World-music artists often cross shores in curious ways, but imagine being known, if at all, as an incongruous troubadour given to covering David Bowie songs in Portuguese. That's the fate of Seu Jorge, who made numerous showings in Wes Anderson's film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. It wasn't clear what his non-sequitur appearances were supposed to mean in a film not exactly hurting for non sequiturs, but there was no denying Jorge's comely way with songs he retooled for classical guitar and a tender tongue.
Jorge also worked as an actor in the Brazilian film City Of God, but his new album Cru hews closer to his Life Aquatic guise with an inviting store of gentle, breezy ballads and pepperings of funk. "Tive Razão (I Was Right)" starts with an easygoing shimmer, as Jorge's voice wanders over nylon strings strummed high and tight. As a singer, Jorge is raw and rough-hewn, but also equipped to swoop up or whisper down in surprising ways. He sounds dry and lascivious in "Mania De Peitão (Large Chested Mania)," but not as much as in a terrific cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Chatterton," which goes from a growl to a spirited spread of vocal yelps and squeaks from that ever-lovable Brazilian instrument known as the cuica. (Is it even feasible to dislike the cuica?)
The rest of Cru winds through slow, elegant odes and energetic simmers in which Jorge sounds unwaveringly earthy and beautiful. He's as commanding over barely there acoustic guitar as he is slinking behind the beat of a charged full-band song. It's easy to hear why he's a star in his homeland, but just as easy to hear him as a guy sitting somewhere alone, wondering about things that happen to drift into songs and then float away at his urging.