Friday, December 21, 2012

CD Review: Aykanna's 'Mantra Mala'

Mantra Mala

Aykanna creates moving meditative pieces of music with light instrumentation and percussion with Sanskrit vocals and yoga spirit that is refreshing and serene. The nine tracks contain male and female vocals that are repeated and chanted in parts, but the instruments have a voice of their own. There is guitar, dun dun, bass, rhodes, steel guitar, cello, sarangi, keyboard, sitara, dombek, raf, riq, and congas that add some texture to the melodies. There is a Middle Eastern presence, which is probably due to the instruments. However, yoga music is at the heart of the recording with soulful and blissful rhythms that will awaken and then calm the human spirit. Mantra Mala is an engaging release for fans of yoga music, kirtan, and relaxing music with pop, new age, and jazz styles. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Wah!'s 'Opening To Bliss'

Opening To Bliss
Sounds True

The music of Wah! is rich with bliss and steeped in meditative qualities inherent in yoga practices and kirtan performances. However, Wah! tones it down a bit and reflects on mostly previously-released material from Saravasana, Saravasana 2, and Saravasana 3 albums. The music is highly-meditative and soaring with glistening whistles, assorted percussion, string drones, and electronic keyboards. Anyone familiar with Wah! will notice her vocal inflections right away. Her previous release, Maa (2010), was a more upbeat yoga pop collection, which is not what Opening To Bliss tries to be. This is meditative music with some throat-singing and an eclectic mix of peaceful instrumentation that is sure to astound everyone who listens to it. There are eleven total tracks that run nearly one hour and ten minutes long. Most of the music is in Sanskrit. Don't miss the bliss with Wah! ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Music Review: Matt Rod's 'Rubix EP'

Matt Rod
Rubix EP

The South African-native and California-based singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Matt Rod, releases a set of four singles with different melodies, styles, and influences. However, Matt's primary influence tends to incorporate dance music elements, especially on "I'm No Lady" and "Someone To Hold My Hand." "Someone To Hold My Hand" features the gentle guitar opening and airy vocals indicative of Jack Johnson or John Mayer. The music features Mario Jose. The breezy melody is infectious and soulful. The dance-friendly, "I'm No Lady," features the vocals of Christina Brehm and Vice V for a truly upbeat concoction of catchy vocals and melodies rich with sonic textures of keyboards and other electronic devices. "Days Of Our Youth" features the hip hop vocals of Vice V and a sweeping melody that is refreshing and contemporary. "Like A Record" features the vocals of Hannah Juliano. The music is more pop/rock than dance overall. The folksy vocals and classic rhythms incorporate drums, bass, and guitars. The vocals are reminiscent of Carrie Underwood, but they are a little more mature and rock-centered. Overall, this is a fine set of singles that reflect a wide range of contemporary styles. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Xera's 'Llume'


Xera, a Spanish music group, brings us a slew of earthly and seemingly unearthly songs that incorporate a plethora of instruments and sounds.  The styles are somewhat electronic, spacey, contemporary, and archaic.  The atmospheric sounds reflect a new age presence, but the heavy industrial tones and folk melodies suggest a more balanced act of modern and classic music that fits somewhere in-between world beat and world fusion. “Alo” opens with a long, extended vocal medley of virtually unchanging vocal tones.  The female voice is solo early on until mid-song, where keyboard washes and some jingly percussion take over.  The single female voice is basically unaccompanied, but the voice is joined by back-up vocals in a similar vein near the end of the song.  This song is more of a display of folk music than anything contemporary.  However, the electronic washes and percussion display some aspect of modernity. “Vientos” begins with a blurby, electronic whirring sound and a shape-shifting breezy noise with the rustic wavering of a hurdy-gurdy type instrument.  An acoustic guitar begins where the intro noises leave off, but the electronic washes do not disappear.  A free-floating female vocalist adds some tonal color to the song with keyboard accompaniment.  Suddenly, the music dives into a European whirlwind of folk idioms with lively acoustic guitar, string work, and plucked and keyed noises that get the heart and feet moving.  The female vocal returns with atmospheric washes and quivers of strings that end in an amazing kaleidoscopic finale of folk and electronica. Interestingly, the music is rather folk-centric overall. “Yo Quixera” begins with a choral performance and a solo spoken male voice in the foreground. There is an electronic wash and blurby sound that represents a bit of Spanish or Latin techno/down-tempo concoctions that are spacey, spicey, and evocative.  The string-like tones provide a sense of classicism in an age of modernity.  There are electronic bagpipe sounds that effervesce in-between the electronic washes and bubbly choral voices.  There is a lot going on, but Xera seems to keep everything united and engaging. “Camin” opens with a bit of electronic and industrial-like percussion that is a somewhat tribal beat, but in a more avant-garde manner.  The instrumental opening contains a sense of folk elements that incorporate ruddy guitars and rumbling atmospheric washes.  The post-apocalyptic mishmash of sounds comes to life mid-song, as the Nordic fiddling matches the driving percussion.  The background choral sounds are archaic and futuristic with random shouts, didgeridoo-like noises, and Scandinavian-type roots music with a good dose of folk/rock to go around. “Mio Fonte” opens with an angelic electronic wash of choral voices and soft, sparkling bell-like tones that weave in and out of the heavens.  The washes accompany some folksy vocals that contain background choral tones and crystalline, yet fluid, melodies and intonations.  The new age and folk-centered track incorporates a buzzy, bell-like sound that creates a magical atmosphere.  Some of the vocals are intentionally drowned out mid-song to allow the instrumental elements room to breathe, before the sparkling tones and spacey washes give way to a more heady, industrial and mechanical output.  The quivering fiddle accompanies the heavier tones with ease. Xera’s new release, Llume, is a dark, swirling mix of upbeat, contemplative, and heady tunes that fill a void in the world of fusion and new age-based music.  The mix of instruments and almost indistinguishable voicings makes some of the tracks stand out with unquenchable appeal.  The sounds, tones, melodies, rhythms, and instrumental segments are all appropriate and memorable. Fans of new age, electronica, folk, Scandinavian, Spanish, and fusion music will love Xera’s new forward-thinking release. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Tchiya Amet's 'Celestial Folk Music'

Tchiya Amet
Celestial Folk Music
Milky Way Records

The soothing, world beat music of America's Tchiya Amet combines soulful reggae rhythms, jazzy melodies, and various instrumental medleys that encapsulate innovative and engaging musical creations. Tchiya's voice is whispy and airy--similar in tone to Sade's voice. The new release of sixteen songs contains a bit of afro-funk and afro-latin rhythms and melodies. The laid-back vocal delivery and ear-friendly percussion, guitars, bass, keyboards, and other instruments make the entire album stand out. The reggae and funk-tinged, "Po Tolo" is a good example of reverberating beats and a sultry vocal line. The reggae-influenced "Great Purification," provides a throbbing organ sound and languid percussion beats with sultry flute. "Ast Maat: R U Sirius Enuff" is a more upbeat, hip-hop-focused tune with jazzy vocals, fluid melodies, and a reggae pulse. "Equinox" opens with a funky sax and languid bass line. Tchiya's breezy vocals represent a bit of Brazilian pop with similar instrumentation from the same region. However, Tchiya knows how to make the music shine in multiple genres. As a whole, Celestial Folk Music contains blissful folk music with strong reggae, funk, jazz, new age, and world beat ties. The fluid vocals are classy and Sade-esque. The melodies, rhythms, and instrumental solos are outstanding. This is a perfect companion for world beat, world jazz, world reggae, and folk music with an ethnic twist and cosmic origin. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, December 13, 2012

CD Review: Vandana Vishwas' 'Monologues'

Vandana Vishwas

The Indo-Canadian roots of Vandana Vishwas are clearly evidenced on her sophomore release, Monologues. Contrary to the initial tone of the title, there are songs on the album with good vocalizations and the same songs steeped in Hindustani classical music, Persian melodies, and Urdu poetic masterpieces. The upbeat music is driven by tabla drums, but the unmistakable drone of the sitar is also present, along with sax, flute, guitar, piano, and keyboard. The floating vocals are classical and contemporary in the same vein. It seems Lata Mangeshkar comes to mind on the vocals, but in a much more contemporary way. However, the music is not Hindi pop/dance music. It is influenced by global wanderings and a rich, South Asian heritage in the musical arts. The scintillating melodies and dreamy percussion tracks are outstanding. Nothing is questionable here. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Arto Jarvela & Kaivama's Self-Titled Release

Arto Jarvela & Kaivama
Arto Jarvela & Kaivama
Oart Musick

The Finnish-American folk duo, Kaivama, which is comprised of Sara Pajunen on fiddle and vocals and Jonathan Rundman on acoustic guitar, harmonium, mandolin, piano and vocals, is joined by Finnish-native, Arto Jarvela. Arto is a skilled fiddler, singofiddler, and esseharpaist. There are thirteen tracks that are mostly instrumental, but the vocals are as spritely as the fiery fiddling. The drone of the harmonium and uppity ambiance of the fiddle brings together two unifying sounds of splendid brilliance and folkish flare. Fans of folk music, Finnish music, and Scandinavian roots music will love the sweeping melodies and upbeat rhythms throughout the album. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Urna's 'Portrait: The Magical Voice From Mongolia'

Portrait: The Magical Voice of Mongolia

Urna is an Inner Asian songstress from the great, vast expanse of Mongolia. With ties to China and Western Europe, Urna employs a range of instrumentation that represents Inner Asian genres. The violin, zither, sheng, cello, zarb, udo, viola, accordion, morin huur, sax, guitar, and assorted percussion make up the instrumental repertoire on many of the songs. The spacious acoustics and free-flowing vocals are not particularly throat-singing examples. This is classic, Mongolian vocal and instrumental music that is calm, reserved, and contemplative. It is not rigid, boring, or plain. The music is similar in tone to contemporary examples coming out of Nepal and Tibet. Yungchen Lhamo is a similar comparison. At any rate, the thirteen tracks and one hour of music are a joy for fans of Inner Asian folk music. Liner notes are in German, English, and French. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Bhakti Fest' [2-CD]

Various Artists
Bhakti Fest
White Swan Records

The new double-disc recording, Bhakti Fest, highlights some of the most memorable and Om-inspired kirtan tracks from the genre's biggest stars. You will hear Jai Uttal, David Newman, Sean Johnson, Sita, C.C. White, Govindas & Radha, Prema Hara, and The Mayapuris. There are trance-inducing tracks with repetitive mantras and soul-calming melodies. The driving melodies of simiplistic percussion, harmonium, some guitars, and angelic vocals make the music come to life. There are four tracks per disc, but the release as a whole is not too short at an hour-and-a-half. The melodies and rhythms have lasting effects for sure. The glorious vocals and immersive quality of the music is without a doubt one of the best kirtan releases of the year. If you want to add a little bliss in your life; then Bhakti Fest is the key. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars' 'Radio Salone'

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
Radio Salone

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars are an incredible world music and afro-beat group of musicians that continue to astound listeners with each release. The newest release, Radio Salone, contains a host of catchy, groovy, and funk-laden songs with some afro-latin percussion and good 'ol African funk. There are sixteen tracks and loads of fun for the entire family. The gritty grooves and danceable hooks are ripe with African flavors and musical styles. The percussion and vocals are top-notch with little in the way of creative imperfections. The highly-percussive instrumentation, contemporary grooves, and soulful funk with indigenous melodies and styles makes Radio Salone a hit with all who listen to it. Fans of afro-beat, West African pop music, dance music, and innovative afro-pop will love Radio Salone. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Eric EQ Young's 'Just 4 You'

Eric EQ Young
Just 4 You

The sultry soul sounds of Eric's slap bass, the heady percussion section, jazzy horns, and magnificent keyboards celebrate the funky, urban, down-tempo chill genres with effortless fluidity and absolute humility. The handful of songs represent a mature musical expression that only comes from years of instrumental playing and innovative musicianship. "Dance With Me" opens with some jazzy elements and industrial, metallic, urban funk sounds. The dance track is beaming with groovy hooks and back-up vocals that find a happy medium accompanying Eric's lead vocals.  "Just 4 You" is a more relaxed, down-tempo song that shimmers with jazz, funk, and soul inflections that include some reverberating B3 sounds, glistening percussion accents, and soulful vocals. "Let's Ride" is a more upbeat jazzy track that includes some piano keys, danceable percussion, and groovy leanings that border on jazz, soul, and funk all the way. The slap bass solo near the end of the song is a stand-out performance. The music is full of infectious hooks, riffs, and licks that are never grating or boring. Fans of jazz, funk, urban, soul, gospel, and contemporary pop music will find the relatively small collection of songs to be very enthralling and refreshing. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, December 7, 2012

CD Review: Super Hi-Fi's 'Dub To The Bone'

Super Hi-Fi
Dub To The Bone
Electric Cowbell Records

The jazzy and funk-laden songs on Dub To The Bone are anything but traditional. In fact, the songs reflect a futuristic tone with swishy percussion, reggae-type beats, fuzzy electronic adornments, urban soul, and classic, brass instruments. The fun music is mostly instrumental, but there are instances where some vocals are present. The trippy, dub-ridden music is not too harsh or boring overall. The dubified music is electric, danceable, and perfect for lounging. Despite the short tracklist of only eight songs, Dub To The Bone does not disappoint with light dub inflections and moving rhythms that border on jazzy, afro-beat. Anyone with a jazzy hankering for unique and fresh music from a dub perspective will love the music of Super Hi-Fi’s latest venture. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family Band with Univ. of Mary Washington's Philharmonic Orchestra's 'A Fiddler's Holiday'

Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family Band
A Fiddler's Holiday

The end of the year boasts numerous holidays and celebrations--many of them, musical. Jay Ungar and Molly Mason join the University of Mary Washington Philharmonic Orchestra for an outstanding live performance of over one dozen toe-tapping instrumental tunes that celebrate the holiday season after Thanksgiving. There are no vocals, but some of the song introductions contain background on the songs. The soulful fiddling, folksy-picking, and pensive piano with galloping percussion in the Celtic, European, and Folk-driven genres. There are danceable tunes throughout with little in the way for relaxing. However, some of the tunes are somber and reflective, but the vocals on "Darkest Days, Brightest Nights" are sweet and evocative. Anyone with an interest in live folk recordings with a Celtic edge honoring Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice, etc. will love it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Meditative Massage Music'

Various Artists
Meditative Massage Music
White Swan Records

The wholly instrumental release, Meditative Massage Music, is ideal for relaxing, yoga, listening, and thinking. It is reflective and blissful with a host of White Swan Records musicians, including Omkar, Gary Stroutsos, Damien Rose, Prem Joshua, Stevin McNamara, and others. The music is slow and meandering. The fluid movements of aural sound envelope the listener as the music soars to new heights. There are guitars, keyboards, Indian percussion, and Tibetan musical instruments that set the tone of great brilliance. The music is much more reduced than other contemporary releases that focus primarily on upbeat, urban, and hip-hop elements. As a whole, Meditative Massage Music is spot-on with reflective sounds and dreamy tones that awaken the spirit and encapsulate the soul. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Yogabeat'

Various Artists
Black Swan Records

The folks at Black Swan Records have produced one of the most prestigious recordings of yoga beats aptly-titled, Yogabeat, which traverses the inner souls of the world's people with catchy beats, chakra-rockin' grooves, and dub-tastic melodies. The thirteen-track release features the Sanskrit-inspired, globe-trekking of DJ Drez, Srikala, MC Yogi, Dum Dum Project, Desert Dwellers, Adham Shaikh, Bole 2 Harlem, Sharon Gannon, Avasa/Matty Love, David Newman, Lazy Hammock, and EarthRise SoundSystem. The urban beats are contemporary, but not too steeped in urbanism. Importantly, the soulful yoga sounds reflect a South Asian influence with Hindi appeal and a world fusion appearance that emanates from the hip-hop-type music. Some of the musicians are on other albums, but this recording is mostly original. Over one hour of music will satisfy many listeners with a yoga ear, but it is important to note this is upbeat, danceable, and dreamy music with a purpose--a purpose to inspire, delight, and love it wholeheartedly. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, November 16, 2012

CD Review: Elisa Brown's 'New World'

Elisa Brown
New World

Soprano singer, Elisa Brown, produces a diverse array of classically-inspired songs with various jazz, rock, folk, Celtic, and new age elements in a world beat stew.  The international vocal arrangements reflect Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Indian cultural subtexts with varied vocals from various international sources.  The varied instrumentation and classical music base is characteristic throughout.  Eleven songs reflect a world music presence that is encompassing, engaging, and full of rich sonic textures. “Invocation” opens with blissful trickles of crystalline and metallic sounds and Elisa’s spoken word lines.  Mid-song, a single vocal line is repeated, but in different languages, including French, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Hindi, Hebrew, and English.  There are very little instrumental additions.  The entire song is rather dreamy, inspirational, and thought-provoking, but the power of poetry is most evident. “Cullins of Rhum” begins with a scintillating, Scottish guitar line, weeping violin, and sweeping electronic accompaniment that creates a full sound throughout.  The melody is also Celtic-driven with soaring vocals indicative of a mature Orla Fallon.  There are even bird sounds to lighten the melody and mood mid-song.  The song is rather sweeping with giddy guitar work and sparkling vocals throughout.  Fans of Scottish, Celtic, or Euro-folk will find this track most fitting. “We Are So Much More” opens with a keyboard wash and a few guitar strums with narrated spoken words and an upbeat percussion set.  Elisa’s clear, soprano vocals create a beautiful Celtic Woman or Ronan Hardiman result, while the keyboard washes and dance beat suggests similarities with the instrumental efforts of Enigma.  The mix of Elisa’s clear vocals, narrated portions, and vibraphone sound effects create a magnificent result that is majestic, ear-pleasing, and memorable.  The chorus is symphonic, danceable, and rich with fluid and sonic textures. One of the last few choruses features the sound of a younger voice, which represents a wide vocal spectrum throughout the song.  This is one of the best contemporary world music tracks ever produced…bar none. “Theme for Music for Life NYC” features a jazzy, Latin-tinged percussion section, and an effervescent vocal line that is operatic in its delivery, but warm in its reception.  The sweeping violin and fiery acoustic guitar work showcase Elisa’s varied song textures and styles incorporating a more world beat sound.  The flamenco-type song is full of danceable flavors and Spanish lingo.  There is even a few electric guitar squeals near the end of the song for a slight rock presence.  Fans of Latin, Spanish, and world jazz will love this one. “Namaste Fever” is brimming with eerie violin, percussive drums, additional sound effects, and an almost continual chant of the song title throughout.  The violin picks up some speed and sound intensity, while the percussion delves into a more upbeat tempo with jingly tins, metal, and cymbals.  The sounds are interrupted with a little didgeridoo, B3, and trilling electronica.  The song contains a little Celtic ambiance with a traditionally Hindu phrase in Sanskrit.  This is ideal for the world fusion fan with a hankering for Celtically-inspired yoga dance. “Ave Maria: Mother of the Light” begins with a meandering, upbeat melody with Elisa’s operatic vocals leading the charge on the traditional song.  The Latin lyrics are sung throughout, but not for the last line.  The music is supercharged with heavenly light and bliss with sonic sounds of beauty from strings, percussion, and keyboards.  The cascade of vocal melodies and arrangements produces an orchestral and operatic affect that is very enthralling. Overall, Elisa Brown’s new work, New World, is a marked achievement in the world music, new age, and world beat genres.  Elisa’s ability to change from operatic to pop vocal patterns creates a versatile recording.  The eleven songs represent a wide range of vocal and instrumental styles that should appeal to a diverse listening audience.  The help of Grammy Award-winning producer, Barry Goldstein, adds another dimension to the album that only increases its desirability.  Ultimately, the music is what will keep listeners coming back for more.  The new world has arrived and Elisa Brown is leading the musical revolution. ~ Matthew Forss     

CD Review: The Mickey Finns' 'Prayers and Idle Chatter'

The Mickey Finns
Prayers and Idle Chatter
Mankeltray Music

The Celtically-inspired gospel, punk, bluegrass, and folk collective, The Mickey Finns, creates an inspirational, upbeat, and refreshing album of excellent music. The opener, "Return of The Prodigal Son," is an energetic gospel-bluegrass tune with Celtic fiddle and guitar work. The seasoned vocals make the song shine with Celtic pride. "Tanks and Barbed Wire" is a slower tune with fiddle, percussion, and guitar. "The Jester" is a playful tune with lively strings, percussion, guitar, and plucked instruments. The vocals are good and the melody is upbeat and classy. The Celtic-bluegrass connection is not that far away here. "Be Minor" is an upbeat instrumental track with bass, fiddle, percussion, and jiggy guitar. The music is contemporary, but not electronic or dance-laden in that regard. However, a little toe-tapping is expected, along with some head-nodding. Anyone with an interest in contemporary Celtic music with an ear for bluegrass, gospel, punk, and folk idioms will love The Mickey Finns. I give it a 5 out of 5. ~ Matthew Forss 

Friday, November 9, 2012

CD Review: Sarazino's 'Everyday Salama'

Everyday Salama

Hailing from Algeria, Sarazino makes good use of international rhythms and song styles, readily traversing urban hip hop, Latin-beat, and Afro-beat worlds. The music is highly-contemporary and upbeat with help from a plethora of guest artists, including Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, Novalima, Andrea Ruilova, Luisa Maita, Isidro Garcia, Bacha Ortiz, Amparo Sanchez, Sabina Sciubba, Rootz Underground, and Niyo Pumpin. All of the tracks are outstanding without any faults. Fans of Latin and Afro-beat music will love Sarazino's sizzling new release with help from a few friends. Everyone is on top here. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mercedes Bahleda's ' Path To Bliss'

Mercedes Bahleda
Path To Bliss
White Swan

Based in New York, Mercedes Bahleda incorporates meditative mantras with Hindu, Sanskrit, and yoga-inspired overtones into remarkable kirtan songs. There are seven songs that run about a total length of one-hour. There are loads of heavenly vocals and instruments. For instance, the harmonium, tabla, djembe, violin, cello, guitar, tampura, kalimba, and piano make an appearance on several tracks. The upbeat tracks present the listener with soul-inspiring and soul-defining songs and harmonic textures that transport anyone who listens to the message into the outer realms of humanity. A skilled teacher of devotional music, yoga, and meditation, Mercedes is glad to perform blissful music and teach it to fellow listeners. This is an album that will be loved for all that it is...and more. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Silvana Kane's 'La Jardinera'

Silvana Kane
La Jardinera
Six Degrees

Born in Peru and based in Canada, the soft-spoken and brilliant Silvana Kane creates a beautiful medley of folksy, South American-tinged compositions that are cheery, poppy, and ballad-esque. The slow, meandering folk song, "Duerme Negrito," is a good song with minimal percussion and instrumentation that is led by Silvana's voice and a distorted guitar. The playful, "La Jardinera," is a sweet song with bird sounds and a light guitar melody. The soft songs are reminiscent of nearby Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The sweet voice of Silvana is matched by her good looks, which happen to resemble Jordana Brewster - an actress and another South American-native. However, Silvana is not acting here; her music is genuine all the way. Additionally, the ten songs are highly recommended for fans of Peruvian and Brazilian music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Karthala 72's 'Diable Du Feu!'

Karthala 72
Diable Du Feu!
Electric Cowbell

Karthala 72 is a mysterious group from the 1970s originating somewhere in Eastern Africa. The annals of history reveals a funky, psychedelic, and rock-driven type of music that is the ultimate in Afro-beat music. The instrumental tunes resonate loudly with African percussion, fuzzy guitar stylings, and electric beats that are raw and uncensored. The organic music is rich with melodies and eerie sounds that will get any pulse racing and feet moving. If Afro-beat greatness is not enough, then you are in for a treat with ten killer remixes. Anyone with an interest in funky, Afro-beat will love Karthala 72. This is mostly instrumental, too. Funkadelic, psychedelic, and dope-adelic all the way. Sizzling tunes with rootsy, almost futuristic electronic sounds. Amazing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Leni Stern's 'Smoke No Fire'

Leni Stern
Smoke No Fire

New York's Leni Stern is a singer and instrumentalist with a passion for the n'goni. As a vocalist, n'goni player, guitarist, and percussionist, Leni creates evocative songs with a bluesy, African, and folk sensibility. The guest rap vocals on a track or two are particularly inviting. The folksy stylings of the n'goni, guitar, and vocals are amazing throughout. Leni is fluent in English and Bambara. The ten songs are perfect for anyone interested in North African fusion, blues, and folk music. There is something for everyone on here. The music is never dull or univiting. The sounds awaken a deep, cultural presence in the instruments and the vocals. This is perfect for fans of Bassekou Kouyate and Boolumbal. A nice gift for anyone interested in North African music! ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, November 8, 2012

CD/LP Review: Various Artists' 'Diablos Del Ritmo' 2-CD/2-LP Set

Various Artists
Diablos Del Ritmo
Analog Africa

Analog Africa's latest release, Diablos Del Ritmo, is a 2-CD or 2-LP set of historic African-tinged Colombian music. Part 1 contains mainly afro-beat, funk, terapia, and palenque music, while Part 2 contains more specific, traditional styles, including porro, gaita, puya, cumbiamba, mapale, and chande. The music is taken from 1960-1985. This is a historic set of songs with numerous artists contributing, including Wganda Kenya, Grupo Abharca, Abelardo Carbono, Andres Landero, Cumbia Soledena, Conjunto Son San, and many others. The music is highly danceable, trance-inducing, and psychedelic. The Latin and African funk sounds are memorable, addictive, and a pleasure to experience with each listen. The thirty-two tracks come alive with a deep cultural significance regarding Colombian music as a whole. The CD and LP set comes with a 60-page booklet with 40 old photographs and 24 interviews. Anyone with a sincere interest in Colombian, Afro-Caribbean, and Latin music should check out this compilation. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Empresarios' 'El Sonido Magico'

El Sonido Magico
Fort Knox

Washington, DC's Empresarios know how to rock the world with tropical beats, electronic horns, languid melodies, and dance-floor dubs better than any group out there. The blazing horns, sparkling keys, airy flutes, urban beats, and thick percussion signal a great recording from each repeated listen. The gritty beats and in-your-face-lyrics are Spanish and fiery to the touch. There are thirteen upbeat tracks to feast on. There are salsa, dub, cumbia, house, trance, reggae, rock, electronica, and urban music styles represented here. Fans of contemporary Latin downtempo and Latin-beat music will love Empresarios' latest recording. I'm impressed with Empresarios. You will be, too. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Domenico's 'Cine Prive'

Cine Prive
Plug Research

Domenico's Brazilian and Italian heritage shine through on the contemporary and easy listening release, Cine Prive (Private Cinema). The sonic textures are rhythmic, nostalgic, bossa nova-inspired, and electronic without any worries of where the music can go. The music is littered with friendly little nuances that are blurby, dance-ready, trippy, and avant-garde to the hilt. The minimalist percussion and instrumentation is not a deterrent, as the vocals set the stage for engaging tracks and happy melodies that possess inner and outer beauty. The almost absurdist embellishments are relatively cohesive and pleasant throughout. This is one of the most exciting albums from Brazil I have ever come across. Own it today. Your ears will thank you. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Zekuhl's 'I Bolo'

I Bolo
Bolbo Art

Cameroonian-raised and Canadian-born, Zekuhl is a singer, guitarist, and prominent nkuu (wood drum) player that plays a Bolbo-Jazz style of music. The music incorporates several indigenous rhythms and genres, including assiko, bolbo, bikutsi, ndin, mangambeu, makossa, mbale, and mpeya. Based on local traditions and fused with jazz, Zekuhl creates a wonderful pop music of Afrobeat and soukous concoctions. Though entirely fresh and unique, Zekuhl is good enough to draw fans from Afro-pop and world fusion. Fans of African music, Cameroonian jazz, and afro-beat will love the danceable beats and rhythms of Zekuhl. Vocals in Basaa, English, and French. Twelve tracks in all. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Seda Bagcan's 'Sunrise'

Seda Bagcan
Spirit Voyage

Turkish-born and German-based, Seda Bagcan creates moving Central Asian-tinged tunes reflecting a yogic presence and Sanskrit vocals. Yoga music lovers will appreciate the wistful and airy melodies, but the piano and some Central Asian percussion and strings take over. This is not your typical kirtan music, but then again, what is typical nowadays? At any rate, the music is mantra based and highly reflective. The soul-stirring voice of Seda is heavenly and blissful. The new album contains eight songs that are a mix of yogic, tantra-based music and Central Asian or Middle-Eastern-tinged elements. The result is a very good album that is easy to listen to for any relaxing or meditative occasion. Seda Bagcan is a talented songstress that knows how to focus on music with a purpose. Sunrise is good from sun-up to sun-down. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Simon Spire's 'Uncomfortable'

Simon Spire

Born in New Zealand and based in New York City, Simon Spire is a great pop singer and guitarist with a knack for creating moving, upbeat, and catchy songs that are memorable and anything but uncomfortable. The clear vocals and good riffs are nothing to shake a stick at. "Today" is an upbeat pop-rock tune with full guitar sounds, harmony-laden vocals, and sparkling electronic additions that make the music shine with contemporary qualities. "The Blue Pill" contains a little piano accompaniment and a rousing vocal performance with limited percussion and instrumentation. "Liberate Your Love" contains an upbeat, dance melody with guitars, drums, and bass. Overall, the vocals are somewhere between Michael Stipe (REM) and Fountains Of Wayne. Check it out today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kardemimmit's 'Autio Huvila'

Autio Huvila

The kantele, a plucked zither indigenous to Finland, is the primary instrument in Kardemimmit's repertoire, but they also include harmonicas, double bass, guitar, and bouzouki. The group is comprised of four young ladies from Finland. They are excellent vocalists and professional kantele players in Finland and beyond. The music is traditional folk music that is vocally similar to another Finnish folk group, Varttina. However, Kardemimmit does not utilize as many instruments as Varttina. The sweet vocals are a perfect match for the scintillating kantele strings. The harp-like tonal qualities are very relaxing and engaging. The liner notes include Finnish lyrics only, but song summaries are in English. This is a great album for folk music fans with an interest in Scandinavia. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: JuJu's 'In Trance'

In Trance
Real World

JuJu is the collaboration of England's Justin Adams and Gambia's Juldeh Camara. Justin is a guitarist that also plays the bendir. Juldeh is the lead vocalist, ritti player, and talking drum aficionado. The duo are backed by Billy Fuller on bass, backing vocals, Dave Smith on drums and assorted percussion, and Martyn Barker on drums and cajon. The seven-track release is a mix of jazz, rock, African fusion, and blues. There is also an element of psy-trance - hence the title. However, there is much similarity to various North African guitar groups and the late-Ali Farka Toure. The ambulating beats are spacious and raw. The intense guitar riffs, crazy sounds of organic noise, and African vocals make In Trance a suitable recording for North African guitar band fans and world fusion with a good dose of blues, rock, and 'other'. Think of an amped up Master Musicians of Jajouka. It is very en-trancing! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: International String Trio's 'Movie Night'

International String Trio
Movie Night

A star-studded cast of musicians present us with an array of instrumental tunes from familiar films, but the music is created with a classy repertoire of guitar, bass, and violin. Ben Powell on violin, Slava Tolstoy on guitar, and Ippei Ichimaru on bass, round out the international group of musicians on the new album. Stemming from Russia, Japan, and England, the musicians grace the songs with an international flair and cultural display of cinematic performances. The music is not exactly note for note on each filmic tune, but the basic melodies are still there. You will here music from Forrest Gump, Latcho Drom, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singin' In The Rain, Chocolat, Schindler's List, Anastasia, Eyes Wide Shut, Laura, Doctor Zhivago, and Ken Burns' The Civil War. The music is very classical, jazzy, and tango-driven. The fusion-style is relatively pronounced throughout, but the classical undertones are paramount. Fans of filmic scores, instrumental tunes, and classical music will love the International String Trio. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This Land is Your Land: Woody at 100 (Arlo Guthrie and Friends)

For me, one of the biggest treats of the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival was the chance to see Arlo Guthrie live.

"This Land if Your Land" was one of the best workshops I have ever attended at the EFMF. In honour of what would have been folk music icon Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday, his son Arlo and a host of fellow musicians and family members took to the stage to perform classic Woody songs (and a few Arlo ones too!).

Hearing Jerry Gray (The Travellers) perform the Canadian version of "This Land Is Your Land" was a real treat. Many do not know there is another version of that famous song, but my generation grew up learning it in school. Seeing Arlo join in was awesome - truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Most of Arlo's classic songs came later on in the evening during his set on the main stage with his family. However, the Guthrie legacy of father and son will forever be entwined. This workshop breathed new life into the songs of Woody Guthrie. I can't think of a better way to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

CD Review: Mark Etheredge's 'Change Coming'

Mark Etheredge
Change Coming
Vipaka Records

California-based singer and musician, Mark Etheredge, brings us a contemporary pop/rock production of twelve funk, jazzy, and soulful compositions that feature great percussion, jazzy keyboards and light vocals that are somewhere between Jack Johnson and Ben Folds. "The Other Man" features soulful vocals, funky keyboards, and persistent percussion that is jazzy and smooth all the way through. The bluesy and jazzy guitar work is glittering with cheerful sound. "Room To Room" is a soulful piano ballad that is heartfelt and genuine without much in the way of additional instrumentation or accompanying vocals. "Hot Tub" is a quirky jazz-focused tune with funky rhythms and female backup vocals with Mark's voice leading the charge. The upbeat tune does not stray too far from his roots. "Change Coming" opens with a breezy, piano melody ripe with easy listening percussion and reverberating organ sounds. The sax brings the tune alive near the end of the song. Overall, Mark's full-length release is something that is refreshing and different than the average Top 40 material today. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Anya Parker-Lentz' 'The Giving'

Anya Parker-Lentz
The Giving
Pink Stripe

Based in New Jersey, the young Anya Parker-Lentz creates whirling vocal pop melodies and catchy song arrangements on her debut EP, The Giving. "Staredown" is a good pop song with glittering percussion, glistening guitars, and an angelic voice. "Not Trying" opens with a pensive piano melody and light rock percussion with guitars and a Stevie Nicks-esque vocal concoction. The piano takes on a more prevalent role on "Stuck In Limbo." However, the guitars and percussion remind us of a good pop song arrangement with something deeper than your typical superficial pop lyrics of today. "The Giving" begins with another piano melody, but the melody morphs into a rock vein with clear vocals. "Wake Up Alice" is a pensive melody with a slow, stirring arrangement with a slightly European folk-pop influence and Cranberries-esque arrangements and vocals. The seven-track release is a top-notch release of pop songs with attitude and unforgettable attributes. ~ Matthew Forss    

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

CD Review: Charlie Wheeler Band's 'Line 'Em Up!'

Charlie Wheeler Band
Line 'Em Up!

Pennsylvania-based, Charlie Wheeler Band, is not your typical rock band from the North. In fact, the music is jam rock with Southern rock elements and a tad of blues. The new album, Line 'Em Up!, is a classic ode to Southern rock sounds with original material written by guitarist and vocalist, Charlie Wheeler. Charlie is joined by Greek Cheronis on lead vocals and harmonicas; Anthony Brown on keyboards and backing vocals; Andy Baker on bass and backing vocals; and Rad Akers on drums and backing vocals. "Why O' Why" is a gritty, political tune with big guitars and big vocals that reverberate with class and charisma. "Dark Canyons" opens with a rock guitar solo and drum-kit with roots elements and Southern B3 sounds. "Gone Are The Days" showcases a little harmonica action and a bluesy, rock-guitar medley and wild vocals clearly steeped in rock with a little piano notes on a keyboard. "The Same Thing" is an upbeat, classy, Southern rock song with burly vocals and a bluesy ambiance. "Line 'Em Up!" seems like a classic, thrash-rock anthem that is steeped in Southern soul. Overall, Line 'Em Up! is a great album of Southern blues-rock for today's generation. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, October 12, 2012

CD Review: Robert Soko and His BalkanBeats' 'BalkanBeats Soundlab'

Robert Soko and His Balkan Beats
BalkanBeats Soundlab

Bosnian Balkan-beat master, Robert Soko, presents an array of musicians that know how to perform danceable, Balkan beats. You will hear Watcha Clan, Slavic Soul Party, Besh O Drom, Romzil, Los Colorados, Shukar Collective, Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orkestra, Florian Mikuta, Mode Plagal, Deladap, and others. This is one wild ride into the contemporary world of Balkan music. Nothing is left undone here. There are wild rhythms, boisterous horns, and seemingly cacophonous musical wanderings. However, the result is much more focused and purposeful. There are vocals on some of the tracks, but the instrumental abilities win out hands down. Anyone interested in the skittish Balkan beats and loud horns will love Robert Soko’s selections and mixes. Balkan DJs rejoice and world music fans unite for an unforgettable, foot-stomping, and heart-pounding journey through Europe’s musical corridor. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Egyptian Project's 'Ya Amar'

Egyptian Project
Ya Amar
SixDegrees Records

Produced by France’s Jerome Ettinger (who plays arghul and computer), Egyptian Project explores a balanced blend of electronic, acoustic, and contemporary Egyptian music. Jerome assembled several musicians, including Sayed Emam on vocals and kawala, Ragab Sadek on darbouka, duff, rek, sagats, and doholla, Salama Metwally on rababa and violin, Ihab Radwan on oud, Julien Bonvoisin on bass, Carlos Robles Arenas on drums, Camille Momper on cello, and Nicolas Berrivin on piano. The wide array of instrumentation creates chilling beats, rhythms, and melodies that are steeped in Egyptian musical traditions without resorting to forced electronic compositions of dance music. The music is somewhat danceable, but the primary elements are more folk, pop, and new age. Ya Amar is an ambitious effort that succeeds on all ac(chords)! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Very Be Careful's 'Remember Me From The Party?'

Very Be Careful
Remember Me From The Party?
Downtown Pijao

LA-based Afro-Colombian vallenato maestros, Very Be Careful, bring us another fine recording of upbeat, dance music on accordion, percussion, and other heart-pulsing instrumentation. The danceable music is characteristic of South American, Latin American, and North American tejano. The accordion-driven music is uptempo and refreshing, especially on "El Mosquito." Nevertheless, there are twelve rippling tunes of sonic beauty. The party atmosphere is full of vallenato music. Nothing is amiss here. The instrumentation and Spanish vocals are top notch throughout. Very Be Careful is essentially a party-version of Colombian polka music. Remember Very Be Careful is a group that knows how to perform. All in all, it's that good. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tanah Broadcast's 'Resonance'

Tanah Broadcast

Hailing from The Netherlands, Tanah Broadcast produces beautiful vocal harmonies and instrumental tunes from various world regions, notably Africa. The combination of European folk, experimental music, and improvisational world jazz-pop sounds makes Resonance shine with luscious melodies and stirring rhythms. The production is relatively low-key, but that does not mean the ear-catching melodies are nonexistent. Instead, the music is quaint, but richly-textured. The beautiful rhythms and instrumentation make the album pop with freshness. The upbeat "Kayu Kaya" is a fine example of world pop at its best. "N'Dudu" is a guitar-centric instrumental tune with some vocals and a Euro-centric pop vein with some African influences. Resonance is somewhat hard to describe, but the end result is an engaging set of songs that are perfect for the world music fan. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'World Yoga'

Various Artists
World Yoga

Anyone familiar with the relaxing qualities of yoga will be familiar with the music that goes along with it. Our friends at Putumayo have put together an incredible collection of soothing, relaxing, and creative music for yoga--or other relaxing ventures. The music is culled from a variety of musicians, including Sona Jobarteh, Quentin Dujardin, Deva Premal & Miten, DJ Drez, Ara Dinkjian, Geoffrey Oryema, Kelsang Chukie Tethong, Stevin McNamara, and others. The quiet, reflective, and mood-quenching music incorporates scintillating guitar work, vocal harmonies, transcendental arrangements, and contemporary spiritual influences that astound listeners and rejuvenate souls. With musicians from diverse regions as Gambia, Wales, Portugal, Mali, Armenia, Sweden, Tibet, Uganda, and others, World Yoga is truly a global collective of musical styles for the yoga genre. Overall, the music is meditative, vocal, instrumental, and serene. In fact, I cannot stop listening to it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Haddo's 'Homecoming'

Lulubug Records

The husband wife duo, Will and Nicky Pound, hail from England and bring us an exciting set of instrumental tunes on harmonica, melodeon, fiddle, viola, guitar, dobro, percussion, bass, and Baroque viola. The spritely melodies are not your average fiddle-stomping tunes, but there is an element of folk-driven fiddle-stomping. The metallic tones of the harmonica and melodeon provide a more structured set of music with varying sounds and rhythms that are never stale or ho-hum. There are Celtic, English, Scottish, North American bluegrass/country, and classical influences throughout. Haddo knows how to 'folk-us' on what really matters when it comes to creating beautiful instrumental music. ~ Matthew Forss 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

CD Review: Samuel Yirga's 'Guzo'

Samuel Yirga
Real World

Samuel Yirga's Ethiojazz renderings are thought-provoking, instrumental, and vocally-strong. The musical traditions of Ethiopia--notably, the jazz epicenter of Addis Ababa--is the central focal point for the creative output of Samuel Yirga. The title, which means 'journey' in Amharic, is poignant and fitting for a release with so many influences. The jazzy, downtempo leanings of "Abet Abet," are contemporary and futuristic with a nice dose of improvisation and classic percussion. The piano is a featured instrument on many of the songs, especially on "Tiwista." There are a few guest appearances by the infamous Creole Choir of Cuba on "Nou Se Soleil" and "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun." The Haitian and Caribbean influences are most pronounced on the aforementioned tracks. Though, an element of American jazz and funk is evident throughout the album, Samuel creates evocative compositions that move in many directions, but all roads lead to something amazing. The cinematic wanderings of  "Ye Bati Koyita" bring to mind the piano compositions of Thomas Newman. Some of the tracks focus more heavily on piano, which may not be as exciting as the other instruments. Nevertheless, Samuel produces a fine recording with multiple influences and styles to keep everyone very happy for a very long time. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Susan Aglukark's 'White Sahara'

Susan Aglukark
White Sahara
EMI Music Canada

Northern Canada's native singer, Susan Aglukark, has been dazzling Northern crowds since the early 1990s. Now a national and international phenomenon, Susan has taught the world about Inuit pop-rock music with English and Inuktitut lyrics. White Sahara is a collection of mostly previously-released material, including favorites, Pond Inlet, O Siem, Casualties Of War, Big Feeling, and Hina Na Ho. In short, every song is magical, catchy, and rich with musical textures. Fans of Susan will find solace in this work, and new music lovers will find a new singer to love. If you have not heard of Canada's best aboriginal singer, Susan Aglukark, then you have been missing some of the best music the world has to offer. It's that good. Guaranteed. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Amanda Ply's 'Runaway'

Amanda Ply
Tubby Tunes Music

California-based, singer-songwriter, Amanda Ply, brings us an exciting five-track release of soulful, pop-focused, and jazzy songs with a human element that is achingly-beautiful at the very least. Amanda plays the piano and sings, but is joined on drums by Justin Tice, Trevor Martin on bass, Paul Tokarz on guitar, and Ashley Hill on background vocals. The staccato beats of "Like That," suggests a throwback to R&B soul with a little Moulin Rouge! flamboyance. "Messy Little Piece of Beautiful" adds another layer of R&B pop with a rootsy, bluesy rhythmic balance. "I Secretly" is a ballad of pure beauty with vocals reminiscent of Jenn Summers or Colbie Caillat. The soft melody is easy-going and melodic. "A Lovin' That Heals" is almost a Southern gospel ballad with heartwarming vocals and a strong piano presence. "Let's Just Fall In Love" is a Michelle Branch-esque pop-driven ballad with guitars, piano, and percussion. All the songs are catchy and memorable. This should be a runaway hit with pop charts everywhere. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kathy Muir's 'Far From Entirely'

Kathy Muir
Far From Entirely

The Scottish folk-pop singer, Kathy Muir, adds a talented repertoire of country-pop guitar songs with an equal element of roots, blues, and rock. With a voice like Bonnie Raitt, Shawn Colvin, and Stevie Nicks, Kathy comes through with flying colors and equally-airborne riffs. "Fairytale Lies" is a fitting song with Stevie Nicks' signature all over it, but it is inherently Kathy Muir all the way. The steel, slide guitar opening matches the upbeat tambourine and percussion kit with a rhythmic voice and catchy melody. "You Surround Me" opens with a pensive piano melody with accompanying strings that do not include percussion until mid-song. The song is void of vocals, but it is reminiscent of a lighter incarnation of something from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. "Heaven In Your Eyes" is a folksy song with a bluesy presence and chilling percussion, guitars, and vocals. "Sweet and Easy" is a breezy, folk song with light pop elements that are jazzy and easy to listen to. Throughout the entire album, Kathy's vocals do not contain a Scottish accent and the musical arrangements resemble North American productions. Overall, the music is varied, folksy, bluesy, and a pleasure to listen to. ~ Matthew Forss  

Monday, October 1, 2012

CD Review: Elijah Tucker's 'Saturn'

Elijah Tucker

The Washington, DC-raised and Brooklyn, NY-based singer and guitarist, Elijah Tucker, releases a groovy set of bluesy, jazzy, and rock-pop songs. The contemporary wanderings are rooted in folk styles without going into a sort of dance, electronic, or hard rock path. The bluesy, funked up "Crazy Things," is a gritty, blurby guitar tune that contains wailing horns and reverberating B3 sounds. "If I Only Had A Brain" is a slow, bluesy tune that pays homage to the tune with the same name from The Wizard Of Oz film. "Gimme Gimme" is throwback to the 1950s or 60s with hand-clap percussion and rootsy guitar with a few sparkling piano notes. The tune would be a perfect fit for the 1998 film, That Thing You Do. "O Pain! Piano" is a piano, guitar and percussion-driven bluesy tune with a little Owsley, Beatles, and Oasis thrown in. Saturn is a little bluesy, jazzy, folksy, and rock-inspired. There is nothing wrong with this release. It may be a cliche, but Saturn is really out of this world--in a down home bluesy sort of way. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: A Is For Atom's Self-Titled Release

A Is For Atom
A Is For Atom

New York-based, A Is For Atom, was formed earlier this year by a talented musician, Mike Cykoski. The new album, which is a five-track release, borders on alternative, pop structures with plenty of electronic embellishments, bass, guitar, drums, and synth. The languid vocals on "Creation," suggest an almost Soul Coughing-esque song. The throbbing synth sounds transport listeners back to the early 90s. "See You Again" is a more upbeat folk-rock tune with radio-like vocalizations and pop guitar stylings and an uppity, Western feel with guitars, bass, and drums. The vocals and guitar playing resembles Australia's Xavier Rudd. "Light Years" features a little downtempo trumpet and pop melodies that shine with infectious hooks and instrumental displays. "Bird In A Cage" contains a bit of static vocals and Royskopp-like electronic noises. The vocals are quite pop-driven, but relatively reserved. The guitars are cinematic and the melody is very relaxed with limited percussion. "Whiskey" opens with spritely guitar and fingersnaps with a classy vocal setup that resembles something from REM's Up. Overall, A Is For Atom is also 'a' for amazing! ~ Matthew Forss