Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CD Review: The 'Hospitable' Maria de Barros

Maria de Barros
Sheer Sound

The Cape Verde islands not only evoke images of swaying palm trees, but they are also home to the swaying hips of charismatic songstress, Maria de Barros. Steeped in the Criolu music traditions of Cape Verde, Morabeza is a welcome addition to the plethora of recent global releases of music from this region. In fact, Morabeza means 'hospitality' in Creole. Essentially, it is a reflection of the close-knit communities and spirit of Cape Verde. The music draws upon African, Latin, Caribbean, and European elements. The far-reaching music could be due to Maria's eclectic background being born in Senegal to Cape Verde parents, living in Nouakchott, Mauritania, and various places in the U.S.A.. Thanks to Maria's beautiful and sincere voice, Morabeza is sure to energize any party or occasion. ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, May 18, 2009

CD Review: People's Poets - No Life Without Roots

People's Poets
No Life Without Roots

The People's Poets are three MCs from Edmonton, Canada who rap about a variety of political and social issues. All of them come from refugee roots in either Chile or El Salvador, and their experiences have greatly influenced their writing. No Life Without Roots is the band's first CD release and features a number of songs known to local audiences from their many performances at rallies, festivals, and activist events. In both English and Spanish, the guys present very direct messages against capitalism, war, violence against women, and other thought-provoking themes. Musically, People's Poets style is straight-ahead hip-hop with some Latin American influences. This new release is already helping the band get a much-deserved audience beyond Edmonton.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré
Vieux Farka Touré
World Village

Vieux Farka Touré hails from Mali and is the son of the late Ali Farka Touré, one of that country's most accomplished and famous musicians. His debut album, Touré's music is very guitar-driven and full of the rhythm and intonation characteristic of music from Mali. Originally released to worldwide distribution in 2007, the album is still doing well critically and gaining Touré fans. His guitar playing in particular is fast and captivating. Vieux Farka Touré is carrying on a musical legacy.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Tinariwen - Aman Iman (Water is Life)

Aman Iman (Water is Life)
World Village

Tinariwen ("empty places" in the Tamashek language) is an African guitar band that has gained a worldwide audience thanks to its participation in the Festival in the Desert concerts in Mali. Formed in 1982 of Tuareg people, it is believed Tinariwen is the first band from this part of the world to use electric guitars. And use them indeed - combined with basic percussion and vocal arrangements of lyrics that mostly deal with freedom and independence from the Mali government, the music is rhythmic and highly addictive. Singing mostly in Tamashek and French, there is very much a rock element here on Aman Iman that makes Tinariwen's music accessible even to Western listeners.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Young Dubliners - Saints and Sinners

Young Dubliners
Saints and Sinners
Savoy Jazz

This latest offering from American Irish-punk-folk band Young Dubliners will not disappoint. The music is energetic and full of both contemporary and traditional Irish influences. Manyof the songs are mid-tempo and a bit more restrained than on the band's previous album With All Due Respect. Still, Young Dubliners manage to maintain the momentum throughout these songs about love, loss, workers, and life in general. Fans of Waterboys, The Pogues, and early U2 should give Young Dubliners a listen.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack

Various Artists
Slumdog Millionaire (Music from the Motion Picture)

The film Slumdog Millionaire has taken the world by storm, and now legions of people are dancing to the groove of "Jai Ho," that final piece where the entire cast bust a move, Bollywood-style. Composer A. R. Rahman brings together traditional and contemporary Indian music to bring atmosphere to a movie featuring different times and circumstances, flashing between the past and present. Another highlight is the beautiful "Dreams on Fire," which is essentially "Latika's Theme" with lyrics. If you liked the movie, you'll love to revisit your memories by listening to the soundtrack.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Boiled in Lead - Silver

Boiled in Lead

Minnesota-based "rock and reel" band Boiled in Lead is back with a much-anticipated album. Silver features the rocking folk that has created a huge cult following for the band for over a quarter of a century. The album also marks the return of original lead singer Todd Menton. The fresh collection of songs is exactly what can be expected from Boiled in Lead: rocking guitar solos with acoustic accents, energetic instrumentals, highly Celtic influences, and lots of other different musical twists and turns. Silver is a must for any serious BiL fan.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Lhasa


Lhasa de Sela's self-titled album is a bit of a departure from her previous work. First of all, the album's lyrics are in English (as opposed to French or Spanish). There is also less of a Latin American vibe to the songs, instead replaced with a consistent jazz and blues theme. Her sultry voice soars throughout the album, which resonates with bass, percussion, and guitars. Lhasa is a rich soundscape demonstrating the progression of a singer/songwriter into other musical worlds.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: The Salsoul Songstress Cecilia Noel

Cecilia Noel
A Gozar! (To Enjoy)
Compass Records

A Peruvian-native, Cecilia Noel creates an energetic salsa and soul music that warrants a new term, "salsoul", which Cecilia coined. An obvious nod to Cuban and Latin music rumba, jazz, funk, and African elements permeates her musical creations. Most of A Gozar! is sung in Spanish, though English lyrics make a few short appearances. This is a highly danceable album best enjoyed with your favorite dance partner. The lively percussion, brass band section, and vocals section, is salsa performed in a slighty more aggressive style than the more familiar light-hearted, romantic-styled salsa. It is easy to imagine Cecilia Noel dancing around while singing these infectious tracks. The liner notes do not contain song lyrics, but song personnel are included. If you want to heat up your day, play a little A Gozar! and dance the night (and day) away. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Join Congo's Staff Benda Bilili

Staff Benda Bilili
Tres Tres Fort

The band's name is taken from "Benda Bilili" which means "look beyond appearances". Interestingly, the band is comprised of paraplegic street musicians from Congo. They hail from a land of diverse languages, including Kikongo, French, Portuguese, Lingala, and Kituba. Tres Tres Fort shares their musical talents on guitar, bass, vocals, and a unique one-string lute called a satongue. Eight musicians in all comprise Staff Benda Bilili. The instrumental parts are fairly simple, yet engaging. The simplicity is far from banal, as many of the tunes incorporate the rumba and funk rhythms of Latin America or breezy melodies from the Madagascar coast. In fact, you will hear a hint of Orchestra Baobab and the Bedouin Jerry Can Band. The acoustic rhythm is top-notch and the vocals are sincere. Overall, Tres Tres Fort is a pleasant listening experience free from any handicap whatsoever. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, May 17, 2009

CD Review: Georgian-born, U.K. Singer/Songwriter Katie Melua

Katie Melua

Singer/songwriter, Katie Melua, grew up in the present-day country of Georgia in eastern Europe. After a short stint in Northern Ireland and current relocation in the U.K., Katie began her musical career. Pictures is a simple guitar/bass/drum-driven musical experience that shares the sounds of Western pop/folk rhythms. All the songs are sung in English and Katie's voice should have no problem drawing in youth listeners. The music is not electronica in nature. It is authentic, organic and sweetly-soulful. However, adults will be equally content with Katie's musical exploits. There is a classic, bluesy feel to some of the moments on the album. In general, it is easy to imagine the lyrical wordplay in filmic 'pictures'. Though, Pictures is about living life in motion, and struggling with snap-shots of history's memory lane. Regardless of the reason, Pictures is an album worth a listen. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Cape Verdean Music from Portugal's Lura


Portugal's Lura was born to Cape Verdean parents, which allowed her to study and incorporate Cape Verdean music and rhythms into her compositions for her last few recordings, including the most recent one, Eclipse. The most globally-recognizable musician to come out of Cape Verde would have to be Cesaria Evora. Though an increasing number of musicians from the islands are garnering international attention, including Lura. Lura's emotive and sultry vocals match the gritty, earthy, and jazzy rhythms of the piano, strings, guitar, and percussion. Even though Cape Verde resides offshore of Western Africa, the primary musical influences tend to incorporate Latin or Caribbean tones. Though, Lura includes the indigenous styles of Cape Verde, including morna, funana, batuque, with a little fado thrown in. Is Eclipse the album that marks the pinnacle of Lura's musical career? It is doubtful, as each album seems to contain something new with each listen. Liner notes in Cape Verdean Creole. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Fado By Way of South Africa...Azores...and Lisbon

Katia Guerreiro

Fadista, Katia Guerreiro, was born in South Africa, moved to the Azores as a child, and studied medicine in Lisbon, Portugal. The latter move would ultimately allow Katia to embrace her fado beginnings. The appropriately titled album, Fado, is an excellent introspective examination of fado song structure and delivery. Yet, most listeners associate the late-Amalia Rodrigues, or the currently popular, Mariza, with fado stardom, Katia is equally deserving of such attention and fame. Every song is heartfelt and passionately performed. This is one of the lasting impressions of fado music. The rich tradition of fado follows the content of a mournful nature, often about love, or poor living. At any rate, Katia's beautiful voice is a heavenly addition to the fado world. The lyrics are provided in Portuguese. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Music of the Indian Ocean

Davy Sicard
Up Music

The French-infused rhythms and vocals of guitarist Davy Sicard carries on the tradition of contemporary music from Reunion--a small island east of Madagascar. A region of rarely heard music on a global scale, Davy's music is similar in rhythm to Mauritanian/French vocalist/guitarist, Daby Toure. Kabar is a laid-back, "lounge blues" of sorts, with melodic vocal calisthenics and pleasant guitar stylings. Davy not only utilizes the French language, but also a Creole variant spoken throughout much of the island. Some of the songs are more energetic than others, but all create a sense of emotional depth and musical richness. The breezy guitar tunings and sparkling addition of a plucked thumb piano on one track showcase some of the musical diversity on the island. Overall, the bluesy-pop tunes of Kabar should entice listeners all over the world. Liner notes include song lyrics and titles in Creole French. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Beats of 'Halalwood'


The funky, electronic beats and ethnic infusions of U-cef's Moroccan homeland creates a truly modern form of musical expression. Ten tracks and dozens of musicians from the UK, Morocco, France, Egypt, and Tunisia accompany and comprise the album's musical backbone. The innovative electronic beats and vocals by Natacha Atlas (Egypt), Rachid Taha (Algeria), and others, create something engaging and classic. There is a fine balance between rai, rap, spoken-word, electronica, gnawa, and Arabic trance music throughout all of the tracks. Halalwood is bound to draw in younger crowds, because of its close association with Western beats and arrangments. It's easy to use the term 'fusion' for U-cef's music. In essence, U-cef's vision for the music is very clearly and intelligently defined. Halalwood not only contains sporadic female vocals, hip beats, and male vocals, but it also embraces a new musical and cultural movement, as Hollywood and Bollywood have done before. This is contemporary Moroccan music for the world to enjoy! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jaya Lakshmi's 'Radiance' Shines

Jaya Lakshmi


Sequoia Records

Oregon's Jaya Lakshmi's effervescent, yet relaxing, music for the human spirit is a very moving exploration of inner peace, beauty, and transcendence. Each song is unique and incorporates Jaya's serene vocals. The addition of the Celtic flute, Spanish guitar, sarod, cello, keyboards, Bansuri flute, and other elements make Radiance a truly enjoyable listening experience. The instrumental interludes and segues provides an added, therapeutic sensation. The tranquil, yet melodious musical structures, is perfect for yoga, relaxing, or a world music party. "Sita Ram" is a particularly beautiful and catchy tune that should not be missed. The music does not fit any one category of world music, but it draws upon Central and South Asian musical traditions, while infusing vocal arrangements similar to contemporary bands from Scandinavia, and even a slight nod to the band Enigma. In summary, Jaya's Radiance shines beyond borders. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: 'Plateau' Reaches a High Note

Fortunate Recordings

Tibet's Soname brings her magical voice to her most recent recording, Plateau. The vocals shine high as the instrumentation nicely accompanies the entire production. In fact, you will hear the tabla, drums, guitars, keyboards, Celtic harp, flute, sarangi, strings, and a few other instruments. The album's style is comparable to recordings by the Real World label. Additionally, the liner notes are provided in English, French, and German. In regards to similar music, Soname's vocal and instrumental stylings resemble Mexico's Tonana, Uzbekistan's Sevara Nazarkhan, and Tibet's Yungchen Lhamo. The wide-reaching versatility of her music is evidenced by the fact of the abovementioned musicians. Though primarily of Central/South Asian origins, Soname mixes subtle infusions of Indian tabla drumming with short, bursts of flute and (other)worldly vocals. In short, Soname's Plateau rises high above the competition. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mauritanian Blues

Fuuta Blues

The border between Mauritania and Senegal is rich in history, music, and traditions. It is also home to Boolumbal band leader, singer, and guitarist, Malick Dia. Malick teamed up with French musician and producer of blues music in Paris, and in the process, created a stunning album of Senegal River blues. To be more exact, Fuuta Blues contains earthy tunes and vocals in the Pulaar language. Musically, there are resemblances to Guinea-Bissau's Bidinte, Mauritania's Daby Toure, Senegal's Vieux Diop, and Mali's most recognizable export--the late-Ali Farka Toure. There is a nice mix of traditional instruments, including the ngoni, kora, balafon, Peul flute, djembe, and shakers. The more modern strings, piano, and guitar are not as prevalent. Fuuta Blues is an album unique to Mauritania and the Francophone musical genre. It is steeped in traditional instrumentation and simple, catchy vocals. Liner notes are in English and French. Take a trip down the Senegal River with Boolumbal. ~ Matthew Forss