Review: Shawna Lenore & Darrell Kastin “Mar Portugues/Portuguese Sea”

Shawna Lenore & Darrell Kastin “Mar Portugues/Portuguese Sea”

02 Mar, 2011 Matthew Forss

The poetry of acclaimed Portuguese poets Florbela Espanca and Fernando Pessoa are highlighted in the most recent work, Mar Português (Portuguese Sea) by vocalist Shawna Lenore and writer/composer Darrell Kastin.  The father-daughter duo joins Darrell Kastin on piano and guitar, and other musicians on vocals, accordion, cello, Portuguese guitar, adufe, and assorted percussion.  Shawna’s seductive voice, along with the voice of producer Pedro Barroso, provides a classical and jazz foundation that is punctuated by elements of fado.

The opening piano chords of the first song and title track, “Mar Português,” meld perfectly and effortlessly with Shawna’s Portuguese lyrics.  The Portuguese guitar and cello also play a part in the musical production.  Pedro Barroso’s vocals are featured on “Dom Sebastiao” from a poem by Fernando Pessoa.  Pedro’s operatic vocals are superimposed over a somber piano tune, guitar, and cello.  He is backed by choir vocals, too.  The piano melody is somewhat characteristic of anything Enya has produced.  Pedro’s other song, “O Nosso Livro,” includes Shawna’s vocals, too.  This is supported by the Portuguese guitar and accordion.  On “O Meu Impossivel,” Shawna’s emotive and sweet lyrical display is most certainly poetic with a touch of flamenco or South American guitar.  The fado influence is particularly evident on this song, because of the mournful lyrical delivery and the waning accordion with similarly plaintive guitar strumming.  In this case, the musical mood precisely fits the somber poem by Florbela Espanca better than other songs.

One of three hidden tracks, a remix of “Mar Português,” is not an electronic or dance remix. Instead, the song begins with a spoken recitation of the entire song by Pedro Barroso.  Near the end of the recitation, a piano melody signals the beginning of the original “Mar Português” with Shawna’s vocals on the first song verbatim.  The second hidden track, “O Desejado,” is structured in a similar manner, with Pedro’s spoken recitation of the song preceding the guitar and accordion intro of the original “O Desejado” sung by Shawna.  The final hidden song is not a song at all.  Instead, the track features several stanzas of a haunting chorus that weave in and out of the foreground and background before Darrell Kastin orates a little bit about the history of the musical project and some information about the other musicians. The track is more of an informational resource than anything else and serves the purpose of speaking directly to the fans.  However, all of the information contained on the track could have been cited in the liner notes, and thus feels superfluous.

Overall, Shawna Lenore and Darrell Kastin’s vision of setting music to poetry to showcase two historically significant Portuguese poets is a commendable work of musical ingeniousness.  The fourteen songs follow the fado musical vein typical of Portuguese musicians.  The mournful and solemn quality of the music is a testament to the creativity and inspiration of Florbela Espanca and Fernando Pessoa.  All of the songs are between one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half minutes in length. Shawna’s vocals were not overbearing or terribly operatic.  The album utilizes a good mix of melodies and vocals that are never weary or boring.  However, the hidden tracks rehashing other songs on the album may be a bite unwarranted.  Also, a total running time around forty-two minutes may be a bit disheartening for listeners desiring more.  Still, the spoken recitation was intriguing.  The task of putting music to poetry is nothing new, but Shawna Lenore and Darrell Kastin approached it from a knowledgeable perspective with better than average results. Fans of Portuguese music and poetry should be especially enlightened by Mar Português.

Reviewed by: Matthew Forss
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)