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West Coast Fadista

I love fado singing. When done right, the traditional Portuguese musical style will transport you directly to Lisbon: a dimly lit bar, a woman and a guitarra (Portuguese guitar) — lamenting the life of the poor, singing of the sea or of lost love. For me, fado recordings need a certain vintage to them. Modern fado is often just too slick, too glossy and too produced. I need to smell the cigarettes, imagine stepping out of that bar to a foreign street filled with classic cars, reading headlines of some distant war. I need to believe someone’s love was truly lost at sea, whether I can speak a word of her native language or not. 

San Francisco-based fado singer Ramana Vieira is known for updating traditional fado for 21st-century audiences, doing for the style what Sarah Brightman and Il Divo did for opera. Her 2010 release Lágrimas De Rainha (Tears of a Queen) is rooted in tradition; Vieira’s grandfather was a famous Portuguese composer, and the album’s title track tells Portugal’s equivalent of Romeo and Juliet: a tale of forbidden love between Lady Inês de Castro and Dom Pedro. Vieira has the voice to pull it off, expressing every bit of the loss and resignation associated with traditional fado singing.

But what roots Vieira’s work in the present is her belief in expanding the instrumentation and arrangements of the traditional style. Her recordings include electric bass, cello and modern percussion. Here, as a fado purist, she loses me a bit. But I can imagine, with the acoustics of Cottage Grove’s intimate Axe & Fiddle, Vieira’s considerable talents will help sweep you away from a rainy Oregon night to a warm, sunny and romantic Lisbon.

Ramana Vieira plays 8:30 pm Friday, Dec. 7, at Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove; $5. — William Kennedy