Album Review: Claudia Aurora – Mulher do Norte [Red Orange Recordings, 10th June 2016]

This charming fado album from UK-based singer Claudia Aurora from the Alentejo region of Portugal is a breath of fresh air. Her self-penned songs, while not always of traditional subject matter, are nevertheless imbued with the sentiments of nostalgia and longing that characterise fado music. Produced by Ricardo Cruz and with Bernardo Couto on Portuguese guitar Aurora has also chosen instrumentalists with a less traditional fado background (bouzouki, ‘cello, accordion and double bass) to add colour to the arrangements. The result is more of a fado folk band.

Fado is all about emotion when you sing it – the words need to seem to struggle to come out, and sometimes Aurora’s performance lacks the passion of singers such as Amalia and Dulce Pontes. Neverthless, her voice is expressive, clear and unpretentious, as on the delightful Amantes, which has some beautiful layered backing vocals. The album begins with the title track Mulher do Norte (Woman of the North), a song that tells of the traditional lifestyle of fisherfolk. Then comes Poema: a bird sings of losing its nest. The poem of the title is also about the loneliness of the dawn wanting to date the moon – not traditional subject matter, yet still embracing the feeling of fado. This is followed by the charming Amar (Love). It uses more traditional fado lyrics that are difficult to translate, but which express a feeling of longing. There is some lovely backing here on Portuguese guitar (also known in Portugal as the viola- not to be confused with the bowed instrument).

Fado Florido has some unusual but effective backing with ‘cello & accordion. Then comes Mãos de Luar, the ‘hands of moonlight’ that again speak of longing. Filha das Ervas speaks of a wise woman who knows the medicinal properties of certain herbs. A Tua Ausência tells of an absent friend – and so the album proceeds to a delightful conclusion with the simply arranged Lua (Moon) with Portuguese guitar and ‘cello that develops into an unusual improvised instrumental and vocal section towards the end.

This is a great introduction to contemporary fado for anyone interested in getting to know the genre, though it is not traditional. However, the unusual instrumentation gives it a freshness and adds interest for those who may not understand the lyrics. An impressive album from the UK’s new fado singer.