Lovers of Latin music, kick up your heels. Plenty of CDs, DVDs and books about the sensuous sounds that flow from Brazil and Cuba are now available.
For a nice overview of Brazilian tunes, the folks at Planet Rhythm/Universal have released a three-disc series called Pure Brazil.
To get you started - then again, maybe that's a risky idea - consult Caipirinha. The disc features a cover photo of that classic, chilled Brazilian adult beverage, the one that will knock you down if consumed with too much zeal. Inside, you'll find a recipe.
Drink in the disc without worry. Enjoy the Afro-soul and falsetto doo-wop of opener O Telefone Tocou Novamente (The Phone Rings Again) by Jorge Ben, then a samba march led by Mestre Marca and the lusty vocal stylings of Maria Bethania and Paula Lima.
Speaking of those two, the series also offers the resplendent The Girls From Ipanema, a collection of Brazilian singing ladies from, naturally, Astrud Gilberto, the singer who gave us the classic The Girl From Ipanema, to the newest bossa nova sensation, Bebel Gilberto, daughter of 1950s bossa nova superstar Joao and Muicha Gilberto.
The Girls also features beautiful selections from the legendary Gal Costa, Elis Regina and Wanda Sa.
My favorite disc in the series is the lively Samba Soul Groove. The opener is a stunner, Jorge Ben again crooning and playing his distinctive guitar on the funky rhythmfest Take It Easy My Brother Charles.
Ben, whose mother was Ethiopian and father Brazilian, was a dock worker who, in his spare time, wrote Carnaval music, a vibrant blend of Cuban, African and Caribbean sounds.
Ben doesn't get the global recognition afforded to Caetono Veloso, Gilberto Gil (both featured on the Caipirinha disc) or other popular artists of the socially conscious 1960s Tropicala movement, but Ben is well-known and immensely influential at home.
Samba Soul Groove also offers the kooky, psychedelic 1960s band Os Mutantes getting weird and wonderful on She's My Shoo Shoo (A Minha Menina), written, incidentally, by Ben.
FOR THE READER: If you've got the time to sit for a spell to learn about the history of music in Cuba and its role in the country's development, Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo (Chicago Review Press, $36) is a great read.
Ned Sublette, a passionate, respected scholar of Cuban music and the founder of the public radio program Afropop Worldwide, explains it all in comprehensive detail: from the Phoenician era through the slave trade to the boom of the sugar industry to the 1950s mambo explosion of Benny More and Perez Prado. It's the whole story of how the nation and its tunes got cooking.
BRIDGE TO HAVANA: The CD and DVD compilation Bridge to Havana is history in the making, two documents of a 1999 cross-cultural collaboration.
Under license from the United States Treasury Department and the Cuban government, more than 100 American and European musicians flew to Havana to compose and perform songs in English and Spanish with some of Cuba's biggest stars.
Artists including Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffett, Gladys Knight, Mick Fleetwood, Joan Osborne, Dave Koz, Brenda Russell and Peter Frampton traveled to Cuba to perform at a concert with Cuban stars such as Pablo Menendez, Edesio Alejandro and Alberto Tosca.
NEW ALBUMS: Caetono Veloso, one of the founders of the 1960s Tropicala movement of politically leftist Latin musicians - basically, Brazilian hippies - is huge at home and has long been critically acclaimed and cited as an influence around the world.
Veloso, 61, is adored by young, hep innovators for his unusual guitar playing and hushed, velvety vocals. Beck loves him, and the prolific Japanese ladies in Cibo Matto sing his praises.
Veloso now has a new album called A Foreign Sound.
The twist? Veloso reinterprets American tunes. Hear Veloso give his spin to the American Songbook of the Gershwin brothers and Cole Porter. Also hear him tackle Bob Dylan's It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and Nirvana's Come As You Are.
Bebel Gilberto gave the world Tanto Tempo, a lovely debut in 2000. Gilberto is back again with her sophomore release, Bebel Gilberto. The album is a bit of departure for the young singer, featuring subtle acoustic instrumentation and hints of electronica.
Gilberto co-wrote nine of the disc's 12 songs but the album's opener, Baby, was penned by Veloso, with English lyrics by Os Mutantes.
ON TELEVISION: On Monday, catch Tex-Mex Latin rock sensations Los Lonely Boys (a big buzz band at this year's South By Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas) on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live.