There’s nothing new about Western pop stars dabbling in the music of South America; Sting, David Byrne and Paul Simon being but three luminaries who have drawn on the continent’s rich musical traditions. What makes this album so novel, however, is that it comes from a mainstream star, one more accustomed to the front cover of teeny magazines, rather than in-depth 16-page features in Mojo or Rolling Stone.
This is certainly no Rhythm Of Saints, however, possessing neither the lyrical density or musical richness of Paul Simon’s early ’90s masterpiece that explored more fully than any Western artist, before or since, the possibilities of Brazilian music. That said there’s an instinctive playfulness about tracks like Forga and The Grass Is Green that has its own appeal.
Such Latin influences were evident on Nelly’s multi-platinum selling debut album, Whoa, Nelly!, which wasn’t so surprising (despite being Canadian-born she has Portugese parents), and there are plenty of catchy songs on this album. Explode is the kind of song that gradually insinuates its way into your consciousness, Try has a simple back porch charm and Fresh Off The Boat, for all its in your face hip-hop stylings, has a basic clap-along appeal. Island of Wonder, meanwhile, is the album’s stand-out track, hinting at a maturity far beyond Nelly’s 23 years.
Nelly’s youthful na�vety is, however, evident on the opening track One Trick Pony, which includes the line: “I am not a one-trick pony, nobody can control me.” Well that remains to be seen, especially if this album doesn’t sell in the same quantities as its predecessor.
What is most striking about Folklore is the sheer sense of fun conveyed by these tracks. As Nelly herself puts it: “Folk is universal; it exists in every single country, every nation, every language, this idea of somebody picking up a guitar and singing about what’s around him or her. It’s spontaneous, real, down-to-earth, family-oriented.”
Such an attitude is especially refreshing at a time when most pop albums appear to have been written by committee and have all the spontaneous charm of a George Bush speech. You have to admire Nelly’s courage in coming up with an album that, while not packing the same commercial punch as her debut, has infinitely more character than any of her contemporaries you would care to name.
Full marks, too, for the record company that gave Nelly what appears to be a free hand to make this album, which deserves to be a monster festive hit but, sadly, probably won’t be.