Portastatic De Mel, De Melao

There's probably no one in American music as well intentioned as Superchunk/Portastatic/Merge Records kingpin Mac McCaughan. As further proof, his latest Portastatic project is this homage to some of his favourite post-bossa Brazilian pop artists, including Caetano Veloso, and Joyce and Gilberto Gil, all of whom are international stars, but are prevented from American stardom by a language barrier and presumably by not looking like Ricky Martin or Jennifer Lopez. If McCaughan can spread the word through the five Brazilian covers here, more power to him. On the other hand, among McCaughan's many virtues is the fact that there's probably no one in American music who works harder than him, and that extends to his singing, and that's the biggest drawback here. Even when he whispers his way through a ballad, McCaughan still sounds like he's busting a gut and sweating bricks, which may suit a scrappy indie pop group, but couldn't be more ill-suited for the lilting, bittersweet melodies of Brazilian pop. Even challenging vocal lines sound effortless when sung by Veloso, Gil or Joyce, to say nothing of Astrud Gilberto, but McCaughan's vocals on this EP are all strain without the gentle kiss of the Brazilian masters. I applaud his efforts here, but I wish the effort wasn't so obvious. (Merge)