‘Last Tango’ intoxicates

"Last Tango in Rio"
Gabriela Anders (Narada/EMI)

When I first received this album earlier this month, I admit I gave the first three tracks a cursory listen, thought "Eh!" and put it on one of the several stacks of CDs that regularly litter my cluttered but comfy condo.

But when asked by its publicist to give it another shot, I relented and settled in one laid-back evening earlier this week to give Gabriela Anders' major-label debut one more go.

Forty minutes later, I was sold.

This time around, because I took the time to look past Anders' beautiful (and easily marketable) visage and instead concentrated on this appealing polyglot of Brazilian light jazz and Argentine tango, the intoxicating music just washed over me with a gentle caress.

"Last Tango in Rio" is one of those easy-listening albums that gets under your skin -- in a good way.

The Argentinean chanteuse makes it a point to cover three songs sung by Billie Holiday. Giving her own sensual spin on Holiday's own "God Bless the Child" and the standard "Body and Soul," the best of the bunch is her samba take on the Gershwins' "Love Is Here to Stay," complete with the evocative tango-like sound of Gabriel Rivano's bandoneon, the native accordion of the South American country.

The bandoneon is like an aural romantic through-line that appears throughout the album, kicking off the album in "You Go to My Head," another standard.

The following "Abracadabra" is, along with "Embrace Me" and "The Buenos Aires Mix," among the Anders-composed highlights of "Last Tango in Rio." The former is absolutely gorgeous: The song opens with an Argentine flavor, with flute and charango, moves into an exotic, deep Brazilian groove and back to the intro. "Embrace Me" starts with the bandoneon and then moves into an evocative mix of come-hither lyrical pleas, acoustic guitar and viola, with a bit of Anders' wordless backing vocals thrown in.

Anders sounds like a lighter version of the legendary Astrud Gilberto, and while her voice is a welcome texture to the funky, sweet-and-sexy ride of "The Buenos Aires Mix," I find her ambient reinvention of the aforementioned "God Bless the Child" a bit more problematic. The poignancy of Holiday's original has been made nearly banal by Anders' ambient groove version.

Still, one out of 10's not bad at all. "Last Tango in Rio" is the perfect soundtrack for a romantic evening at home.

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