The Brazilian bossa nova singer says she was “a little stuck” after her 2014 album Tudo — and then both her parents died.
If Bebel Gilberto’s Agora, her first studio album in six years, feels upbeat, playful and romantic, rather than melancholy or mournful, it’s because much of the music was recorded in 2017 and 2018 — before the Brazilian bossa nova singer faced a series of family crises, including the death of both her parents.
The album, which comes out on August 21, is also the result of the trusting bond she forged with her longtime friend and producer, Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett, whom she gives enormous credit for the free-flowing spirit of the 11-song Agora, Gilberto tells Billboard from Rio de Janeiro.
The latest release marks a comeback for the 54-year-old Gilberto, who first surged on the scene in 2000 with Tanto Tempo, an electronic-fused bossa nova album that became a club favorite around the world and went on to sell 342,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. She is the daughter of João Gilberto, “the father of bossa nova,” and the singer Miúcha, and the niece of Chico Buarque, another bossa nova legend. Agora is her fifth studio album since Tanto Tempo.
Gilberto says she felt “a little stuck” creatively after her 2014 release, Tudo. That album, released during a year in which Brazil hosted the soccer World Cup, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s World Albums chart, where it spent six weeks. It earned 10,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. — with 7,000 of that sum in album sales. However, that was down compared to the sales of her previous set, 2009’s All In One (17,000).
After parting ways with Sony, a split she says was mutual, she took a break and searched for new inspiration. Then in early 2017, while on a trip alone to Apulia in southern Italy, the melodies and the words started coming to her. “I took a lot of time alone and walking and eating and having some wine, and just looking at the horizon,” she says. “Then I was writing down everything and making notes and recording.”
On a whim, a week after returning from Italy she called Bartlett to catch up. The two had worked together previously on All in One. Bartlett’s producing credits include work with Norah Jones, St. Vincent, Florence + The Machine and a Grammy and Oscar-nominated soundtrack with Sufjan Stevens.
“Until today I don’t know why I called him in the first place because we were not really talking for ages,” she says. “But he was like, ‘Okay, come tomorrow.’ And then I was there, and we started working together.”
By late 2017 they had started recording what became an initial collection of about 17 songs. “We were both full of ideas and that was very good for the album because we were never bored,” she says.
With no label deal in place, they took their time. “You get a little desperate as well, but it’s a good feeling,” she says. “There was no commitment, no pressure,…
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