Thursday, January 21, 2010

CD Review: The Cottars


Cape Breton's musical legacy is steeped in local fiddling traditions the world over. Now, you have to add The Cottars to that long list of musicians performing fiddle/Celtic/Scottish music. The folk rhythms are reminiscent of Natalie MacMaster, the Rankin Family, and April Verch - all talented musicians from Canada in their own right. There is a mix of traditional songs, such as "Goodnight To You" and "Song For Stephen Foster". Other songs are composed by Fiona and Ciaran MacGillivray and Claire Pettit. Strings are joined by piano, guitar, tin whistle, bodhran, bouzouki, and harp. Folksy vocals, jazzy jigs, and heartfelt strumming represent the cultural spirit of Eastern Canada's musical traditiojns. The vocals are sung in English and incorporate American roots music as well. Some of the songs are ideal for dancing, while others are great for sitting back and listening in. In essence, Feast is definitely not hard to swallow. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Spy From Cairo

The Spy From Cairo
Secretly Famous

Originally from Italy, The Spy From Cairo is trans-global groovemaster extraordinaire Moreno Visini. There are little musical references to Italy on this album, but the dub-grooves and traditional instrumentation reflect a purely North African/Middle Eastern origin. The Spy From Cairo plays several instruments including bass, oud, saz, darbouka, keyboards, and ciftelli (two-stringed lute). A stand-out guest vocalist adds her Tunisian presence on "Ana Arabi", "Jennaty", and "Blood and Honey". Additionally, the mizmar and nay flute adds a good amount of musical fluidity on "Nayphony". Secretly Famous is a dub-fest for a new generation. There is a nice mix of original songs and remixes/tributes to great musicians from Egypt including Farid Al Atrache and Mohamed Abdel Wahab. The end result is an Afro-dub sound with an abundance of creativity, musicianship, and cultural awareness. Secretly Famous won't be secret much longer; once the addictive sounds make their way online, on the radio, and in the clubs. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review: Re-Counting Knowlege in Song: Change Reflected in Kaulong Music

Re-Counting Knowlege in Song: Change Reflected in Kaulong Music by Birgit Druppel. Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies: Boroko, Papua New Guinea, 2009. 324pp. CD included.

The present ethnomusicological study of Kaulong, Papua New Guinea is a culmination of several years of field research for Birgit Druppel's doctoral dissertation in 1998. The result is an in-depth analysis of traditional song, dance, and customs of the Kaulong area. Birgit provides ample commentary and insightful discussion regarding the many aspects surrounding social customs, instruments, songs, and dances. Particular attention is made to regional music/dance forms, including singing sia, murmur, and tumbuan. An instrument organology section is provided for pan pipes, Jew's harps, conch shells, insects (beetles), and other instruments. Musical notation is provided, along with cultural notes on instrument uses during special occasions (i.e. marriage, youth, hunting, feasts, etc.). The book includes numerous black/white photos, along with several colored plates. Due to the in-depth, and often technical nature of this study, a good grasp of Papua New Guinean ethnomusicology and folklore would be recommended for most readers. Yet, the book is laid out fairly well, with chapters devoted to pre-European cultural influences, vocal and instrumental music, post-independent music, and a short summary. Notably, an appendix conatins the biographies of the musicians. An informative glossary is also helpful for defining technical and cultural terms. An index and refence list is included for additional resources. A CD featuring 45 different songs, dances, celebrations, and instruments is included. The CD tracks are also referenced throughout the text and add another dimension to Birgit's already well-written and referenced monograph. Learn about Kaulong music today! ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, January 16, 2010

CD Review: South Pacific's Te Vaka

Warm Earth Records

The New Zealand-based Te Vaka is an award-winning group that comprises members from New Zealand, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tokelau, and Tuvalu. Haoloto (Free) is the most recent worldwide release. It features some traditional choruses, Pacific Island percussion, modern keyboards, and fusion pop-beats. The music incorporates catchy melodies and electronic beats indicative of Enigma mixed with a touch of Australia's Yothu Yindi. The modern music style and South Pacific drumming sounds highlight Te Vaka's strengths and diverse cultural connections. In fact, it is difficult to find fault with anything they do. The music is filled with vivacity and richness. The lyrics are in Samoan, Tokelauan, Tuvaluan, and English. English translations are provided in the liner notes. If you enjoy the sounds of the South Pacific diaspora, then discover Te Vaka today. Haoloto is a breeze of fresh, South Pacific air. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jake Shimabukuru's 'Gently Weeps'

Gently Weeps
Hitchhike Records

The precursor to Jake Shimabukuru's 2009 Live, Gently Weeps is a 2006 studio production of ukulele with additional instruments including bass, drums, keyboards, steel guitar, electric guitar, and strings. The classic songs 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', 'Ave Maria', 'Sakura', 'The Star Spangled Banner', 'Misty', and 'Spain' are all instrumental renditions. The other songs are original compositions and mostly instrumental. However, one vocal track exists of 'Wish On My Star'. The singer is Jennifer Perri. Jake's jazzy, up-tempo rhythms and precise playing abilities on the ukulele shine throughout. Gently Weeps can be a metaphor of swaying palm trees on a sandy ocean beach, or the tears running down listener's cheeks. In this case, they are tears of joy. Gently Weeps is an album of soulful, mournful, serene, and sometimes frenetic moments. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jake Shimabukuro and the Ukulele: Live!

Hitchhike Records

Hawaiian-born Japanese American, Jake Shimabukuru, is the new face of ukulele pop. Shed your hula skirts and straw hats and enjoy the ukulele maestro live and in concert. Jake performs original songs, as well as renditions of popular and classic songs, including the late-Michael Jackson's 'Thriller', J.S. Bach's 'No. 4 in D Minor', Chick Corea's 'Spain', and George Harrison's 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. Jake inserts limited commentary on some of the songs and his rise to stardom on Live culls solo performances of ukulele from Japan, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Colorado. This is not your typical sleepy, dreamy ukulele music. Jake plays the ukulele with such ferocity, virtuosity, and tenderness, that it stands in world all its own. The Japanese-tinged 'Sakura Sakura' is an attempt at playing the ukulele with the mastery and likeness of a thirteen-stringed Japanese koto. The entire album features an absence of musical instrumentation beyond the ukulele and sung vocals are nonexistent. All in all, Jake takes the beach out of the ukulele and replaces it with a concert hall. A great change indeed. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Move Over Lady Gaga...Shaheen Sheik Is Here

Independent Release

Based in Los Angeles, Shaheen is a singer, songwriter, actress, and dancer that has ancestral roots back in India. Shaheen's music is highly contemporary and borders on lounge jazz, trip-hop, dance, electronica, hip hop, and pop. However, the music is not filled with over-the-top electronics and heavy, pulsating drum beats to bore you beyond belief. Revolution is an organic and satisfying experience for the casual listener of Indian (South Asian) American music. There are slow, trippy-beats throughout, Macy Gray-like grooves on the song 'Revolution', jazzy-dance-funkiness on 'Coconut', hip-hop ladened 'Here We Go', and the danceable 'Elevate'. In short, there are beats, sounds, and lyrics for everyone. Shaheen sings in English with a few words in Hindi. Move over Lady Gaga...there is a new girl in town and her name is Shaheen Sheik. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

CD Review: Afel Bocoum & Alkibar From North Africa

Afel Bocoum & Alkibar
Tabital Pulaaku
The music of the late-Malian guitarist, Ali Farka Toure, has inspired a new generation of musicians from Mali, Africa, and beyond. If Ali Farka Toure was your uncle, then you would have a very special introduction to the blues-guitar music of the desert -- North Africa, that is. This is precisely the case for Afel Bocoum. His uncle, Ali Farka Toure, was a musical icon and inspirational figure in his home country of Mali. Afel Bocoum and his band, Alkibar, continue in the musical traditions set forth by Ali Farka Toure in the 1980's and 90's. Tabital Pulaaku means 'Endurance of the Peul culture'. In effect, Afel presents his cultural heritage in a musical fashion for all to enjoy. There are songs sung in Peul, Songhai, and Bambara. Afel's guitar and vocals are backed by njarka, njurkle, bass, calabash, and n'goni instruments. Most of the songs resemble the lighter, acoustic works of fellow desert denizens Issa Bagayogo, Tinariwen, Boolumbal, and Toumast. At any rate, the musical production is first class and the songs are authentic and moving. Start your musical journey with Afel Bocoum and Alkibar today! For bilingual listeners, the liner notes are in French and English. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

CD Review: BalkanBeats From German/Bosnian Beatmaster Robert Soko

Various Artists
BalkanBeats: A Night In Berlin

BalkanBeats' brainchild, Robert Soko, is the originator and ambassador of the best Balkan beats organized in Germany. Robert Soko includes tracks by some of the most popular groups of gypsy, Balkan, and Rom music today. Boban and Marko Markovic, Vrelo, Kal, Ahilea, Magnifico, Al Jawala, and other musicians are included on this release. Some of the tracks feature vocals in English, Turkish, Slovak, Romany, Lari, Hungarian, German, Czech, Russian, Serbian, and Slovak languages. This attests to the widespread Balkan diaspora. As an added bonus, the CD includes a full-artist information file and slideshow when placed in a CD-ROM. The pulsating, gyrating, and funky brass beats ignite a high-danceability index. Piranha has yet again produced another amazing Balkan beat album for all to enjoy. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Boban's 'Devla' Is Divine

Boban and Marko Markovic
Devla: Blown Away To Dancefloor Heaven

Anyone that is looking for something a little different this year, then check out father-son duo, Boban and Marko Markovic. The Serbian brass beats create a style so unique, it could appropriately be called 'Balkan-Beat'. Imagine the 'Afro-Beat' funk rhythms in a Serbian context and you have the Markovic Orchestra. The speedy beats and funky brass inspire the feet to move into a state of ecstasy. The musical rhythms are accompanied by joyous shouts and lyrics in Serbian and English. Some of the singers include Sofi Marinova, Rade Krstic, and Ljubisa Stojanovic. The Balkan region has produced numerous albums in recent years, and Boban and Marko Markovic continue to prove their musical abilities with each release. Listeners with a knack for Balkan brass, Klezmer, gypsy pop, and Rom music will find Devla divine. In short, Devla is sure to energize anyone who listens to it. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, January 10, 2010

CD Review: Look To The Sky For Brazil's Ceu


The lounge jazz rhythms of Brazil's Ceu is poignantly captured on her latest release, Vagarosa. The album's titled, which is translated as "leisurely", is a perfect summarization of the musical style. Ceu's songs incorporate a slight trip-hop beat, electronic undertones, bossa-nova, and 1960's psychedelica. The lounge and trip-hop rhythms are particularly evident on "Grains De Beaute" and "Ponteiro". In fact, these abovementioned tracks are closely aligned with some of the music of similar groups, such as Zero 7, Air, and Hooverphonic. Ceu's crystalline vocals shine bright and fly high throughout. Interestingly, Ceu's Portuguese name means "sky" or "heaven", which appropriately represents the far-reaching capabilities of her music. In effect, Ceu's songs seem to emanate from an otherworldly source, as they are the most beautiful sounds you will ever hear on Earth. Next time you are in the mood for a slow or leisurely journey, remember to let Ceu be your guide. ~ Matthew Forss