The Carnival were a splinter-group that grew from Sergio Mendes' overly-elitist attitude towards his troupe members in Brasil '66. Mendes & Co had captured a market for crossover bossa-nova-pop, and Brasil '66 vocalist and bassist Janis Hansen and Bob Matthews felt that there was room for a rival. So, with the help of legendary Los Angeles producer Bones Howe, who was in-demand after turning The Association and The Fifth Dimension into solid chart-making gold, The Carnival was formed, and their self-titled debut, like so many other genuinely talented artists of the time, failed to make an impression in the same mould as Sergio Mendes.
Now that Rev-Ola have reissued The Carnival, it's clear that whilst the band did have something valuable to offer the music buying public of 1969/70, they certainly weren't the better of Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66; or even Rev-Ola reissue 'labelmate' Triste Janero. The musicianship isn't the problem, it's the lack of original songs on offer. Sergio Mendes and Triste Janero both selected a strong choice of cover versions on their albums, but they balanced these offerings perfectly with arresting originals or a more obscure selection of other artists' work. Who had heard Jorge Ben's Mas Que Nada before Sergio Mendes came along, or Bim-Bom? Furthermore, who could beat Triste Janero's perfect, sun-drenched Rene De Marie? The Carnival's choice of contemporary standards were songs that were already widely covered through a variety of differing musical genres. Pete Seeger's adaptation of Turn! Turn! Turn! was turned into a number one single by The Byrds, whilst the Bacharach-David stable had hundreds of artists lining up to perform Walk On By (even Triste Janero on Meet Triste Janero) and Reach Out For Me. Whilst The Carnival's jazzier version of Son Of A Preacher Man is arguably one of the best songs on the album, it was never, ever going to be able to compete with the cut we all know on Dusty In Memphis.
These gripes aside, The Carnival is still a fun, soothing, and very listenable record for genre fans. The sole original composition, Canto De Carnival, is a mere percussion instrumental that segues nicely into their version of Laia Ladaia. In all honesty, The Carnival's cover of Sweets For My Sweet is very interesting, and probably ranks alongside The Searchers' standard version for up-tempo charm. Hope is one of their better numbers, with its multi-track appeal and One Bright Night is a fine midway point between Walk On By and Son Of A Preacher Man.
In terms of bonus cuts, we are given another Bacharach song, this time it's Where There's a Heartache (There Must Be a Heart). It's obvious that The Carnival were trying to harness the same success that Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 found with their cover of Bacharach & David's The Look Of Love. Still, a mono version of Preacher Man is included, along with a listenable Carnival original - The Truth About It adds to the overall package value. On the whole, The Carnival is a decent listen; it won't thrill you like the best Brasil '66 offerings, and nor is it as good as Rev-Ola's other Brazilian-pop offerings Wanda de Sah or Triste Janero
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