In his lecture, “The Secret Life of the Love Song,” Nick Cave examines what the Portuguese call “saudade” or a feeling of melancholic longing or nostalgia. According to Cave, “Saudade is the desire to be transported from darkness into light, to be touched by the hand of that which is not of this world.”

The Portuguese musical tradition of fado, sad songs that deal with loss and the hardship of daily life, breathes with saudade. There is no concrete history of the origins of the form but there is evidence that it existed in the early 19th century and quite possibly before. No one is sure from where these laments originated. Yet, fado is still popular in modern Lisbon. When fabled singer Amália Rodrigues passed away in 1999, Portugal mourned as a nation for three days.

Portuguese singer Lina, working with Spanish guitarist Raül Refree, explores her country’s musical tradition on debut album, Lina_Raül Refree. Refree, who collaborated with Spanish pop phenom Rosalía, had never played fado, and together, the duo modernize the form, removing the acoustic guitar in favor of piano and synths.

An overwhelming sadness floats over Lina_Raül Refree. Much like Portishead’s masterful Third there is something almost severe in how nakedly emotion exists in the songs. You don’t need to understand Portuguese to access the sadness in songs such as the spare “Ave Maria Fadista” or the drone of “Madição.”

The piano serves Lina and Raül Refree well. The decision to use piano rather than the traditional guitar allows the duo to plumb new depths of expression. Songs such as “Gaivota” sound funereal in tone, the somberness of the piano a perfect pairing for the vocalist. And what a singer Lina is! Perhaps the most striking aspect of the album is Lina’s voice. Raw and unsparing, Lina’s vocals lift Lina_Raül Refree into a place of emotional catharsis. These are not the dabblings of an amateur trying on a genre for the hell of it. Lina feels what she sings, the mystery of the Portuguese language allowing the American listener the opportunity to move past literal meaning and into a more instinctual realm.

As we see images of empty streets—of life halted—from around the globe, people may shy away from an emotional experience. Lina_Raül Refree gives listeners a chance to dig into that pain, allow themselves the chance to experience the sadness. Maybe the Portuguese had it right all along. Americans try to avoid sadness at all costs. Lean into it. And let Lina and Raül Refree provide the soundtrack.

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