Sometimes, for whatever reason, great art slips past audiences and remains woefully underappreciated. Which is why we’ve created an essay series called Fossil Records, devoted to helping people discover lost and obscure work that never got its due.
Though thought of as a national treasure in his home country, Tim Maia remains something of an obscurity in the northern Americas. Acclaimed for his contributions to Latin soul music in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Maia was a prodigious recorder, and of the dozens of records he released over the course of his career, Racional Vol. 1 & 2 are the albums that tend to get the most traction internationally. And while the heads tend to go for Vol 1., I’ve always been more partial to Vol. 2—it presents the Brazilian funk master in a slightly more tender and lighthearted state of mind than its forbear does, and is an impressive document of his range and versatility.
Almost right off the bat, Vol. 2 is a veritable slab of unconventional R&B moods: “Paz Interior” is a bubbly borderline-disco ballad that gives way to “O Caminho Do Bem,” a dusky funk number with a slithering bass line that stands out as the album’s most infectious earworm. Latin percussion like bells and congas fit neatly into some moments that almost feel inspired by George Clinton, with closer “Imunizicao Racional” going so far as to include a fuzzed-out, feedback laden guitar solo.
Yet, as stated, this is overall a very cheerful work, and as such it’s the ballads that end up elevating Vol. 2. The cumbersomely titled “O Dever De Fazer Propaganda Deste Conhecimento” (Jesus fucking Christ) reminds one of a Latin-influenced Curtis Mayfield at his most vulnerable, with sweeping violins and a sentimental lilt added to Maia’s voice that makes the track feel like the theme song to a feel-good sitcom from the era. And while “Cultura Racional” has a little bit more of a bounce, it too is similarly, sweetly grand: whether Maia is inspired by lovers, God or family on these tracks, the feeling of optimism is palpable.
Tim Maia is an important figure not just in Latin music but in the general history of funk and soul, and in an age where indie pop and rock is openly cribbing from South American music styles, it’s bizarre to me that the Racional albums stay consistently out of print. Showcasing an artist at the peak of his influence and abilities, Vol. 2 is a joy of a record that stands alongside anything Marvin Gaye or Sly Stone ever put to wax, and will hopefully, someday soon, be regarded as such by Maia’s own neighbors to the north.
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.