For rather than compile a selection of romantic ballads designed to pull the usual heartstrings, Garcia has chosen substantial works – some famous, some obscure – that look at love from multiple perspectives.
The result is an album, and a celebratory release concert Friday night at the University of Chicago's International House, that probes much more deeply than the typical Valentine's Day fare.
"What I think about love is what I think about life," says Garcia, who came to the United States in 1979 and soon began merging the musical traditions of his native Brazil with the sharper edge of Chicago jazz.
Love and life, adds Garcia, "can be a bad thing, a hard thing, or a very nice thing. This is just how I approached my life. When I had obstacles, I accepted it as it comes.
"The album is assessing love as it is."
That much is for sure. In well-known songs such as "Where Is Love?" and "When I Fall in Love," the singer-guitarist expresses the universal yearning for human contact, warmth and intimacy. In "That Old Feeling" and his own "Do You Remember Me?" he explores a bittersweet, worldly wise view of love that once was. And in "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" he looks at love that has been crushed, though he softens the blow a bit with a seductive tango rhythm.
None of this would amount to very much, however, were it not for Garcia's intensely poetic way with a song. The honeyed quality of his vocals and the delicacy and dexterity of his guitar work point to a musician of uncommon grace, subtlelty and control.
"Paulinho is a complete musician and singer and accompanist," says Chicago-based Polish vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, who has collaborated and toured with Garcia prolifically for years.
"His voice is like one of his guitar strings. It's a therapeutic kind of sound. And beautiful color."
All of which comes to play on "Beautiful Love," which documents some of the most fragile but urgent singing of Garcia's career. In some passages, his vocal tone very nearly vanishes to silence, as if he were mouthing the words more than singing them.
"When I did the recording, (engineer) Steve Yates said, 'You are whispering' – it took them hours to take the (background) noise out,'" recalls Garcia, referring to ambient hums and clicks and clacks that sometimes sounded louder than his vocals.
"I was whispering into the microphone, because I was trying to get what I feel into those songs. I had no intention of showing the singer. My intention was to show my character."
The depth of Garcia's interpretations owes to many decades in music and also to the events of Garcia's own life. That includes the tragic loss of his wife, Maria Angelia Seta Garcia, in 1996, when she was 42.
"When my wife died, it was a very hard thing," says Garcia. "Your wife is your own life. ... When (she) is gone, it's like half of your life is gone. That really hurts.
"When your wife is gone, you really think of how many things were untold, how many things weren't done, and that creates a real obstacle in your mind. You start trying not to accept life. You have to really be strong to pass over that pain.
"You feel hurt. You feel like the world took something from you."
Garcia brings a great deal of that feeling to much of this music, but, at bottom, "Beautiful Love" ultimately isn't about the great loss he suffered. That was the focal point of a previous album, "My Very Life" (2009), which featured Garcia's song "I'll Be Calling for Maria."
For the dedication on the "Beautiful Love" CD jacket, Garcia toasts "my first and greatest love: my mother, Isabel Da Silva Garcia," who lived from 1918 to 1981.
"In this album, because I was talking about love, I thought back: 'Who is the person who loved me the most, who taught me in the beginning what love is?' My mother," says Garcia.
"My mother would do anything in the world for me. She never asked me for anything back. She just gave me love. That's how I learned it."
Thus Garcia ends his album with "Casinha Pequenina," which translates from the Portuguese as "The Little House Where Our Love Was Born," a folkloric tune that Garcia's mother sang to him in his youth.
Garcia performs it with a simplicity and profundity that are more difficult to achieve than one might think, in this song – and in others – reminding listeners why he remains a singular figure in music in Chicago.
Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune