Album of the Week: Astrud Gilberto’s I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do (1969)

How’s that for a striking cover? I’m not sure if Astrud splashed some water on her face during the shoot, did the acting thing of conjuring up some bad memories, or what. Maybe she was just really that bummed out. In any case, the cover and title drew me to this one. It was actually long before my Sinatra kick, but it would be up any jazz-pop fan’s alley.

Gilberto rejected the “jazz singer” label, and it’s fairly clear why. Her vocals are not complex or improvisational. In fact, they might even be too simple for some, fading into the background at times. Astrud (née Weinert) met João Gilberto through friend and (amazing) singer Nara Leão. João and Astrud married, and she is most known for their smash hit “The Girl from Ipanema” (1963), which they recorded when she was about 23 years old. But it seems she was a bit pigeonholed by this collaboration, and the press referred to her as a housewife.

I like I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do in part because she is doing her own thing (the couple had by now divorced). Richard Davis, who has perhaps the greatest CV of any bassist ever, is on here. He sounds damn good on “Wailing of the Willow” – one of two Nilsson covers on this album. At under 30 minutes, it’s short and sweet. This album is truly breezy. “The Sea Is My Soil” really comes to life about halfway through in a beautiful moment.

“Without Him”, the other Nilsson cover, is another big highlight. It’s melancholy, yet full of the pep that only that Brazilian-style percussion provides. And as far as tearjerker moments go, I’d rate the saxophone coming in after “if I had wings I could fly” on the closer “If” pretty highly. The fact that this is the last track on the album only adds to its desolate feeling. That’s it! It’s over. What’s left? Nothing!

Astrud Gilberto loves animals and has a very cute old-school website that you should visit.

Listen to I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do here.