Monday, July 26, 2010

CD Review: Daniel Cros From Barcelona

Las vueltas que da la vida

From the shores of Spain to Cuba, Daniel Cros' Catalan-language songs cover a variety of styles, including ballad, bolero, cha cha cha, ranchera, son, salsa, tango, and more. Hailing from Spain, Daniel infuses a Latin American-jazz sensibility with signature percussion, piano, horns, strings, and vocals. Daniel is quite the master of musical ingenuity being a singer, guitarist, and pianist. The piano surfaces more or less on many of the tracks, which provides a classic sound to the quiter rhythms and slower melodies. One thing that is certain is the passion and neverending desire for performing and creating lively musical masterpieces that stir the soul and twist the hips. Though primarily a recording for Latin music fans, Las vueltas que da la vida also evokes a Spain-ish musical component. However, the album is not very long in running-time (approx. 42 minutes), but it won't hurt to play the album over and over. A danceable collection of songs! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, July 23, 2010

CD Review: Seu Jorge and Almaz

Seu Jorge and Almaz
Seu Jorge and Almaz

The upbeat, psychedelic, and Brazilian-samba-inspired album by Seu Jorge and his band Almaz, hit the charts with sizzling beats that will heat up any party. Probably best known for his work in the films, The Life Aquatic and City of God, Seu continues to draw upon inspiration from Brazil's wealth of musical resources and rich, cultural history. The instrumentation is rather limited to drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. However, the sound is very full and fresh. Anyone with a passing knowledge of melodic electronic and trip-hop will note some influences throughout. At times, the self-titled release echoes the soundtrack of a spy or thriller film. This could be due to Seu's experience with the film medium, but it doesn't detract from the real, entertainment purpose of the music. Seu Jorge joins a long line of Brazilian musical giants that should not be ignored at any cost. Join Seu Jorge and Almaz today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sierre Leone's Refugee All Stars

Rise & Shine

Formed out of war and civil unrest, Sierre Leone's Refugee All Stars bring light and life to Africa and the rest of the world. The drum-beats, reggae-inspired grooves, and blaring brass convey the message of hope, while shadowing despair and depravity. The Afro-beat rhythms might be an ode to Fela Kuti and other West African bands from the 1960's to the present. At any rate, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars poignantly coined the album title Rise & Shine to accurately summarize the musical and social development of the group over the past few years. The music is richly textured with loads of instrumentation and cool riffs. A great collective of musicians born out of exile refuse to succumb to the power of societal defeatism, and instead, rise to the occasion by playing personally satisfying music. Find yourself a hammock under a palm tree, sip some palm wine, and play Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars this summer! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ashton Nyte's "The Valley"

The Valley
Intervention Arts

South African-born singer and guitarist, Ashton Nyte, transcends musical heights from beyond this Earth. Based in the USA, Ashton's voice is probably too low (baritone) for most, but it sounds similar to Jace Everett or the Crash Test Dummies. Whether The Valley is indicative of Ashton's low voice or a career plateau, the songs are clearly something worth taking in. Ashton's languid vocals and alternative guitar tunings make The Valley an introspective journey borrowing elements from David Bowie, Tom Waits, The Wallflowers, The Devlins, Soul Asylum, and other groups. The folk-rock crowd looking for great songs should look no further. Ashton's spiritual insights also find a home from time to time throughout the album. Follow Ashton into The Valley and prepare to spend some time playing these tracks over and over...and over. English lyrics are included in the liner notes. English vocals throughout. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, July 18, 2010

CD Review: Irka Mateo's Taino Roots

Independent Release

Named after a 15th century Taino chief in Haiti, Anacaono is an exploration of neo-Taino music after nearly a decade of diving into the musical culture of the Dominican Republic. A reconnection of sorts with Irka's native land of Hispaniola creates a musical project brimming with happy melodies, swaying rhythms, and sultry vocals. The musical influences of other islands and countries is evident by the percussion, guitar playing, and song structures. The Caribbean region is a region rich in musical instruments, rhythms, and cultures. In the same manner, the Caribbean is a gateway for South American and African music styles. Anacaona is largely comprised of Latin American styles with little in the way of direct, African connections. Still, Irka's vocals inspired by hundreds of years of history and culture represent a shining addition to Anacaono. Anyone with an interest in modern-indigenous music inspired by pre-Columbian times should add Irka Mateo to their collection. Spanish and English lyrics are provided in the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, July 16, 2010

CD Review: Janaka Selekta

Pushing Air

Sri Lankan-native, Janaka Selekta, has become an important fixture in the world of Asian electronica in the San Francisco area and beyond. Janaka's world travels have shaped his electro-musicality by serving delicious breakbeats with nice additions of Bansuri flute, tabla, and sarangi. Furthermore, haunting male and female vocals add another layer of rich, sound textures. The Asian trip-hop musical concept has been explored by other artists with little in the way of an organic, engaging sound worth remembering. Janaka fills that void for world dub and electronica fans. Whether you call this Asian dub, electronic, world beat, downtempo, or trance, Janaka's music soars effortlessly into the outer reaches of our universe and back again, while pushing the limits on Pushing Air. Definitions aside, Pushing Air is perfect for the club, dorm, office, or party, but it will basically leave you breathless yearning for more 'air'. Don't worry, it's all in good fun. A remix by Karsh Kale is included. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Slovenia's Magnifico


The somewhat comedic musical and lyrical sensibilities of Slovenia's Magnifico (a.k.a. Robert Peut) brings a lighter side to the Balkan brass world. Keep in mind the music is still lyrically edgy with the characteristic Balkan brass elements, but the rhythms seem complex enough to create a pan-fusion masterpiece with Latino and European influences. Magnifico tackles tough societal situations and crafts them into gritty, punchy beats with a Country-Western, Roma-funk twist. The sensual overtones exist on a lyrical and melodic scale, where Magnifico puts the 'horny' in Balkan horns. A favorite of European youth, Magnification may require a closer inspection from traditionalists. Thankfully, the power of Magnification is found in it's unique delivery and it's word will reach everyone with even a passing interest in groovy, Balkan-pop from a stylish, innovator of unforgettable music. Don't 'balk' at this Balkan release! ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, July 11, 2010

CD Review: Togo's Elikeh

Adje! Adje!
Azalea City

A band of D.C.-area musicians present us with a modern form of groovy, jazzy, and dance-friendly rhythms. Headed by Togolese frontman Massama Dogo, Elikeh celebrates the musical spirit of Africa's Afro-beat giants, such as Orchestra Poly-Rhythmo and Fela Kuti. Though not a literal comparison, Elikeh taps into the same historical energy of Afro-beat bands of long ago. Yet, Elikeh is new, refreshing, and distinct. It draws upon West African, Central African, and French influences. There are ten tracks in all. Each track contains a brief song description in the liner notes. Adje! Adje! is a great release for African music fans and others looking for something accessible and easy to assimilate. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mali's Vieux Farka Toure is LIVE!


The desert blues guitar style popularized by Vieux's father, the late-Ali Farka Toure, is at the forefront of performance on this live CD. Anyone familiar with Vieux's songs should recognize these tracks from 2009's Fondo (Six Degrees) release. Best of all, a previously unreleased track, 'Maiga', is included as classic desert tune with certifiable groove appeal. The live performances are culled from various venues including the Thornbury Theatre, Colorado College, The Independent, and Brisbane Powerhouse. Surprisingly, the songs blend very well and do not sound pasted together artificially. The bluesy-electric guitar playing sometimes overshadows some of the more traditional instrumentation, but there are just as many instances where the quieter moments shine. For those seeking a more modern desert blues-rock sound, then check out Vieux Farka Toure's latest release, Live! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bosnia's Amira and Merima

Amira Medunjanin & Merima Kljuco

A classic vocalist, Amira Medunjanin's melodic vocal poetry is filled with passion, emotion, and life. It is a perfect companion for Merima Kljuco's accordion playing. The duo perform music native to their Bosnian ancestral roots. However, a few traditional tunes from neighboring Macedonia and Serbia are included. Importantly, the album's instrumentation is only provided by an accordion. In some instances, the accordion is absent when Amira's voice takes over the role. The interplay between the voice and accordion resemble mugham modes of Middle Eastern and Arabic music, yet the music is definitely 'Bosnian'. Interestingly, Zumra, which means 'emerald' or, according to the liner notes, 'something that deviates from the norm', is an excellent summation of the music. The album is a gem and it's something a little different. In this case, a little different is something listeners will gladly relish. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bebel Gilberto's 'All In One'

All In One

The cool, lounge jazz sounds of a Brazilian night-club are quite evident on Bebel Gilberto's latest release, All In One. Some of the songs are written by Bebel, while others were borrowed from Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Carlinhos Brown, and Bebel's father, Joao Gilberto. The downtempo percussion and atmospheric elements provide a modernized sound that is never overpowering, overproduced, or unnatural. Bebel's organic voice soars nicely along with the percussion and electronic additions. The songs are sung in Portuguese and English. The liner notes include lyrics for each song. A number of female singers to come out of South America have graced the North American stage and airwaves over the years. However, one voice continues to stand out and remain a solid force in the world music scene. You can find all of Bebel's greatest attributes 'all in one' place on All In One. ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, July 10, 2010

CD Review: Uganda's Samite

My Music World
Samite Music

My Music World is the latest release that follows up Samite's 2006 Embalasasa. Samite explores the traditional music of Uganda and shapes it into a modern musical experience without losing the roots. Soothing percussion and instrumentation of kalimba, madinda, whistle, guitar, bass, and keyboards accompany Samite's vocals. The songs are mostly instrumental, but Samite's voice makes an appearance on a few tracks. The sound is partly meditational and partly groovy, especially for the longer tracks, such as 'Ninze', 'Njabala Owekyejo', 'Imagine It To Make It Happen', and 'Sirina Kyentya'. Fans of Samite's other albums will find My Music World to be a welcome contribution to any African music collection. In short, My Music World enraptures all who listen to it's pleasantries. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Morocco's Hindi Zahra

Oursoul Records

A France-based, Moroccan singer and guitarist, Hindi Zahra is a glowing example of folk-rock musicianship and North African charisma. Hindi's vocal style is similar in tone to U.S. singers, Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles. Essentially, there is a classic pop standard element throughout the album. Though, Hindi's lyrics of English and Berber languages meld perfectly with the spritely rhythms and lounge club feel of intimate tunes. Moreover, English and Berber lyrics are included for all tracks. The songs are structured, but not over-produced. Overall, Hindi's voice and instrumentation are hand-picked, or rather, 'handmade', with love, peace, and spirit. The influence of French rhythms are more prominent than anything else. Still, Handmade is a satisfying journey that beams with colour, light, and emotion. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: A Time To Cry - A Lament Over Jerusalem

Various Artists
A Time To Cry: A Lament Over Jerusalem

Recorded in a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem, A Time To Cry... showcases some traditional and new folk songs from the region. The songs touch on the political turmoil and social rights between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Palestinian repertoire includes Rim Banna, Wissam Murad, Nai Barghouthi and Jawaher Shofani. The Palestinian singers mentioned above are also joined by a Norwegian collective, including Kenneth Ekornes (drums), Gjermund Silset (bass), Hallgrim Bratberg (guitar), and U.S. flutist and clarinetist, Steve Gorn. The laments are deeply emotional and ethereal in sound. The folk tunes are a light fusion between Persian classical music, Arabic folk music, and bluesy-pop. Fans of other KKV releases will find comfort in the words and music of A Time To Cry... It is not too often a Palestinian music release surfaces globally, which makes it even more invaluable to Middle Eastern music fans. A treasured album of music. Liner notes are in English and Arabic. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, July 2, 2010

CD Review: Lyapis Trubetskoy - Agitpop

Lyapis Trubetskoy
Eastblok Music

Lyapis Trubetskoy is a band that is huge in Russia, where they fill venues to capacity. Their sound is akin to Gogol Bordello but with more of a ska twist. They push the limits with strong political lyrics, dark humour, and images of their culture's socialist past. Although the lyrics are in Russian, the strength and meaning of the songs really come through. Agitpop is exactly that - songs which agitate against a society of wealth and war. Most importantly, the songs are quite melodic. ~Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Dalai Lama Renaissance

Dalai Lama Renaissance
Various Artists
White Swan

This CD is the soundtrack for the documentary film of the same title about the Dalai Lama. Like the film, this album also features narration from Harrison Ford, as well as enchanting (and chanting!) songs featured in the film. The music is very soothing and obviously perfect for personal meditation and features Techung, a Tibetan musician in exile; Heyraneh, a female Sufi singer from Tehran (a rarity); and the words of the Dalai Lama himself. ~ Paula E. Kirman