Fleet-footed finger-work abound, Paredes takes us on a breakneck tour of Portuguese fado music
When I was 12, I went on a school trip to Barcelona, and one of the events we participated in during the trip was to attend a concert of flamenco dancing and guitar. The first half was mostly based around dancing, and as a kid I found all that pretty boring. Then the guitar player came on stage. I remember it like it was yesterday. Nothing immediately heralded the arrival of something special. He was unremarkable to look at, scruffily dressed, overweight, and balding – think a Spanish Tony Soprano but with a guitar in his lap instead of a bowl of ice cream – and I thought nothing of it, as the show until then had been run-of-the-mill. Until he started playing. As if possessed by some musical demon, his fingers moved at speeds I thought inhuman, his face etched with wrinkles, contorted by the concentration needed to play such complex, rapid music. It blew me away, was one of the things that inspired me to start playing the guitar, and left me with an everlasting appreciation of mad guitar skills. Carlos Paredes, though being Portuguese is a fado guitarist as opposed to a flamenco guitarist, gave me a similar buzz to seeing that unknown guitar player one evening in Barcelona. His ability on the guitar really is astonishing, though you’ll be left wanting if you expect more from the album, and if instrumental guitar music isn’t your thing, well… you might have a hard time with this, though I would imagine pretty much anyone who listens to this would be left in awe of Paredes’ silver fingers.
“Therefore, while it can never truly reach the heights of what I imagine would be an electrifying live performance, it nonetheless gives me the same good buzz I feel when I listen to some excellent guitar music.”
Fado as a genre has its roots in 19th century Lisbon and is characterised by lyrics that tell of sad songs of desperation, longing, and the beautifully untranslatable saudade, which can be very roughly translated as a feeling of immense melancholic nostalgia. However, since this album is entirely instrumental, there’s none of that here. No, Paredes focuses entirely on the Portuguese guitar, a variant of the normal six string that is played in Portugal, especially alongside Fado singers. Shaped more like a lute, it has 12 steel strings that create the complex, clean sound that characterises this album. The title track that kicks off the album sets off the tone of the piece, centring the Portuguese guitar and we get to see Paredes flexing his fingers in a manically fast style. It’s not all a game of how fast can he play, however. Some songs like Valsa, Mudar De Vida (Tema), and Mudar De Vida (Música De Fundo) are all slower, contemplative instrumental pieces that favour the sound and beauty of the instrument over Paredes’ technical skills. This also allows for a moments repose, as we can take a breath from the tracks surrounding it.
That said, while Paredes is doubtless a master guitarist, and it is a genuine joy to hear him do what he does best, it does occur to me that, like our unknown Barcelonan guitarist, a live setting might be the perfect ambiance for someone like Paredes. It would be a fascinating experience to be with him and the Portuguese guitar in the same room, watching as he delights a crowd with his vast knowledge of fado, improvisation, and folk music. That can never be fully captured on an album, but it comes close, and we are allowed a snapshot of what it may be like, but it can never be as emotional, as involving as it would be in a live setting. A short album at just under 32 minutes long, the album never outstays its welcome, and its one that invites repeated passive listens. Therefore, while it can never truly reach the heights of what I imagine would be an electrifying live performance, it nonetheless gives me the same good buzz I feel when I listen to some excellent guitar music. I suppose all is left to do is, when this infernal pandemic is over, is book a flight to Lisbon and experience the beauty of fado guitar first-hand.