Born Jan. 31, 1948 in Rio de Janeiro, Joyce Silveira Palhano de Jesus began her recording career in 1964 with some vocals on Pacifico Mascarenhas’ Sambacana album. By 19 she was creating waves with her song “Mi Disseram”, which scandalized some with its forthright female perspective. (Moreno says she had no intention of scoring political points. She just wanted to sing a song from her experiences, and some Brazilian men were offended!) The song’s success landed her a recording contract with Phillips and started a career that is still going more than 50 years and about 40 studio albums later.
While not a blatantly political artist, she was caught up in the unrest caused by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Her early start seemed to get sidetracked in the 1970s with few official releases as she devoted time to raising her daughters, and not until 1980’s Feminina did she seem to recover her commercial and artistic footing, although that narrative is more complicated. By the late ’90s she had established a strong international profile that’s helped keep her career going despite difficulties in the Brazilian market going back to the 1980s.
Rather than reviewing all her albums separately, I’m going to break her career into periods with comments on albums as fits. All the studio albums will be graded. Most of her work can be found on streaming services, with some harder to find ones on her YouTube channel. Bandcamp also has much of her recent work available.
As a performer, Joyce starts pretty much fully formed. Her singing is charismatic and warm. Like Nara Leão, she gets by more on smarts and presence as she does technical mastery. But the artist who will be isn’t fully here yet. The songwriter and guitar player are submerged within songs and arrangements that chase trends rather than set her agenda. The self-titled debut is a solid, late bossa nova album that might have sounded more impressive a few years earlier before jovem guarda and tropicalismo began to change the rules. Her sophomore album, and final album with Phillips, gamely tries to catch up with those trends without doing anything particularly distinctive. Nothing earth shattering, but not merely juvenilia to ignore either.
- Joyce, Joyce (1968) B
- Joyce, Encontro Marcado (1969) B
With turmoil at home and professional uncertainty, Joyce joined up with Luiz Eça’s La Sagrada Familia group where she would team with collaborators who would shape her future: Nelson Angelo, Naná Vasconcelos and Maurício Maestro. The collective’s one album was recorded in Mexico away from interference by dictatorship censors and political pressures. The music goes big and showy, with a slightly Vegas-y feel, but a musical, especially rhythmic, sharpness that escapes the shlock of that style.
From there she, Angelo and Vasconcelos joined with Toninho Horta and Novelli in A Tribo, which also backed Joyce on her self-titled EP. The short-lived group explored the psychedelic Brazilian rock that emerged in the wake of the tropicalistas. With only five songs, plus the four on the EP, the group didn’t leave much of a recorded legacy, but what they did is deeply impressive. A lot of Brazilian musicians struggled to make rock’s harder edged sounds fit well with their lighter, samba-influenced sensibilities, but A Tribo had no such issues. Fusing electric noise to Brazilian polyrhythms, they brought together the two sonic worlds effectively by breaking art rock without pretension. The nine songs they recorded would rank as one of the finest early Brazilian rock albums if it had been released as a unit. (Joyce’s work with A Tribo and her first EP as well as earlier tunes are helpfully collected on the hard-to-find Curriculum compilation. Skip the first four tracks and then listen to her develop into a formidable talent.)
After A Tribo, Joyce and then-husband Angelo recorded an album, although Joyce told Joshua Minsoo Kim (in his excellent interview in the November 2022 issue of Wire) that she had little input on the record and doesn’t really consider it one of her own. Nonetheless, her voice is all over the record and the pair created a hauntingly beautiful psychedelic folk album.
Focusing on raising her daughters, Joyce withdrew from active recording, but the end of her marriage to Angelo sent her back to work. On a tour in Italy she was offered the chance to record an album. Since she didn’t have songs prepared, she decided to cover friends who had faced struggles with censors back home. The result, Passarinho Urbano, is one of the finest Brazilian albums of the 1970s. At the center in a way she was not on any of her previous albums, the very good singer turned out to also be a superb guitar player. With little more than that voice and guitar, Joyce ran through 18 songs in just under 32 minutes with an intensity similar to the Ramones’ early albums (while, of course, sounding nothing like them). Add in a terrific album cover and you have classic.
And then, seemingly, nothing until 1980’s Feminina. But that’s where the story gets complicated. In 2009 and 2022, Joyce had albums released that were completed in the ’70s but shelved. Put those two albums in her ’70s run and you have a very different portrait emerging of the artist as a young woman.
Recorded in Paris in 1976, Visions of the Dawn teamed Joyce with longtime friends Naná Vasconcelos and Maurício Maestro. The album is split in two with the first side focusing on songs, while the musicians stretch out on instrumentals/mostly wordless singing on the second half. The song side’s five tracks are simply stunning. Each features dazzling guitar from Joyce bent to the needs of the tune. And what tunes. Joyce wraps her warm voice around every memorable melody as her bandmate sgently propel the songs underneath the fleet guitar. If someone asked me why I love Brazilian music, I could just tell that person to listen to the A-side of this album. Except for the upbeat “Carnavalzinho”, the second side is a different beast. Floating by so slowly they are almost static, the tracks feel like those gently distorted moments between being awake and falling asleep when reality slips away into dream. But what should have been another triumph was left in the vault until 2009.
Joyce then went to New York, where some live dates turned into a second, shelved album, Natureza. Recorded in 1977 with Maurício Maestro and produced by Claus Ogerman, the album included “Feminina”, which would become the title track of her commercial break through on her 1980 album. But where the later version clocks in at 3:48, this one goes to 11:25. The longer version captures Joyce at her most ambitious. Stretching out she never loses sight of the song. Like Nile Rodgers, she disciplines her string pyrotechnics to what advances the music around her while still managing to impress with her tricks. It’s a very different type of groove, but groove it does. While “Feminina” is the standout, Joyce still has plenty of in her arsenal. The tracks generally combine the dreaminess of the second side of Visions of Dawn with the songfulness of the first side. “Coração Sonhador” drags, and every now and then Ogerman’s orchestral arrangements get too heavy handed, but mostly Joyce demonstrates how potent her singing/guitar-playing/songwriting hat trick is. (“Moreno” celebrates percussionist Tutty Moreno, whom she worked with for the first time here, and whom she would eventually marry and raise her daughters with.) After being finished the album was shelved and lost until a copy was found with Ogerman, but not until his death did Joyce work out financial arrangements that allowed for the record to be released.
Of course, none of this was known at the time. Instead, you had a four-year silence until Feminina. But imagine a world in which these two excellent albums had been released. One where those nine early A Tribo/Joyce tracks had been released as an album (which would be at least an A-). Now you can imagine a world in which Joyce was in the running for Brazilian artist of the decade. Jorge Ben would still beat her, but I’d have to think/listen for a bit before I declared winners in contests with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento or Tom Zé. That’s not the world we got, however.
Instead, Joyce burst back on the scene in 1980 with the strong, if less ambitious, Feminina. While some of the adventurousness of those two unreleased albums is missing, she’s still in good form on the guitar-voice-songwriting front. She leads with re-recordings of the unreleased tracks, which kick the album off in high gear. But even the newer tracks are solid and, with “Aldeia de Ogum” equaling the best of the ’70s works. But you also here her sonics getting drawn toward the more mawkish sounds that infected so much MPB (and Anglophone classic rock, for that matter) in the ’80s.
Those trends continued on her next three albums. The writing on Água e Luz is a little stronger—or maybe there are just more upbeat songs that give her guitar a chance to shine. Tardes Cariocas finds a nice balance, and includes the ambitious “Baracumbara”, but, a couple of nice songs aside, Saudade do Futuro sounds like she’s running out of steam. Or maybe she had just used up the store of songs she worked on in the ’70s. Either way she needed a change of pace.
Interest in Joyce’s music surged in the mid-’90s thanks to some use of her songs by DJs in clubs in the UK. British label Mr. Bongo released a summary of the albums above (plus one later track) as The Essential Joyce. The shelved albums were not represented, but it included tracks from the 1971 EP, the Nelson Angelo collaboration, Passarinho Urbano and her first four albums of the ’80s. Since much of this is worth owning anyway, you might wonder about the value of this collection, but as a listen it’s fantastic, and grabs just the right tracks from her weaker albums of the period.
- Joyce, Joyce EP (1971), B+
- Joyce, Curriculum (rec. 1964-1972, rel. 2011), A-
- Nelson Angelo e Joyce, Nelson Angelo e Joyce (1972), A-
- Joyce, Passarinho Urbano (1976), A
- Joyce, Naná Vasconcelos and Maurício Maestro, Visions of the Dawn (rec. 1976, rel. 2009), A-
- Joyce with Maurício Maestro, Natureza (rec. 1977, rel. 2022), A-
- Joyce, Feminina (1980), B
- Joyce, Água e Luz (1981), B+
- Joyce, Tardes Cariocas (1984), B
- Joyce, Saudade do Futuro (1985), C+
- Joyce, The Essential Joyce 1970-1996 (1997), A
Starting with the Roberto Silva collaboration, Joyce began to dabble in tribute albums, aimed for the English language market, and tried to figure out a way forward commercially and artistically. The decade of music this period covers is the weakest of her career, but almost every album sports winning a track or two, and the ones where she writes songs always have something comp-worthy. (“Arrebenta”, from Linguas e Amores, sounds like a lost Jorge Ben track from A Tábua da Esmeralda and ranks as one of her finest songs.) The sounds of these albums are all over the place, from more traditional to deeply immersed in the sounds of the times. There’s not so much a sense of progression as one of wandering while figuring out where to go next.
- Joyce e Roberto Silva, Wilson Batista—O Samba Foi Sua Glória (1986), C+
- Joyce, Tom Jobim–Os Anos 60 (1987), C
- Joyce, Negro Demais No Coração (1988), C
- Joyce, Music Inside (1990), B-
- Joyce, Linguas e Amores (1991), C+
- Joyce, Revendo Amigos (1994), B-
- Joyce, Delirios de Orfeu (1994), B
- Joyce e Toninho Horta, Sem Vôce (1995), C
- Joyce, Ilha Brasil (1996), B-
The Long Haul
Coincidentally (or perhaps not!), the release of Mr. Bongo’s The Essential Joyce drew a line under her career to that point. What followed from the period of wandering after her peak years was a long stretch of mature works that wouldn’t surpass earlier highs, but re-established Joyce—who started working as Joyce Moreno halfway into this period—as a dependable creative force. She garnered a Latin Grammy nomination in 2000 for the Elis Regina tribute Astronauta, which is her strongest tribute work. She built on that success with 1999’s Hard Bossa, where she really settled into the style that has defined her since, and followed that up with a string of consistently good albums—the worst fall down to the level of average—that continues to this year.
What’s striking about most of the albums from this period is how interchangeable they sound. I don’t mean that in a critical way. After 30 years of exploring, Moreno finds the sound she wants and sticks with it. That sound—light and jazzy with a strong bossa lean—conjures visions of clubs with small tables, dim lights, fancy cocktails and sharp dressers. She embraces the feel of how bossa nova was received in Western contexts with no irony or embarrassment. She pares back most of the ’80s sonics for a leaner, cleaner sound that allows the focus to go to her guitar and voice. That move brings out her strengths. Especially nice is how she gives herself space to show off on guitar without being showy. Moreno is one of the finest guitarists to emerge in a musical culture that’s produced lots of them. No reason to bury those chops under dense arrangements.
The downside of the consistency is that nothing really stands out. You could pick almost any of these records out of a random list and get the same pleasure from it, while listening to them all can sometimes get a bit samey. Even then, she’ll pull you out of complacency with some nifty guitar, a nicely sung phrase or a killer hook. At this point she’s figured out how to make music so well she never really stumbles even if she moves beyond my personal tastes. Her body of work is crying out for a career spanning compilation. As good as the Mr. Bongo one is, she’s done so much good stuff since that merits more attention. I do have my favorites below, but they aren’t substantially better than the ones I rate a notch lower, and there is a sold A-level single disc compilation spread throughout these average to very good albums.
- Joyce, Astronauta (1998), B
- Joyce, Hard Bossa (1999), B
- Joyce, Tudo Bonito (2000), B
- Joyce, Gafiera Moderna (2001), B
- Joyce, Bossa Duets (2003), B
- Joyce & Banda Maluca, Just a Little Bit Crazy (2004), B+
- Joyce & Dori Caymmi, Rio Bahia (2005), B-
- Joyce featuring Tutty Moreno, Samba Jazz e Outras (2007), B-
- Joyce Moreno & João Donato, Aquarius (2009), B+
- Joyce, Slow Music (2009), C+
- Joyce Moreno, Rio (2011), C+
- Joyce Moreno, Tudo (2012), B
- Joyce Moreno, Raiz (2015), B-
- Joyce Moreno and Kenny Werner, Poesia (2015), C
- Joyce Moreno, Cool (2015), C+
- Joyce Moreno, Palavra e Som (2017), B+
- Joyce Moreno, Fiz Uma Viagem: Songs of Dorival Caymmi (2017), B-
- Joyce Moreno, 50 (2018), B-
- Joyce Moreno e Alfredo del Penho, Argumento: Canções de Sidney Miller (2018), C+
- Joyce Moreno, Brasileiras Canções (2022), B+
One thought on “Joyce Moreno”