Thursday, July 30, 2015

CD Review: Zoya's 'The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room'

The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room
Zoya Mohan Music

With a birthplace in India and a current home base in California, Zoya brings diverse vocals and eclectic instrumentation from around the contemporary world on her latest venture into quaint and quirky pop music on The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room.  The ten-track release possesses a hint of South Asian influences with neo-classical strings, varied percussion, and wind instrumentation, while the other half of the influences stem from European or North American folk, roots, and pop.

“What’s Done Is Done” opens with a soft, keyboard medley, swishy percussion, and a flute before Zoya’s slightly husky vocals commence in a sort of jazz standard arrangement.  A few cymbals crash and a snare drum add to the percussive effects.  The drums, flute, cymbals, keyboards, and strings add to the full sound.  Though, the track is only two-minutes long.  Still, the song is impressive and Zoya’s voice is enticing.

“Swim” opens with an atmospheric wash and jazzy sax with scintillating, vibraphone sounds and Zoya’s jazzy, slightly R&B vocals in a down-tempo vein.  The sounds are jazzy, urban, dreamy, and intriguing with influences mainly stemming from an edgy jazz or trip-hop foundation. Zoya’s back-up vocalists are equally amazing by filling in the melodies and rhythms.  The jaunty song brings out smooth and sultry jazz influences indicative of a Colombian or Brazilian origin. Importantly, Zoya’s eclectic arrangements make the song stand out no matter what genre it may fit in.

“Hold On” begins with a few guitar strums, a sweeping vibraphone melody, breathy flute or clarinet, and Zoya’s achingly-beautiful vocals.  The flute sounds are rather vibrant throughout, while the acoustic guitar rhythm sets the base for the vibraphone sounds with are very dreamy. Zoya’s vocals are not too unlike that of Zero 7.  The four-and-a-half-minute composition contains jazzy improvisation the last minute of the song.

“She Was” begins with a jaunty, acoustic guitar medley that is very organic and earthy, while a rustling percussive sound and string slide begins the vocal portion of the song.  Zoya’s vocals are rather theatrical amidst the diverse guitar stylings, various percussion, and slightly Middle Eastern and flamenco-tinged arrangements.  The jazzy, back-up vocals are a perfect backdrop to Zoya’s vocals, as the song matures into an instrumental frenzy before four-minutes into the song. The song ends with a lighter mix of vocals, airy sounds, and clicking percussion.   

“The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room” begins with a raw, acoustic guitar melody with sounds of kids playing early on in the song.  Zoya’s vocals are rather airy and poetic.  A variety of string and horn sounds lend a jazzy substance to the mix.  The five-minute song is poignant, delicate, and intricate in a more structured manner than anything composed by Regina Spektor. At any rate, the title track is full of edgy percussion, Middle Eastern-like instrumental arrangements, and a theatrical vein that is rather chaotic (in a good way) by the end of the song.

Zoya’s new album provides listeners with a sassy and sensual voice that seemingly changes contemporary pop and world music for the better.  The down-tempo, jazz-laden, and R&B-esque vocalizations are poetic and theatrical.  The instrumental arrangements are rather short, but diverse.  For example, there are various wind instrument sounds, vibraphone additions, and sporadic strings that are performed in non-traditional manners, which showcase Zoya’s creative edge throughout.  This is not a pop, rock, classical, new age, urban, or artsy album.  Zoya’s new work is rather indescribable, but it incorporates the vocal similarities of Katie Melua and Zero 7 with the instrumental aptitude of an eclectic or alternative songstress yearning for something more.

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CD Review: Kuku's 'Ballads and Blasphemy'

Ballads and Blasphemy
Buda Musique

Steeped in Yoruban traditions and Western arrangements, Kuku creates an engaging and thought-provoking mix of Afro-pop gold and roots music. The famous Tony Allen lends his talents on "Waya" and "Owo." The album revolves around Kuku's own agnosticism when it comes to religion, which is relatively pronounced here. Still, the melodies and rhythms are great and never boring. The sparkling guitar tones and heady percussion suggest West African influences with a little Afro-Latin action, too. Nevertheless, the album shines on all cylinders--even if you cannot understand the lyrics or song origins. "La Derniere Fois" is rather bluesy with languid vocals and steady percussion. Some of the songs are in English, but Kuku breaks language barriers here. This is another high-quality release from Buda Musique! ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, July 25, 2015

CD Review: Patricia Vonne's 'Viva Bandolera'

Patricia Vonne
Viva Bandolera
Bandolera Records

Patricia Vonne's emotive Latin folk and rock music takes on new heights with soaring vocals, multi-instrumental repertoires, and a pop-edge cement the deal with Viva Bandolera. Patricia's vocals are a blend of Lila Downs and Shakira throughout. The song structures are more varied than Shakira, but rooted in the Tejano, Latin-American rock and folk of Mexico's Lila Downs. Seventeen tracks in all. Patricia brings more than basic Tex-Mex fanfare here. In fact, there are swirling melodies and rhythms with passionate and evocative vocals representing a deep, Latin-American connection, as well as American pop and rock constructions. The Spanish songs are back by great instrumentation and arrangements that do not disappoint. Get it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CD Review: Honeybird's 'Out Comes Woman'

Out Comes Woman
Duckhead Green Music

Honeybird incorporates a variety of world, jazz, urban, classical, and pop elements on Out Comes Woman. The fourteen tracks are uniquely-named and equally-enthralling from a musical perspective. Some of the titles include, "TMBLGBT," "Ex-Spearmint," and "Bi Dead Chickens." Some of the vocals are arranged in a scat jazz setting, while others are set in a theatrical or artsy context with whimsical instrumentation and short or fast beats. This is not a power pop album or rock album, for that matter. Instead, it is filled with poignant melodies, diverse vocals, and varied instrumentation arranged in delicate ways. The vocals are often reduced in more of a spoken word or poetic delivery--especially on "Wanted In Wanted Out." At any rate, Honeybird creates some sweet tunes for anyone looking for something different. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Donna De Lory's 'Universal Light'

Donna De Lory
Universal Light

The contemporary kirtan and dance princess, Donna De Lory, brings life to songs inspired from the heavens above on Universal Light. This album contains a dozen songs with remixes from some of the hottest DJ's and maestros around, including Carmen Rizzo, Atom Smith, Drumspyder, Willie Lewis, David Starfire, Freq Nasty, and Dub Kirtan Allstars. "Gayatri Mantra," "The Offering," "Praying For Love," "Jai Mata Kali," "Om Namah Shivayah," and "Luciana" are more dance-centered tracks. There is a trip-hop-infused version of the Christian classic, "Amazing Grace," while "Om Tare Tuttare," "Amma," and "By Your Grace" are more down-tempo and kirtan-influenced with lighter melodies and rhythms. Donna's vocals are bright, clear, and most of all--universal! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Gao Hong and Friends' 'Pipa Potluck'

Gao Hong and Friends
Pipa Potluck

Pipa, a Chinese plucked lute, is the central component of the new album, Pipa Potluck, by Gao Hong and several guest musicians. This is where Asian folk meets American roots, bluegrass, and classical music. The instrumental album begins with a rousing bluegrass number, "Cluck Old Hen," which features the banjo of Alison Brown, the fiddle by Matt Combs, and bass by Garry West. "Friendship" is more of a contemplative Arabic concoction with oud, percussion, and of course, the pipa. The pipa and guitar complement each other quite nicely on the excellent "Golden Season." Likewise, the slack key guitar by George Kahumoku, Jr. and the pipa create another friendly and enjoyable medley on "Mosquito Song." The bluegrass and folk stylings come back on "Sally Johnson." The serene "Lutes Around The World" finishes the album with poignant strings and delightful melodies. Fans of strings, lutes, Chinese folk, neo-classical, new age, bluegrass, Arabic, folk, Americana, and world music in general will love to sample Pipa Potluck. Remember to leave room on your plate for additional listens! ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CD Review: Daby Toure's 'Amonafi'

Daby Toure 

Daby Toure comes from Mauritania--a Saharan country in North Africa. However, his music is trans-African and even trans-global in nature. It is filled with catchy Afro-pop hooks from the get-go. He achieved worldwide fame with Stereo Spirit and Diam--and now Amonafi continues to celebrate his unique voicings and guitar styles. Many of the songs build upon earlier song styles on previous albums, but Daby creates all new music that is slightly different overall. There are a few very characteristic Daby Toure songs here, including "Oma," "Emma," "Little Song," "If You," "Debho," and "Soninko." Amonafi, which means, 'once upon a time,' in the Wolof language, is a great analogy to what Daby does best: tell stories in an infectious, musical pattern with diverse vocal ranges and scintillating guitar-work. ~ Matthew Forss