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Various Artists – Red Hot + Rio 2

on July 21, 2011, 8:00am

Of all of the disparate places modern pop music has its roots, Tropicália is one of the most often overlooked. Originated in 1960’s Brazil, the movement was led by such luminaries as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil of legendary psych-rockers Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, and Gal Costa. Tropicália has been nodded to numerous times over the years, with everyone from Nelly Furtado, Kurt Cobain, and Beck noting their debt to the genre. Despite this, Tropicália’s influence still goes, for the most part, very unsung today, remaining a well-kept secret of record collectors and music snobs the world over.

Enter the Red Hot Organization, a group responsible not only for some of the best compilation/tribute albums of the past two decades (2009’s stellar Dark Was the Night among them) but also for raising over 10 million dollars in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Red Hot’s 1996 Red Hot + Rio outing saw David Byrne, Sting, and Stereolab join bossa nova veterans on updated reworkings of their classics. The result was a critical and commercial success that shed light on an issue and a genre that, it’s safe to say, would largely go ignored without this sort of mainstream exposure.

Red Hot + Rio 2 comes over a decade after its predecessor, loaded with all manners of contemporary artists whose work is informed by Tropicália’s lively stylings. The tracklist reads a bit like a who’s who of today’s music world. Beirut makes the cut, as do Cults, hot off the success of their self-titled debut. Left-field hip-hop auteur Madlib makes an appearance, where feral horns and drums sound surprisingly at home under Joyce Moreno’s warm Portuguese vocals, paying their dues to the legends. Alt-rock icons David Byrne and Beck also stand out. Beck’s fresh take on his 1998 semi-hit “Tropicalia” with the help of samba vet Seu Jorge is easily among the album’s highlights.

While there are some dicey points–the inclusion of the (relatively) very normal, English-sung “Panis et Circensis” is made even more puzzling, as it’s sandwiched between the rousing strums of Beirut’s “O Leaozinho” and of Montreal + Os Mutantes’ spazzed-out take on the latter’s “Bat Macumba”–the sheer quality that Red Hot + Rio 2 maintains over the course of its two discs and 33 tracks makes this a very noteworthy effort. With massive star power that’ll surely go a long way in luring a fair share of new fans over to its side, Red Hot + Rio 2 makes for an ideal introductory point to Tropicália’s rich history, with enough deep cuts and exclusive material to warrant attention from those already familiar with it.