrigo Amarante’s plight and pain. Then to life your spirits, he throws in a hook laden gem like Hourglass or Maná. This leaves you wanting more. The same can be said of Cavalo, Rodrigo Amarante’s critically acclaimed  debut album, which belongs in the record collection of anyone who loves and appreciates music that’s ethereal, beautiful, wistful, heartfelt and joyous.




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