Favorite Albums of 2022

The winner was never in any doubt. The silver and bronze placers are arguably better albums if by better you mean consistent. I still hear the winner winding down more than I’d like, which is why I gave it an A- when I reviewed it instead of the A I should have. But for the third time in her career, Iara Rennó has produced a masterpiece. Its—yes, let’s go there—genius isn’t as in your face as the playful pleasures of DonaZica’s Composição or as breathtaking as her solo debut, Macunaíma Ópera Tupi, but its percussion driven Afro-Brazilian spirituals calmly, quietly lift you toward transcendence. With those first two albums it forms a heckuva triptych of Brazilian culture/music: modernist and primitive, traditional and cutting edge. It’s a frickin’ musicological monograph on Brazil traveling from the vanguarda Paulista to Mário de Andrade to the Afro-Brazilian spiritual/musical roots of Brazilian music played out over three albums, but way more fun and meaningful than any book could be.

And it’s not all the year had to offer.

As usual, I entered December unsure of whether I’d be able to come up with a decent best of. But reading old reviews, clearing out my 2022 folder, and scouring year-end lists from Brazilian sources, I once again found my ears runneth over. Twenty-nine 2022 releases rated B+ or higher. Several Bs were near that level themselves. So we had very good/great records from newcomers (Bruno Berle, Bala Desejo, Rachel Reis, Victória dos Santos), old-timers (Alaíde Costa, Joyce Moreno, Elza Soares, Tom Zé), and the mid-timers who have been dominating Brazilian music for the past couple of decades.

And none of that is counting a good compilation (Sounds and Colours’ Hidden Waters: Strange and Sublime Sounds of Rio De Janeiro), the vault deluxe reissue of Luiza Brina’s debut (A Toada Vem é Pelo Vento), a couple of Latin records I found time to review this year (Meridian Brothers’ terrific Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Reancimiento in particular, but also La Era de Acuario’s Live Hipnosis.) And all of this with a relatively light showing by the still magnificent Clube da Encruza, whose members usually populate the upper reaches of these lists. (That said, my biggest whiff of the year was the second Sambas do Absurdo album from Clubbers Rodrigo Campos, Juçara Marçal and Gui Amabis. My original B+, which was almost a B, didn’t do it justice. As I noted at the time, Campos has gotten so subtle, it’s easy to miss how good he is. I did. Second biggest whiff was the new Tulipa Ruiz, which I simply underrated because it played Court and Spark to the earlier run of album that kept topping themselves and herself, where this one just reminded you how good she is.)

In other words, nearly six years into a one-year project, I find my love for the musics of Brazil undiminished. No, that’s not quite right. The love has only strengthened. To be honest, I find it harder to get engaged with other musics outside of jazz or stuff from Africa or Latin America. My ears are changing the longer I do this. No doubt it will end one day. It’s not a job, and I’ve never made a dime from any of it, so there’s no external pressure to keep going. But while I sometimes get tired of being the niche Brazilian music obsessing weirdo among my music friends who listen more broadly—or at least more broadly Anglophone—than I, truth is when I try to spend time with music outside of Brazil, I find myself drawn back fairly quickly. I’ve got a habit now, and we all know how hard those are to break. As addictions go, though, this is a pretty harmless and very enjoyable one.¹ So I guess I’m keeping going. Below, I’ve got 29 reminders from last year to do just that.

(A-list albums are ranked. B+ are in alphabetical order.)

  1. Iara Rennó, Oríkì
  2. Alaíde Costa, O Que Meus Calos Dizem Sobre Mim
  3. Joyce Moreno with Maurício Maestro, Natureza
  4. Bruno Berle, No Reino dos Afetos
  5. Bala Desejo, Sim Sim Sim
  6. Anelis Assumpção, Sal
  7. Criolo, Sobre Viver
  8. Rodrigo Campos, Juçara Marçal and Gui Amabis, Sambas do Absurdo, Vol. 2
  9. Various Artists, Benito 80: Novo Samba Sempre Novo
  10. Salma e Mac, Voo Livre
  11. Mari Herzer, Cheia
  12. Rachel Reis, Meu Esquema
  13. Juçara Marçal, EPDEB
  • André Abujamra, Amor
  • Baco Exu do Blues, QVVJFA?
  • Victória dos Santos, Lata Orí
  • Verônica Ferrarini and Manoel Cordeiro, Aquário (Ao Vivo)
  • Verônica Ferrarini and Marcelo Cabral, De Boca Cheia
  • Filarmônica de Paságarda, PSSP
  • Höröyá, Gri Gri Bá
  • Leila Maria, Ubuntu
  • Joyce Moreno, Brasileiras Canções
  • Fabiano do Nascimento, Rio Bonito
  • Russo Passapusso and Antonio Carlos & Jocafi, Alto de Maravilha
  • Tulipa Ruiz, Habilidades Extraordinárias
  • Celso Sim, O Herói das Estrelas & a Anja Astronauta
  • Celso Sim and João Camarero, Divina Dádiva Dívida
  • Elza Soares, Elza Ao Vivo No Municpal
  • Tom Zé, Língua Brasileira

You can also check out my 2022 playlist for tracks from most of these albums as well as other stuff.

¹ Well, my beloved spouse who’s not so fond of this music has to put up with a lot because of it, so let me thank her publicly here: muito obrigado, Robyn, for six years of patience. As always, just ask, and I’ll turn it off. For a bit.


2022 Playlist

Albums are great, but so are songs. Below is a playlist nearly four hours long collecting some of my favorite tracks of the year. Some are from albums I love. Some are standouts from albums I liked. Some are singles or songs I loved despite not being on memorable albums. The top 20 are ranked, but then it’s just ordered by what seems to sound good next. Enjoy.

2022, Part Five

I definitely could have included a few more albums that earned a B- or even B, but here I mostly focused on the 2022 releases that really merited a mention before I wrap the year up. (Sorry BK and Brisa Flow. You did good. Really.) That means it’s time to sit down and start thinking about how to rank these as well as work on my 2022 playlist. If I had quit in December when most people do their year-end lists, I would have missed two of the A- records below. Patience is a virtue.

André Abujamra, Amor – With 29 2022 releases totaling six hours and 43 minutes, longtime musician, comedian, etc., Abujamra has a work ethic that would put a Protestant to shame. A handful were singles. Most were EPs. Many seem to be soundtracks for works extant or in his mind. All of it’s pretty inconsistent despite enough material to make one great album. So we have to settle for this 26-minute art piece that melds rock sonics, samba, electronic influences and jokes where he maintains good across the whole thing. (But check his tracks on my 2022 playlist that would have shined on the album that never was.) Listen and, er, buy? here. Grade: B+

Akira Presidente, Boombapkilla and Omertá – From zero to, well hero would be a bit much. But Akira has gone from actively bad to consistently good. He doesn’t match the two (Fa7her and Nandi) that turned his career around here, and I’m suspecting he never will. But over these two EPs he rises above mere competence with more tales of street life. Production is the difference maker. Mad Gui goes for horror moods on Boombapkilla, while CHF aims for RZA’s Tical grime on Omertá. Of course one of those is easier to pull off than the other, so guess which works slightly better? Listen here. Grades: Boombapkilla, B; Omertá, B-

Anelis Assumpção, Sal – She’ll never equal dear old dad. In part because he’s some kind of genius, but also because she, like so many other Brazilian musicians, is making music in his wake so that her art’s cultural impact can only be heard through his. But not only does she refuse to coast on her cultural privilege, her efforts to master craft have continued to improve her output. Never has her funk-reggae-samba stew cooked so well. You can still identify the constituent parts, but, like a well-made dish, the flavors play together, not separately. On her fourth album, she teams with female collaborators (Josyara, Iara Rennó, Jadsa, Céu, among others) and token male or two, with husband Curumin being the prime exception. She covers her late sister. She honors her late father by doing her own thing that grows from his. She and her fellow singers ponder female existence in a Brazil where hope, for some, is growing anew. And “Clitórias” ends up being about something very different than you expect. Taurina might be a more consistent, smoother album, but with the dense funk here she’s never been better. Listen here. Grade: A-

Tim Bernardes, Mil Coisas Invisíveis – He’ll never be my thing, but both here on the last O Terno record, Bernardes has shown a level of skill I simply cannot deny. So if soft alt-MPB with shades of Glen Campbell is your thing, you might love this. Listen here. Grade: B

Brasileiro Garantido, Churros Recheado – Big, stoopid, fun. Producer Gabriel Guerra makes music as unsubtle and tasty as the foods he names his albums after. This confection is pure ’80s in sound without sounding hopelessly dated because when you pull off that big, stoopid, fun thing it’s as irresistible as junk food. Jerky beats. Vocal samples. Hooks. Who can say no? Listen and buy here. Grade: B

Alaíde Costa, O Que Meus Calos Dizem Sobre Mim – Easily one of the most acclaimed Brazilian albums of 2022, but I confess this one was a struggle. Costa’s recording career began in 1959 with an album rooted as much in the pre-bossa Brazilian pop as it was in the new trends, and the stateliness of that older style is very much present here. I removed it once from my listening list, but felt compelled to give it another shot by its repeated mention on year-end lists from Brazil, whereupon it came alive. Overseen by rapper Emicida and Marcus Preto, who rope in a who’s who of talents to write and play, the album’s a slow burn of unfolding melodies and rich arrangements, all of which support Costa’s remarkably undiminished voice that has a presence befitting an 86-year-old who need not prove anything to anyone. The slight roughness around the edges only adds mortality that fits the terrific title, “What My Calluses Say About Me”. (I haven’t been able to find lyrics, so I can only say reviews report they live up to the title.) Gorgeous and reflective. Never maudlin or nostalgic. This is music that tells you something about aging well. Listen here. Grade: A-

Leila Maria, Ubuntu – Three decades into a mainstream, upscale MPB career, Maria takes a left turn. Or, really, an eastward one toward Africa. With producer/drummer Guilherme Kastrup on board she recruits fellow Portuguese speakers from three continents to run through a bunch of Djavan songs that are more Afro than Brazilian, and she’s never been more engaging. Especially on the early songs ignited by Zola Star’s guitar, this music levitates while remaining funky. The star is Maria’s voice which centers everything, but what she surrounds it with lifts the whole fantastically. Listen here. Grade: B+

Lívia Mattos, Apneia – Circus performer turned accordionist, Mattos debuted with a solid, straightforward album in 2017, but on this sophomore set she explores how avant her instrument and songs can get. Lawrence Welk may have tamed the accordion for generations of Americans, but Latin musicians have long displayed how wild and percussive the instrument can be. Mattos decides to push that even further if she can. (Spoiler alert: she can.) Merging rhythm and melody, Mattos moans and pounds and wheezes and slams as she switches from raucous to haunting and back. Like Alessandra Leão, with whom she collaborates on one song here, Mattos draws deeply from tradition only to transmute it into something else. Call it forró-futurism. What she’s done less well is create an album qua album. The amazing parts don’t quite cohere into a fully compelling whole. Track running order isn’t optimized. The reprises/vignettes should have been excised. (I’d go 1-2-7-8-11-9-6-4-3 for a better package.) But what’s good is so good—title track is song of the year—that I’ve learned mostly to hear past those problems. Definitely an artist to watch. Listen here. Grade: B

Isadora Melo, Anagrama – Singer/actress from Pernambuco, Melo’s second album pushes beyond the traditionalism of her earlier music. Incorporating the more angular sounds of alt-samba, she adds edge to several of her songs that makes the most of the rhythms and arrangements. When she slows it down on the last two, she falls back toward ordinary. But the start is really strong. Listen here. Grade: B

Fabiano do Nascimento, Rio Bonito – Nascimento has maintained a steady output of good work since his terrific debut, but mostly he’s just reworked his ideas rather than push forward. Here he does the latter. Working with longtime Hermeto Pascoal collaborator Itiberê Zwarg, Nascimento’s guitar still holds the center, but it’s surrounded by sounds that do more than provide background. The string arrangements (Rogério Duprat with a dash of Bernard Hermann), in particular, add a depth and color not on his earlier albums. Only two of the ten tracks go past three minutes (and they are the weakest tracks), so you get stunning miniatures where Nascimento and the band explore an idea or melody and then move on. Listen and buy here. Grade: B+

Russo Passapusso, Antônio Carlos & Jocáfi, Alto de MaravilhaBaianaSystem frontman takes a break from his main gig with the famous ’70s duo. You notice the missing musical articulation his regular bandmates bring, and however much he idolizes the duo, listen to their EP from last year and realize he’s doing them the favor. But Passapusso is on some kind of roll, and Carlos and Jocáfi sound thrilled to be invited along. The sound is lighter, more playful than his norm, and the fun fits the mood of a Brazil lifting out of semi-fascist darkness. Plus, with or without BaianaSystem, he knows how to get funky, and on “Pitanga” and “Ponta Pólen”, you might just wonder how much he needs them. Listen here. Grade: B+

Planet Hemp, Jardineiros – Twenty-two years after their last album, Brazil’s famous rap-rockers, who have reunited periodically since breaking up in 2001, release new material. Marcelo D2 and BNegão are joined by longtime members Formigão and Pedro Garcia (but not Black Alien who only does a guest appearance). Political sloganeering and pro-pot discourse abound as it did the first time around. But the big difference is the recordings just sound better. Like a lot of late ’90s rap-rock, the early stuff sounds thin. With two decades of record-making experience, they come back and make maybe the best album of their career, certainly the best sounding one. Which means even if the music is a bit dated they mostly get away with it because they are smarter about how they make music now. Who says pot addles the mind? Listen here. Grade: B

Dulce Quental, Sob o Signo do Amor – Longtime, savvy opportunist allies with hot young commodities Jonas and Pedro Sá to take yet another career turn. Good thing the key word in that first sentence is “savvy”. Nothing here rises to the best of the young crowd making beautiful noises on the Rio scene, but Quental, once again, acquits herself well as she rides trends where contemporaries might be happy coasting. Listen here. Grade: B-

Rachel Reis, Meu Esquema – Debut album from Bahian singer. Reis is a straightforward vocalist. Without falling into anonymity she gets the job done. What pushes this album over the top is the songs/music. Northeasterner that she is, the rhythms are dense. Bahian that she is, they are also light and fluid. Everything may not be a drum, but most of the instruments pretend they are as everything sinuously flows. She’s also pop enough to keep things short and sweet. Only three songs pass the three-minute mark, which means even as everything is upbeat, bright and open, there’s an intensity that charges almost every song. Listen here. Grade: A-

Victória dos Santos, Lata Orí – Singer/percussionist from São Paulo. Has worked with Rodrigo Campos, Ava Rocha, Ana Frango Elétrico and Aláfia. I can find barely anything about her online. But the album says plenty. Modernist Afro-Brazilian excursions with deep polyrhythms over which her voice glides. Wish I knew more, but my ears don’t mind the ignorance at all. Listen here. Grade: B+

Celso Sim, O Herói das Estrelas & a Anja Astronauta – Packing up and disappearing to Portugal after 2017’s excellent O Amor Entrou Como um Raio, Sim went quiet for five years. Here he returns in a Brazilian rock mode with a sound closer to David Byrne (if Byrne had a natural feel for Brazilian musics) than the majestic classicism of the previous album. He’s still nerdy and arty, and this time he adds funky, so he’s all the things that make this peripatetic artist endearing. He just does his thing until he decides to wander somewhere else geographically or artistically. Listen here. Grade: B+

Celso Sim and João Camarero, Divina Dádiva Dívida – On his second release of the year, Sim teams with guitarist Camarero for a voice/acoustic guitar tribute to Elizabeth Cardoso. Released on national samba day in Brazil, the 16 tracks present quieter, more delicate versions of the showier tunes Cardoso recorded herself. Sim’s precise singing style doesn’t even match Cardoso well. But the tribute album tradition is about connecting present generations of musicians with Brazil’s past, not mimicking them, and Sim and Camarero do that well. Sometimes Camarero’s guitarwork gets too busy or Sim a shade too precious in his singing, but mostly they turn in a lovely, understated samba record. Listen here. Grade: B+

Various Artists, Benito 80: Novo Samba Sempre Novo – Tribute albums are as common in Brazil as remixes are in hip hop, and like remixes it’s often easier to focus on the appeal of the original, but this celebration of Benito di Paulo in his 80th year stands out. Organized by son Rodrigo Vellozo and Romulo Fróes, the album brings together talents across several generations of Brazilian musicians to celebrate and reinterpret Paulo. I confess, I barely know the original stuff, but the re-presentation here charges my ears in a way Paulo—prone to over-emoting and the schlocky arrangements that haunted ’80s MPB—does not. Clearing away those excesses of the era, you are left with good songs. Vellozo and Fróes provide a coherence of vision that brings the disparate talents together. If my ears are right, they’ve also enlisted several of Fróes’ Clube da Encruza collaborators who help keep a consistent instrumental tone across the album as well. A child doing Dad right on his 80th? That’s a pretty great birthday gift. Listen here. Grade: A-

Verônica Ferriani

Singer-songwriter based in São Paulo, Verônica Ferriani has been considered an up-and-comer for nearly two decades while releasing five albums and notching various singing and performing awards. In 2022 she doubled her album discography with the release of six albums during the year.

Although present on the scene since at least 2004, Ferriani didn’t release an album until 2009, and then she released two. The solo album is a play-by-numbers, bossa-leaning MPB album. It’s fine, but struggles to escape conventionality, which she threatens to do just enough to hold your attention even as it leaves you waiting for more. The duo album with Chico Saraiva is much stronger. Saraiva’s fetching guitar complements Ferrarini’s voice well as they run through samba-leaning tunes. Sometimes Saraiva sings with Ferrarini, and sometimes they fill out the tracks with additional players, but the focus stays on her voice and his guitar. Here they play with conventionality rather than being determined by it.

On her next album, Porque A Boca Fala Aquilo Do Que O Coração Tá Cheio, Ferrarini worked with Clube da Encruza member Marcelo Cabral and DonaZica guitarist (and brother/producer of Tulipa Ruiz), Gustavo Ruiz. The mixing of two of the more potent strains of Brazilian music is enticing, but she doesn’t so much combine the avant tinges of Cabral’s dirty samba with the tropical indie pop of Ruiz, as switch back and forth between them, with the guitarists—Guilherme Held’s on the Clube-leaning tracks; Ruiz’s on the more DonaZica-oriented ones—giving the game away. As moments it’s fantastic. As an album, to two parts work against each other too much to cohere into sum the parts deserve.

Except for a double-sided single (including a nice, slicked-up cover of Romulo Fróes’ “Varre e Sai”), she stayed quiet for five years before turning in new directions on Aquário. Teaming with bassist/producer Diogo Strausz, Ferrarini built a dense, colorful tones for a more mainstream MPB sound, while still adding enough oddball touches—those ‘wrong’ piano notes on “Bússola”—to throw off her listeners’ expectation. Here she achieves the balance between pop star and oddball that she was going for on the previous album.

A couple of live releases followed. The live in the studio rendition of Aquário isn’t bad, but is so close to the studio album version that its existence seems pointless. In contrast, the pandemic EP, Moska Apresenta included three solid stripped down versions of earlier tracks.

But that EP wasn’t her only pandemic project. Reflecting the more minimalist opportunities of global shutdown, Ferrarini recorded a series of small group, often duo, performances that she released on six albums this year. The albums are a grab bag of old songs, new ones and covers, with most songs just being acoustic guitar accompaniment she sings over. On Diário de Viagem Cantado, she teams with Swami Jr.; SambadorA involves Gian Correa; with Sobre Palavras, she duos with Chico Saraiva again; De Boca Cheia reunites her with Marcelo Cabral; on Aquário (Ao Vivo), Manoel Cordeiro joins her; and, finally, Cainã Cavalcante pairs with her on Verônica Ferriani – O Disco. (Clearly she was running out of album names as the year progressed!)

To be honest, it took awhile to tell them apart, although the Marcelo Cabral one was immediately distinct. But the six do break down into three clear groups. The Correa and Swami are the weakest group. The Swami does manage some good tunes (especially “O Céu”), but is too inconsistent, while the Correa is just boring. The Saraiva and Cavalcante are solid and engaging. The Saraiva mostly reprises their earlier album, but might surpass it. The Calvacante is a fairly typical pretty voice/dazzling Brazilian guitar album, but in a way that escapes cliché or at least does it so well you don’t mind. But the two winners are the Cabral and Cordeiro albums. The Cabral album might be the best thing she’s done. Six of the songs remake tracks from Porque A Boca Fala Aquilo Do Que O Coração Tá Cheio, but the stripped down approaches differ enough to earn their own existence. Cabral’s spare, slightly angular guitar nicely counterpoints Ferrarini’s voice so the songs feel like duets more than voice-and-accompaniment numbers. The tensions between Ruiz’s sound and Cabral’s that weakened the earlier effort are gone, and you get a sense of the kind of album Porque could have been with better focus. The Cordeiro collab heads in the opposite direction with lively covers and remakes from the studio album it shares a name with, but is nearly as good. The drama of Chico Buarque’s “Construção” is replaced by an effective contemplative mournfulness. Gilberto Gil’s “Cérebro Eletrônico” buoyant song turns into fiery technical display. The Aquário remakes sizzle. In truth, she could have had a more dynamite album if she had boiled these six albums down to one to concentrate the sound. But there’s something charming and engaging about these six same-sounding albums that end up having very different flavors when you focus.

Most of Ferrarini’s albums can be heard on her YouTube page.


Verônica Ferriani, Verônica Ferriani (2009), C+

Verônica Ferriani and Chico Saraiva, Sobre Palavras (2009), B

Verônica Ferriani, Porque A Boca Fala Aquilo Do Que O Coração Tá Cheio (2013), B

Verônica Ferriani, Aquário (2018), B+

Verônica Ferriani, Verônica Ferriani No Estúdio Showlivre (Ao Vivo) (2018), B-

Verônica Ferriani, Moska Apresenta Zoombido: Verônica Ferriani (2021), B

Verônica Ferriani and Swami, Jr., Diário de Viagem Cantado (2022), C+

Verônica Ferriani and Gian Correa, SambadorA (2022), C

Verônica Ferriani and Chico Saraiva, Sobre Palavras (Ao Vivo) (2022), B

Verônica Ferriani and Marcelo Cabral, De Boca Cheia (2022), B+

Verônica Ferriani and Cainã Cavalcante, Verônica Ferriani – O Disco (2022), B

Verônica Ferriani and Manoel Cordeiro, Aquário (Ao Vivo) (2022), B+