Thursday, September 29, 2011

CD Review: Hariharan's 'Lahore Ke Rang, Hari Ke Sang'

Lahore Ke Rang, Hari Ke Sang
Sachal Music

Hariharan is a playback singer and composer of contemporary Hindi music who has won numerous awards for singing and songwriting. Born in Mumbai, Hariharan studied Carnatic music and later on, ghazals (love poems). On this release, Hariharan celebrates the music of Lahore, Pakistan. A few of the composers are included, such as Wazir Afzal, Nazar Hussain, and Qadir Shaggan. Lyricists include Amir Khusro, Bulleh Shah, Majeed Amjad, Hasrat Mohani, Mushtaq Soofi, Tajjamul, Adeen Taji, and Nasir Kazmi. The instrumentation is characteristically filmic; with symphonic strings, tabla, sitar, and floating vocals that coalesce into a wonderful musical medium. The contemporary arrangements should intrigue young and old alike. The ten tracks run almost one-hour in length. Buy it today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jack Harrison's 'The Enchanted Island'

Jack Harrison
The Enchanted Island
Nutone Music

Jack's three-decade history devoted to Irish folklore is a major influence for The Enchanted Island. In this case, Irish folk melodies combine with Sanskrit and Indian melodies and mantras to create a unique blend of musical bliss. Two cultural areas meld together; forming a blend of music that is meditational, devotional, and inspirational. The seven tracks run nearly fifty-minutes long. Each track contains a few notes describing the history and meaning behind the songs in English. Jack sings in Sanskrit and English. A variety of strings, wind instruments, guitar, bass, and backing vocals round out the package. Highly-recommended. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ustad Fateh Ali Khan's 'Bandish: Classical Compositions Re-Interpreted'

Ustad Fateh Ali Khan
Bandish: Classical Compositions Re-Interpreted
Sachal Music

Born in Pakistan, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan showcases his classical voice for eight different ragas that are re-interpreted with The Orchestra of the Great Musicians of Lahore. The raga compositions are similar in tone to Indian ragas. The instrumentation is similar, notably the sitar, table, dholak, mrdang, violin, santur, shehnai, mandolin, sarangi, sarod, viola, assorted percussion, and more contemporary instruments, including the Spanish guitar, keyboards, and bass guitar. The rich instrumentation and Ustad Fateh’s classic voice gives the music very high marks with limited outside influence. Specifically, the music may be re-interpreted, but it still retains its Punjabi charm. Every track is great. If you are into classical Punjabi or Indian music, then Bandish… is right for you! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc's Self-Titled Release

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc
The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc
Etnisk Musikklubb

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc is a group of three talented fiddlers from Norway, Shetland, and Sweden. The twelve tunes are entirely instrumental and contain only fiddles and a viola. The traditional tunes come from the Shetland Islands, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, and the USA. However, the music is primarily steeped in traditions of Scandinavia, which satisfy the Nordic music fans immensely. The North Fiddlers Bloc is Olav Luksengard Mjelva (Norway), Anders Hall (Sweden), and Kevin Henderson (Shetland). All in all, the music is engaging, danceable, and nostalgic. Anyone with at least a passing interest in fiddle music should find The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc to be very entertaining. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists - 'Sachal Jazz: Interpretations of Jazz Standards & Bossa Nova'

Various Artists
Sachal Jazz: Interpretations of Jazz Standards & Bossa Nova
Sachal Music

The Pakistani and Indian contexts are mixed with jazz standards and South American bossa nova to create a rousing mix of mostly instrumental pieces. Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond's "Take Five" is a great, instrumental medley of South Asian proportions without losing any of its initial charm. "Desafinado" originally composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonca is brought to life in a laid-back, Bollywood sort of way. There is a fine sense of Brazilian charisma and ambiance throughout. Dave Grusin’s “Mountain Dance” is perfectly suited for the table and sitar. “Garota de Ipanema,” or “Girl From Ipanema,” is another Antonio Carlos Jobim track familiar to bossa nova fans everywhere. This is the first time it has been adapted for Indian music and the result is a winner. Producer Izzat Majeed does a fine job bringing together these original and jazzy standards for a new audience and culture. Fans of bossa nova and Indian music with a jazz undertone will love Sachal Music's latest addition. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Godsruta 'Traditional Music From Hallingdal & Hemsedal'

Traditional Music From Hallingdal & Hemsedal
Etnisk Musikklubb

Named for a fiddler on the goods route between Hemsedal and Gol, Godsruta, headed by Arne Anderdal, brings traditional hardanger fiddle music to the forefront. Arne, a fiddler for over thirty years, searches out lost music from his homeland of southern Norway. The fiddling tradition goes back to the 1700s in southern Norway and Arne attempts to resurrect the tunes from the peaks and valleys of the region. Eighteen songs played mainly on fiddle are also joined by button accordion, bass, guitar, viola, and banjo. Vocals are even featured on "Brurevise." The folk melodies and historical elements are well worth listening to. As a professional musician, Arne knows how to keep it interesting. Fiddle fans will love its nostalgic presence. While fans of Scandinavian, Canadian, and American fiddling and folk traditions will find this recording a heavenly delight. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mehdi Rezania's 'Salute To Sun'

Mehdi Rezania
Salute To Sun
Self Release

Born in Iran and based in Canada, Mehdi Rezania is a talented santur (hammered dulcimer) master highly influenced by another santur master, Ardavan Kamkar. The music is rich with sparkling tones and traditional melodies. Each song contains detailed notes on its inspiration in the liner notes in English. One such track, "A Child In A Garden," is about Mehdi sleeping in too late on Saturdays. The four, brighter musical notes mimic the phrase: "Time to get up....Time to get up..." repeatedly, even though there are no vocals. Vocals are present on "Drinking to Toos," by Hassan Kasayi. Mehdi accompanies Hassan on santur. The track is an ideal example of Persian classical music. Other vocals are on "Salute to Sun." Notably, ten tracks are listed in the liner notes, but only nine are included. Still, nine tracks contain plenty of music for the Persian classical and santur fan. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Will Blunderfield's 'Hallelujah'

Will Blunderfield

Canada's Will Blunderfield is not your typical yogi master. Dressed in rock-star garb and resembling a contemmporary magician or illusionist, Will satisfies the soul with uplifting yoga music in a modern context without resorting to trance-inducing chants. Will sings in English and Sanskrit. The opening track, "Guest House," is a spoken word poem by Rumi narrated by Danielle Mika Nagel. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" features vocalist Reema Datta and The Shake Your Asana Choir, along with Will's passionate vocals. The modern arrangements with keyboards, piano, guitar, bass, percussion, and harmonium, and various vocals represent a relatively New Age album with a slight pop or rock edge. "Will & Willa," features Will and a child, Willa, rehearsing the mantra "Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu" without any additional vocal or instrumental accompaniment. The bonus track, "Ave Maria," is rather operatic and steeped in yogic charm with guests Aliqua. Will Blunderfield is 'blunder'-less. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Wole Alade's 'Olodumare'

Wole Alade
Olodumare (The Creator)
AAA-Ro-Meta Records

The groovy infections of Afro-beat master, Wole Alade, can be described as pure joy. The Nigerian-native infuses a wide variety of jazzy percussion and gospel elements with a host of vocalists adding their talents. The tracks are distinctly African with American jazz and roots elements. The long instrumental sections flow evenly throughout without any rest for the weary. Wole plays the sax, algaita, bata drum, udu drum, sakara drum, djembe, fender rhodes piano, piano, and acoustic guitar. Wole's wide-ranging repertoire joins some electric guitar, strings, and other horns to create a fascinating listening journey Fela Kuti and other Yoruban Afro-beat stars would be proud of. The Nigerian and Yoruban traditions are well-represented in Wole's music, but they are perfect for people of all ages, cultures, and places. The guitar and percussion-driven "Wanderer" is a nice Afro-pop melody in the vein of Zimbabwe's Oliver Mtukudzi. At any rate, Wole's musical creations are diverse enough with various vocals, percussion, and rhythms that keep it all interesting. The sounds of Lagos are not that far away from any of us now. ~ Matthew Forss 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CD Review: Sevara Nazarkhan's 'Tortadur'

Sevara Nazarkhan
Sevara Music

Sevara leaves the flashy, pop-oriented flavor of earlier works behind--the original tone of Ne Kechar and Sen. On Tortadur, Sevara returns to the traditional form, incorporating all of the characteristic instruments, including the doira, nay flute, and dutar. There are no drum kits, bass, guitars, or showy electronic adornments. Instead, the music is stripped-down and incredibly inviting. Sevara’s vocals are rather pensive and restrained compared to other artists. The folk music of Munadjat Yulchieva is the most representative Uzbek musician in a similar style. However, Sevara’s music is quieter from a vocal perspective. Nevertheless, Sevara excels in a traditional form without sacrificing integrity or quality. Sevara has matured as a musician and is now in a league all her own. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Fareeha Anwar's 'Sayooeni'

Fareeha Anwar
Sachal Music

Pakistan’s Fareeha Anwar is a hip, young, fresh vocalist coming out of Pakistan. Sayooeni is a two-song release of two different remixes of the song originally composed by Salim Iqbal. The original singer was Zubaida Khannum. It is characteristically Bollywood in all regards—from the tabla, sitar, Spanish guitar, sarod, bass, violin, viola, cello, and assorted percussion, to the catchy, clear Hindi vocals. The eight-minute album includes the Hindi lyrics. For a great invitation to Fareeha’s music, Sayooeni is a gem. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Fely Tchaco's 'Maturite'

Fely Productions

A native of Ivory Coast, Fely Tchaco creates catchy, pop-driven songs in English, French, and Gouro languages. The relatively contemporary approach still retains a sense of traditionalism, especially on “Goba.” The piano comes out on “Woui le m’En fe,” and a danceable tune, “En Louh,” stands out. Global and local issues surround the content of the songs. The Afro-pop focused “Si J’avais des Ailes” is golden. The dance track, “America Land of Hope” is a nod at the social and political accomplishments of American history. The lyrically and rhythmically-centered songs are especially uplifting and relevant. Fely’s French influence is prevalent, yet distinctly African at the same time. Fely’s voice is superb and a beacon of light for the people of Ivory Coast and all of Africa. French and English song summaries are included in the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: April Verch's 'That's How We Run'

That’s How We Run
Slab Town Records

Already known amongst Canadians, April Verch is Ottawa Valley’s shining star on the fiddle. Now, a regular fixture on the U.S. touring circuit, April has made a name for her fiddling away and proclaiming the historical and original tunes of Canada for most of her life. The last few recordings touched on U.S. folk tunes and traditions, which are relatively connected with their northern kin of Canada. Nevertheless, April presents us with seventeen delicious tracks of original and traditional tunes. Some are completely instrumental, incorporating the fiddle, banjo, bass, guitar, accordion, and pedal steel, while others possess April’s sweet and tender vocal abilities. Though, Riley Baugus adds vocals to “Lazy John.” Each track is upbeat and spritely. Anyone with an interest in fiddle tunes, bluegrass, Americana, and folk music should add April Verch to their collection. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Jai Uttal's 'Queen of Hearts'

Queen of Hearts
World music and kirtan pioneer, Jai Uttal, produces yet another highly-rated album in a long line of albums over the years. Though, this release, number eleven, brings reggae, ska, and Latin rhythms to the mix—all rarely heard in the world of kirtan. As an innovator, Jai brings together an amazing selection of melodies, rhythms, and tones that do not fail. The Sanskrit lyrics, back-up vocals, and guitar solos are very interesting. All eight tracks were written and produced by Jai and his long-time collaborator, Ben Leinbach. The characteristic call-and-responses are still here, which are a major focus of many recordings in the kirtan genre. The somewhat jazzy or funk overtones are also evident on “He Natha Narayana.” Anyone with an interest in kirtan, yoga music, new age music, and Jai Uttal should find Queen of Hearts endearing, timeless, and a mainstay on any kirtan music charts. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Deva Premal's 'Password'

Deva Premal
Sounds True

Deva is an incredible kirtan vocalist with a pop-music side that is still steeped in the yogic traditions that made her popular years ago. Together with Manose, a Nepalese bansuri flute master and her partner, Miten, who is a vocalist and guitarist, Deva knows how to create inspirational and meditative music that is quite pleasing. The music contains a variety of instruments, including slide guitar, bass, piano, cello, keyboards, drums, congas, bata, and various guitars. The backing vocals on “Sri Nanda-Nandanastakam” are especially inviting. At any rate, fans of Deva’s previous work on Dakshina in 2005 may notice a bit of a departure. Still, the music may not be completely traditional kirtan, but its contemporary feel is what makes Password shine. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Gary Stroutsos' 'Oasis'

Gary Stroutsos
White Swan Records

The third recording, Oasis, showcases the meditative and New Age qualities of the bass flute and desert rim flutes. Nine tracks spanning nearly an hour in length display the musical journey through ocean water and the American Desert Southwest. The solo recording features the eerie drone of a sitar-like instrument with ocean waves on "Forgotten Seas," to the contemplative stylings of "Empty Sky." The Oasis title is a good indication for the purpose of the music--as it reflects the meditative and serene melodies of a heavenly existence free from distraction and noise. The quietly-fluid sounds are not particularly ear-catching or pop-laden, but rather, portray a blissful beauty of sweet, instrumental sounds. Fans of flute music, Native American, and New Age music should pick up a copy of Gary's latest work. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: El Rego's Self-Titled Release

El Rego
El Rego
Daptone Records

El Rego, known as Theophile Do Rego, was an African music legend in his native land of Benin. DJ Frank Gossner put together this incredible collection of music from 45's released in the 1960's and 70's. Twelve tracks, a twenty-page booklet, and a bonus, limited edition 45 of "Se Na Min" and "E Ma Non Tin Me." The music is largely funk, soul, afro-beat, and jazz-driven in the vein of Fela Kuti, James Brown, and John Lee Hooker. "Djobime" is a rousing tune and a sure-fire dance track. "Dis-Moi Oui" is an almost-Ethiopian influenced track with good percussion and fiery vocals. El Rego's instrumental repertoire is limited to drums, guitars, horns, keyboards, and bass, but that does not mean the music is lacking anything. In fact, each track moves with a high degree of aural fluidity unsurpassed by other musicians. If you love the afro-beat and funk styles of West Africa's coast from the 1960's and 70's, then El Rego is a must-have. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Parne Gadje 'Kefi Kefi'

Parne Gadje
Kefi Kefi
Smoked Recordings

The whirling, folk melodies of the Netherlands-based Parne Gadje captures the essence of Balkan, Gypsy, hora, klezmer, and Mediterranean musical roots. Thirteen tracks of vocal and instrumental gold showcases the wide-ranging abilities of the musicians. The emotional tone, vocal calisthenics, and magical playing abilities are characteristic qualities of Parne Gadje's repertoire. A mix of traditional and original tunes provide a nice palette of musical color. Fans of gypsy, Balkan, klezmer, Mediterranean, North African, European, and instrumental music will appreciate Parne Gadje's unique blend of music the most. Recommended tracks: "Afghan," "Sa tele zhav," "Merzifon," and "Mercedes." ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Pezhham Akhavass 'Percussions'

Pezhham Akhavass
Self Release

The San Francisco-based percussionist extraordinaire, Pezhham Akhavass, is a whiz at the tombak and daf. Primarily focused on Central Asian/Middle Eastern percussion, Pezhham presents us with a solo set of thirteen songs on various instruments without electronica accompaniment or vocals. In effect, the sounds of the percussion instruments are the voices of the songs. Pezhham plays the tombak, daf, damam, dosar kotan, frame drum, tamtam, finger bells, and udu. The songs are noted in rhythmic time signatures of 2/4--on up to 10/8. The Iranian dosar kotan instrument reflects Pezhham's ancestral background. The lack of vocals or additional instrumentation does not affect the musical project. Fans of Hossam Ramzy may be interested in the percussive sounds of Percussions. Pezhham does not miss a beat. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Various Artists - 'Omega Ecstatic Chant' [2 CD]

Various Artists
Omega Ecstatic Chant [2 CD]
White Swan Records

The 2-CD live set of contemporary kirtan musicians from the Omega Spring Ecstatic Chant session earlier in 2011 is showcased on the latest White Swan Records release. The ecstatic release is more energized than other devotional music--possibly due to the live concert environment. However, the music is still kirtan performed from a variety of artists in the genre, including Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Miten, Snatam Kaur, Wah!, Shyamdas, Carioca, Jai Uttal, and Vishal Vaid. The music is steeped in South Asian musical traditions in a contemporary setting with yoga grooves as smooth as yogurt. The female and male vocals are effervescent and always inspirational. The two-hour set of music features a who's-who in the world of yoga pop and kirtan music. Fans of yoga music and kirtan will need to acquire this one. It does your soul good. Recommended tracks: All of them. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Masood Ali Khan's 'Hang With Angels'

Masood Ali Khan
Hang With Angels
White Swan Records

Masood Ali Khan is a meditative master of Sanskrit chants and instrumental repertoires. Masood is joined by various talents with vocals and instrumental accompaniment, including Go-Ray Duke, Steve Gorn, Monica Page, Lisbeth Scott, Visvambhar Sheth, Kamaniya Devi, Suzanne Sterling, Sheela Bringi, and others. The result is a very thought-provoking and relaxing album with eleven songs that will enrapture the meditational, new age, yoga, and world music crowds. Most songs range from six to eight minutes in length, though "Om Asato Ma" and "Bismillah" are both under four minutes. The angelic vocals may in fact be angels, but the music certainly spreads its wings throughout. This is not your typical driving beats, or electronic project, as the tunes are relatively sparse on instrumentation and embellishments. actually pronounced 'hung' and it is a drum. This is perfect music for a yoga warm-down session. Recommended tracks: "Dharma Wheel," "The Breath of Krishna," "Jai Bhagavan," and "Sat Yam Shivam Sundaram." ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kiran Ahluwalia's 'Aam Zameen'

Kiran Ahluwalia
Aam Zameen (Common Ground)
Avokado Artists Recordings

Kiran's fifth recording, Aam Zameen, features wonderful melodies from South Asia and a rather unlikely place--Africa. In fact, Malian guitar greats, Tinariwen and Terakaft, lend their talents on Kiran's latest recording. The stirring music is very engaging and inviting for even the most picky of listeners. Kiran's voice is a perfect addition to the musical repertoire throughout. Kiran sings in Urdu, but Tamasheq and Punjabi lyrics are also included. The liner notes contain French, English, Urdu, Punjabi, and Tamasheq lyrics. The late-Sufi master, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is honored with a cover track, "Mustt Mustt," which possesses an excellent mastery of rhythm, tone, and vocals--which are international in flavor, due to the cross-cultural repertoire. Kiran's latest effort exemplifies two distinct musical cultures and places them in a very creative context that clearly works. The appropriately-titled Common Ground represents the culmination of different musical cultures coming together for a good cause. Kiran releases yet another musical milestone. Recommended tracks: "Saffar," "Rabba Ru," "Zindagi," and "Mustt Mustt." ~ Matthew Forss 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

LP Review: Tabou Combo de Petion-Ville's 'Respect...'

Tabou Combo de Petion-Ville
Secret Stash

Haiti's pioneer band of the Compas dance music style released Respect... back in 1973. Thankfully, the sound is resurrected from years ago by the folks at Secret Stash Records. The eight-track release contains songs of Compas, which are derivatives of Haitian meringue, initially popularized by Nemours Jean-Baptiste in 1955. The driving rhythms contain interlocking guitar styles, lively bass, conga, drums, and accordion. The sound is inherently tropical with hints of funk and soul. After relocating to Brooklyn, NY in 1971, Tabou Combo left its mark on Haitian soul and funk for years to come. "Maria" is more of a South American ballad, while "Respect" is infused with danceable energy from the soul of the Caribbean. Anyone interested in Haitian Creole, Compas music, Caribbean music, and Tabou Combo in general, should find Respect... extremely satisfying for the soul...and feet. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Tibet's Tenzin Kunsel - 16-Year-Old Singer

Tenzin Kunsel
Nangma Toeshay: Traditional Tibetan Classical Songs
Laughing Buddha Music

New York City-based Tenzin Kunsel is a female, Tibetan singer at only sixteen-years of age. Tenzin's voice is as mature as fellow countrywoman, Yungchen Lhamo. On this album, Tenzin explores classical songs in Nangma and Toeshay forms. Both forms are similar, because they both incorporate female vocals, the dramnyen lute, and musical structure consisting of a short introduction (Jog), a slow section (Dhel Shae), and a fast section (Shab dro). The only differences surround the musical structure: Toeshay, rooted in folk dance, is slightly more repetitive, while Nangma is more intricate with greater variation in melodic structure. Whatever the form, Tenzin nails it. The soaring vocals and galloping lute sounds are perfect accompaniment for a Himalayan trek or nomadic journey through Mongolia's steppes. As with other Tibetan music, peace and tranquility are endearing attributes that are not absent here. Help benefit Tibetan refugees and the music at the same time, as ten-percent of the proceeds from CD sales go directly to the refugees through the Tibet Fund. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Spain's Aljibe

Enea - 25 Anos
Independent Release

The silver anniversary is a marvelous achievement in any situation. For Aljibe, it marks the years together as one of Spain's premier folk bands. Enea, which means "bullrush," chronicles a life-affirming collection of music over fourteen tracks. Influences from around Spain are most evident. However, some influences from Portugal, Sephardic communities, Morocco, and Bulgaria are observed. Aljibe's musical tendencies are anything but boring. In fact, Aljibe is dedicated to peforming the best music they can create. The highlight of the album is not only related to the vocals, but also the instrumental rhythms, tones, and sounds. A range of styles and genres are present, including folk, waltz, Middle Eastern, European, Sephardic, Catalan, vocal traditions, bluegrass, and polka. The spritely rhythms and diverse styles are well-rooted in traditional structures and historical renditions. The first twenty-five years will be as exciting as the next twenty-five years. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Rwanda's Mighty Popo

Mighty Popo
Borealis Records

Mighty Popo, a Rwandan born in a Burundian refugee camp and now resident of Canada, performs folk music with Afro-pop grooves in the traditional styles of ancient Rwandan society. Mighty Popo sings in Kinyarwanda, which is the only indigenous language in Rwanda. Gakondo, which means "tradition," eloquently describes the historical basis for the songs. As a 2011 Juno nominated BEST WORLD MUSIC recording in Canada, Mighty Popo knows what he is doing. The rootsy, bluesy, and folksy music is rich with African instrumentation, including a seldom-heard inanga, which is a shallow bowl carved of wood with gut strings. In addition, the guitar, congas, tama, cajon, shakers, bodhran, slide guitar, mandolin, and bells round out the instrumental repertoire. The laid-back style and crystal, clear string tones echo the spirit of the late-Ali Farka Toure. The slide guitar work is almost reminiscent of Bob Brozman. A rare recording of a defunct whispering style of music is featured on "Nibarize." The lively vocals, instrumental interludes, and African charm are similar to Uganda's Samite. Gakondo reigns supreme in my music library. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Fribo - 'Happ'


Happ, which means "in good health," is the latest release by the Norwegian/English/Scottish/Swedish collective, Fribo. With musical influences spanning several countries and regions throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, Fribo takes a new approach to music-making with a contemporary, roots project that mirrors the folk-ness of Sweden's Triakel, Finland's JPP, and the edginess of Sweden's Garmarna without all of the electronic wizardry. Clearly steeped in Scandinavian culture, Fribo is more aligned with fiddle greats, JPP, Frigg, and Canada's April Verch. The youthful energy and playing intensity is a wild workout for the ears. The delicious rhythms and tones are produced by the hardanger fiddle, guitar, flute, mandolin, double bass, whistle, drums, violin, Jew's harp, and viola. The vocals are equally enthralling by the talented Anne Sofie Linge Valdal, Hannah Read, Naomi Harvey, and Sarah-Jane Summers. The very fun music is hip and Happ-enin'! ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Southern Tenant Folk Union's 'Pencaitland'

Southern Tenant Folk Union
Johnny Rock Records

The Scottish Southern Tenant Folk Union is here to present us with a fine folk 'n' fiddle album of Celtic, American, and British roots music. The rootsy, folksy, and bluesy masterpieces utilize the mandolin, double bass, harmonica, guitar, banjo, hammer, fiddle, percussion, whistle, pipes, and vocals for a truly nostalgic and memorable product. Pencaitland is named for a village in Scotland. Instrumentally, the music is similar to fellow countrywoman, Heidi Talbot and Karine Polwart. However, most of the vocals are attributed to males Ewan Macintyre, Chris Purcell, Pat McGarvey, and Jed Milroy. Though, some comparisons to the Battlefield Band are not entirely inaccurate. The only difference is a more roots-focused repertoire. The best part of Pencaitland is its catchy rhythms and earthy sounds. Oh, and the vocals are not that shabby either. Fans of bluegrass, folk, roots, and European acoustic music will love the tunes on Pencaitland. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tibet's Tenzin Choegyal

Tenzin Choegyal
Tibet: Awakened Heart
Laughing Buddha Music

Tenzin's birthplace of Tibet was only one location in his long line of residencies. Early on, he fled to Nepal and was raised in India. Nowadays, you can find Tenzin in Queensland, Australia. The new album opens with a mostly flute-driven piece on "Snow Lion." Tenzin and Nanaco provide vocals on other tracks, as "Snow Lion" is wholly instrumental. Tenzin's lute, or dranyen, are featured on "Medicine Buddha." On other tracks, the dranyen accompanies the Bansuri, flute, bass, keyboard, and drum programming. As a whole, the album is relatively contemporary without the loss of traditional customs and instrumental repertoire. Rather than a purely religious and vocal performance, the instruments provide a nice sound that is as majestic as the Himalayas. Though, "Nomad Song" is completely void of instrumentation, which does not diminish its musical impact. It is highly reminiscent of Mongolian or Kazakh singing traditions. The heavenly "Happiness Is..." is an instrumental track that contains some tabla and flute action with some electronic accompaniment that moves the piece into the 21st century. Essentially, your heart will be awakened with Tenzin. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Comoros Islands' Nawal

Embrace The Spirit
Milan Records

Hailing from the Comoros Islands off of Africa's Eastern shore, Nawal continues to dazzle us with her Sufi-inspired collection of songs. Throughout the album, Nawal's voice 'embraces the spirit' of humanity by transcending cultures, borders, and history. On "For A Dignified Humanity," Nawal sings about the plight of Tunisian men and women. The track also features some high-pitched ululation in the background indicative of African and Middle Eastern folk and religious music. A variety of soothing instrumentation accompanies the meditative vocalizations. For example, the gambusi, flute, mbira, and daf are a few of the instruments utilized. The mbira is especially intriguing on "Mama Baraka." The folksy "Breath Of The Sea" features a flute and rainstick-like shaker without any vocals. Peace and tranquility is the message of the album with several songs touching on mystic poetry, mantras, Shona poetry, and baraka (blessings). Compared to previous albums, Embrace The Spirit is a bit more traditional and low-key. Nonetheless, Nawal knows how to entertain our spirit and grace our presence with her divine musical prowess. ~ Matthew Forss   

CD Review: Portugal's Dazkarieh

Ruido do Silencio

Dazkarieh is the latest group to come out of Portugal with a mix of folk, rock, and European sensibilities. Ruido do Silencio, or 'Noise of Silence,' is an album that never sounds as good as its name -- probably better. In any case, the Portuguese vocals and instrumental segments cross-borders incorporating influences from Celtic traditions, operatic styles, and speed-folk. The operatic tone of "Tempo chao" is especially good. The speed-folk influences of "Sons de po," "Moda da ceifa II," and "Da minha janela" are energetic, but not overdone. The Portugues bagpipes really come alive on "Repasseado da calchada." The New Age/classical idiom that made Enya, Katie Melua, and Kristi Stassinopoulou applies to Dazkarieh with some exception, because Dazkarieh goes a step further with a mix of other styles, genres, and tones. At any rate, Ruido do Silencio is not only the noise of silence, but the noise of brillance, as well. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Zimbabwe's Mashasha

Elegwa Music

U.K.-based and Zimbabwe-native, Mashasha, is heating up the charts with his jazzy, folksy, and Afro-pop-centered, self-titled release. The stirring rhythms, Shona vocals, and guitar mastery are evidenced throughout the album's ten tracks. The liner notes contain English and Shona lyrics, which make it easy to follow along with the songs. The most striking comparisons to other musicians, notably Zimbabwean musicians, only include the famed guitarist and singer, Oliver Mtukudzi. The sincerity of "Baba" and the giddiness of "Huwi" makes Mashasha explode with creativity, class, and charisma. The jazzy, almost Latin elements of "Gutegu" resemble a bit of Fela Kuti with spoken word rhetoric amidst a catchy, rhythmic beat and choral voices from backup singers. The simplicity of "Mambakwedza" displays Mashasha's more intimate side with a very calming and quiet manner where Mashasha's soft voice and guitar-playing make striking comparisons to the warmth from the early morning sunshine on a Summer's day. Now Zimbabwe can be proud of another beaming light of wonder: Mashasha! ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: 2-CD Set - Marcus Strickland's 'Triumph Of The Heavy'

Triumph Of The Heavy [2 CD]

The jazzy leanings of Marcus Strickland are showcased on his latest 2-CD set of instrumental tunes. The basic foundational elements of a jazz quartet are present with David Bryant on piano, Ben Williams on bass, E.J. Strickland on drums, and Marcus Strickland on sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. Volume 1 contains ten instrumental tracks with names as diverse as "'Lectronic," "A Temptress' Gait," "Za Rahula," and "Bolt Bus Jitter" to name a few. Despite the somewhat odd names, the music shines with complex grooves that seem to float effortlessly in and out of different rhythms without any difficulty. Volume 2 continues the good music with seven more tracks. "Mudbone," "Gaudi," and "Cuspy's Delight" are especially entrancing. Marcus knows how to play with jazzy nostalgia and obtain excellent results. In short, Triumph Of The Heavy has mass 'sax' appeal that will be loved by session artists and jazz aficionados the world over. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, September 1, 2011

CD Review: Temple Bhajan Band's 'Bhakti Dance'

Bhakti Dance!

Independent Release

With the popularity of Krishna Das, MC Yogi, Mayapuris, and others, kirtan music has taken off in many different arenas and capacities. The Temple Bhajan Band is based in LA with band members from the Philippines, Tasmania, and the US. The typical kirtan repertoire is included here, but there is more to the harmonium/sitar/drum-structure usually attributed to these groups. In this case, Bhakti Dance! contains a cajon, which provides a bit of Latin accompaniment not often observed in kirtan music. The cello, bass, flute, sitar, tanpura, harmonium, djembe drum, guitar, and other instruments provide the instrumental foundation for the music. The Sanskrit songs are sometimes found on other recordings by different artists under different renditions; notably, "Hare Krishna" and "Loka Samasta." The Latin-tinged "Sri Krishna Caitanya" begins the journey. The folksy-country infused "Loka Samasta" is a pleasant ballad with Sanskrit and English vocals. Moreover, the song reflects a classic, Americana vein not usually found in kirtan music. Bhakti Dance! is a fun, spiritual, and expressive journey into the world of kirtan. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Captain Planet's 'Cookin' Gumbo'

Captain Planet

Cookin' Gumbo

You might think Captain Planet is named for the iconic comic hero. Instead, Captain Planet is a perfect title to describe the musical influences inherent throughout the tasty tracks on Cookin' Gumbo. As a first full-length album effort, Captain Planet (aka Charlie Bethel) creates supercharged music with funky beats, Latin elements, and African sensibilities within the context of an urban environment. Even South Asian influences can be found on 'Ram Ad Infinitum.' An LA-area singer, Brit Lauren, adds her voice, along with Congo's Fredy Massamba. The bossa-nova beats, contemporary urban electronica, and African hip-hop set the stage for a delicious romp on the wild side of the musical spectrum. Some of the tracks have good 'ol, nostalgic scratches at the beginning of the songs. Still, Cookin' Gumbo is an appetizing album with all the spice that life can drum up! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Green's 'Ways & Means'

Ways & Means

Hawaii's The Green is a pop-reggae band that infuses modern reggae roots with rock, jazz, and island flavors. 'Decisions' is a bit of a reggae-dance hit with similarities to Sweden's Ace Of Base and Maroon 5. Thirteen other hits round out the track-list with obvious nods to reggae's biggest stars, though The Green writes and composes original material. The pop-driven 'Gotta Be' is pure gold. The title track, 'Ways & Means,' takes a laid-back approach to reggae songwriting with a slower tune and vocals indicative of St. Lucia's Taj Weekes. The English lyrics and reggae-based repertoire borders on rock, folk, pop, and dance, which never seems to be a challenge for these guys. The pop hooks and clever looks make The Green stand-out among the reggae roster of the world. Ways & Means is the best new music to be released in the reggae genre this year! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: MonoMono's 'The Dawn Of Awareness'


The Dawn Of Awareness

The second release by Nigeria's MonoMono was originally released on LP in 1974. Thankfully, the folks at Tummy Touch Records revived the music of MonoMono, which features the work of Joni Haastrup and his friend, Baba Ken Okulolo. The original six songs are presented on this rerelease. The blues, rock, psychedelia, and funk elements are quite pronounced throughout. The instrumental segments are especially intriguing, as they set the stage for a perfect soundtrack to lounge around, dance, or trip-out. The down-tempo elements of 'Make Them Realise,' cnojures up comparisons to the North American group, Action Figure Party. The soul of Yoruban funk emanates from the tracks without causing boredom or sleepy episodes. The Dawn Of Awareness is a little more blues and rock-driven than the previous release. Still, MonoMono knows how to move those feet with rewarding results. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: MonoMono's 'Give The Beggar A Chance'


Give The Beggar A Chance

Nigeria's Joni Haastrup created his band called MonoMono back in 1971. Though not truly a solo sojourn, Joni's friend Baba Ken Okulolo, who is also a bassist, added to the funk arena of West Africa. Initially released as an LP on the Odeon label in 1973, Give The Beggar A Chance featured seven tracks of funky rhythms and Latin infusions amidst an instrumental repertoire of organ, piano, synthesizer, percussion, and drums, set the stage for a new kind of jazz-rock-funk. Joni is joined by guitarist Jimmy Adams, and percussionists Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo. At the very core of its being, the soul of the 70's shines through in MonoMono's work. The bluesy-funk of 'The World Might Fall Over,' showcases a nice blend of bass, organ, and synthesizer with strong vocals. If you are seeking Afro-funk music from a living icon, then sample MonoMono today. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Joni Haastrup's reissue 'Wake Up Your Mind'

Wake Up Your Mind

Nigerian-born and US-based funk king, Joni Haastrup, released a wicked LP on the Afrodesia imprint back in London in 1978. The LP titled Wake Up Your Mind contained the same six tracks on the current reissue from Tummy Touch. Joni's funk-driven form of music contains the classic bass-lines, instrumental grooves, and lively vocals characteristic of other performers of the time. 'Greetings' is a jazzy, funk-riddled song with equal amounts of down-tempo and African elements. The title track, 'Wake Up Your Mind,' is more of a social concern song with all the funk one can stand. 'Champions & Superstars' is a jazzy, bass-heavy, and funky song with more of an American musical feel. 'Do The Funkro' is littered with funkisms, glorious harmonies, and Fela Kuti-like similarities. In fact, Fela Kuti might be the most influential musician here. The last track, 'Watch Out,' is a bit of classic funk with rock thrown in to keep the mood high. Fans of Tirogo, Psychedelic Aliens, and other African 70's funk music will find Joni's latest reissue very satisfying. English vocals are present on all of the tracks. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Anyango's 'Tei Molo' Out Late September 2011

Tei Molo
Jowi Music

(Cover Art Not Yet Available)

Japan's only nyatiti performer brings us her latest work with Kenyan melodies, Latin influences, and Varttina-like singing on Tei Molo. The nyatiti is an eight-stringed lyre indigenous to Eastern Africa. Anyango plays it with a sweet and sincere intensity that infuses a touch of magic on each track. As a vocalist, Anyango sings in the native Dholuo language of Kenya. The fifteen tracks represent a range of New Age, folk, and traditional elements that are not particularly 'Japanese'. If you are seeking a Japanese music recording, you will have to search elsewhere. Though, Anyango's musical talents extend far beyond borders and cultural origins. In short, her music is universal with a general appeal to African music fans. Additionally, the music possesses a slight funkiness that will happify even the most discriminating listener. Tei Molo is filled with luscious harmonies, stunning instrumental work, and a gentle charisma that should satisfy with earshot of the music. ~ Matthew Forss