Wednesday, August 29, 2012

CD Review: Tarrus Riley's 'Mecoustic'

Tarrus Riley

Tarrus Riley is a Jamaican-American Rastafarian singer based in Bronx, NY. His style is easy-going reggae music with a soulful attitude and slight pop focus. The scintillating rhythms are smooth, infectious, and easy to listen to. The use of strings, guitars, horns, keyboards, and bass combine with bluesy and powerful vocals with accompanying backup voices representing a slight gospel edge. The English vocals contain a Jamaican presence that is always pleasant and relaxing. The militaristic march style of "She's Royal" is a heartfelt track all the way through. The piano sounds of "Eye Sight" are slightly jazzy, but Tarrus' vocals remind us we are in reggae territory. The typical staccato reggae beats are not particularly evident throughout the album. The poppy "Paradise" tune is a bright mix of sax, guitars, percussion, and backup vocals. Still, reggae fans will love the accessibility of all the songs no matter what their background or preference may be. Mecoustic is not about egos or selfishness; it's about music. ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, August 25, 2012

CD Review: Michel Sajrawy's 'Arabop'

Michel Sajrawy
Dasam Studio

Nazareth-based, Palestinian-guitarist, Michel Sajrawy, offers a glimpse into a new world of Arab maqam and Western improvisation on his latest album, Arabop. The jazzy, experimental sounds are rich with Middle Eastern and North Africa melodies, but familiar to all. The instrumental repertoire is well-balanced with Michel on guitar and keyboards, Amiram Granot on sax, Maali Klar on soprano sax, Samir Makhoul on oud and vocals, Valeri Lipets on contra bass, Wisam Sajrawy on darbuka and shakers, Stas Zilberman on drums, Nehaya Damouni on chants, and Adnan Haddad on speech. The wildly-played guitar stylings are equivalent to Hossam Ramzy on the drums. At any rate, the songs are up-tempo, but reflective in a similar manner. The energized darbuka and electric guitars thunder with delight on "Tojann." "1 Count Before 40" is a more meditative, lounge jazz tune that is wholly instrumental. "Arabop" reflects a more jazzy side to the music with a jaunty sax line and playful melody overall. The highly-energize "Batumi" is a guitar lovers dream with an equal amount of percussive embellishments throughout. There is a slight klezmer undertone. Overall, Michel succeeds wildly with a stunning set of mostly instrumental music that is both jazzy, Arabic, and improvisational. This is maqam music for future generations. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, August 24, 2012

CD Review: Ojos De Brujo Reworked

Various Artists
Ojos De Brujo Reworked
Urban World

Spearheaded by Al Lindrum, the music of Ojos De Brujo is reinvented, reworked, and rewired with the talents of a multitude of contributors, including Farrapo, George Vala, Empresarios, Makala, Suonho, Los Chicos Altos, Tony Seal, Duboffensive, and many others. Fans of Ojos De Brujo will be impressed with the jazzy, dub-ready, and dance-inflected compositions that have inspired musicians and listeners all over the world to create such beauty. The funky drum and bass, cumbia sounds, and dancehall song structures make the album shine with effervescent qualities. The vocals are Latin-esque and well-executed overall. The thirteen tracks span a wide cross-section of material, but in the end, Ojos De Brujo is the real winner here. The remixes are inventive and ear-catching. This is for the upbeat fan out there. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Royal Band De Thies' 'Kadior Demb'

Royal Band De Thies
Kadior Demb
Teranga Beat

The Senegalese singers, James Gadiaga and Secka Will, present us with eleven hit songs recorded back in 1979. Previously unreleased, the songs run the gamut from Afro-jazz to funk to mbalax. The heady rhythms and pulsating beats are raw, organic, and full of energy. The trumpet or sax permeates the musical atmosphere throughout. There are nine members in the group, but the level of musicianship makes it sound like there are alot more members present. The instrumental rhythms and gritty, sparkling guitar riffs highlight Senegal's golden age of musical funk, rhythm, and popular music. There are liner notes outlining the musicians behind the music. Also, a 2-LP gatefold is available in September. The music is perfect for experiencing a night in Senegal wherever you might be! Highly-celebrated and never over-rated! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Haram's 'Her Eyes Illuminate'

Her Eyes Illuminate

Vancouver-based, Gordon Grdina's group, Haram, presents us with an improvisational and exciting avant-garde album of Arabic and Middle Eastern percussion with contemporary nuances coming from keyboard-like sounds coming from a violin. The violin, ney, darbuka, oud, riq, trumpet, bass, sax, clarinet, and drums are mixed with vocals to create awe-inspiring melodies and rhythms that are steeped in classical, Arabic, and klezmer styles. The ten long tracks are varied and engaging, but not overdone. The traditional base is paramount. This is essentially Arabic jazz at its finest. Gordon and his band Haram make the musicmaking process seem so easy, as the tunes keep coming with each track. The experimental and improvisational atmosphere is a delicacy for fans of Arab-jazz. Even though the album title means 'forbidden,' Haram will be accepted everywhere it is played. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tritulen's Self-Titled Release From Scandinavia

Etnisk Musikklubb

 The Norwegian trio of Ebba Jacobsson, Jonas Akerlund, and Anette Thorsheim bring us contemporary folk music from Norway and Sweden on their latest self-titled release. The music is composed and performed on guitar, accordion, and fiddle. The group performs love songs, spiritual pieces, and dance tunes. The mix of vocals and instrumentals makes the songs really come alive with Scandinavian charm and amazement. The fourteen tracks are rich with folk traditions and sweet melodies that are crystal clear and pure. The floating vocals and pensive instrumentation makes Tritulen shimmer with icy-smooth executions. The lack of electric embellishments does not necessarily make the music lackluster. In fact, the cozy nature of the intimate melodies and notes are perfect enough for packing large stadiums or a house filled with family members sitting around a roaring fireplace in the dead of winter. Fans of Scandinavian folk music will find Tritulen a perfect companion in times of musical yearning. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Persian Azeri Trio's 'Persian Azeri Project: From Shiraz To Baku'

Persian Azeri Trio
Persian Azeri Project: From Shiraz To Baku
ARC Music

The Persian Azeri Trio consists of Iran's Pejman Hadadi on percussion and Hamid Motebassem on tar and setar. The kamancha is played by Azerbaijan's Imamyar Hasanov. Together, the trio perfect traditional modes of musicianship for a completely acoustic concoction of melodic modes, folk dances, and improvisational forms. The wholly instrumental works provide a perfect environment for each instrument to shine through and sound harmoniously with each other. There are plaintive moments, as well as more up-beat tempos that take on Central Asian charm. The efficient playing styles and instrumental arrangements are well worth a listen. Be careful; as the instrumental tones are addictive. Liner notes are in English and German. This is the sound of the Silk Road. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Exit Project's 'Livesplashes'

Exit Project
Creative Commons

Exit Project is a Russian-based group that transcends description, but the genre-bending styles and musical exploits of the group traverse the world of nu-jazz, electronica, downtempo, fusion, and experimental realms. The rather limited use of vocals allows the instrumentation to lead the charge throughout. The percussion displays and ambient washes combine with evocative club-beats and groovy melodies with multiple personalities to provide an extremely engaging result. However, only four tracks are included on the album. The lack of tracks does not connote lack of quality. The four tracks are morsel-filled with scrumptious delights of ear candy for the heart, soul, and everything in-between. Not quite as electronic as Tangerine Dream, Exit Project does indeed follow TD with some familiar characteristics of percussion and arrangements. Fans of experimental, fusion, jazz, and improvisational instrumental music should check out Russia's Exit Project. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Staff Benda Bilili's 'Bouger Le Monde!'

Staff Benda Bilili
Bouger Le Monde!

The paraplegic street musicians from Kinshasa, DRC, have once again charmed the world with another fine album, Bouger Le Monde!, which means, 'to move the world.' Staff Benda Bilili knows how to make the world move and shake their hips to the soukous rumba of the guitars, percussion, and vocals. The effort is also produced by Vincent Kenis (of Congotronics fame). The eleven tracks are energetic, percussion-heavy, and African-rich with loads of melodic sensibilities. The music contains bass, drums, guitars, and a satonge, which is a metal can with a metal string attached. The resulting sound resembles an electric guitar wail, but the sound is very earthy, but magical. The rickety rhythms and glorious vocals are outstanding and worthy of praise the world over. Get your bodies moving to the sounds of Staff Benda Bilili. They will change the world for the better. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jon Anders Halvorsen's 'Komme No Heim'

Jon Anders Halvorsen
Komme No Heim
Etnisk Musikklubb

The Oslo-based folk singer and doctor, Jon Anders Halvorsen, brings us twenty-eight songs in the folk traditions of Norway. There are a mix of instrumental gems, several vocal and instrumental tunes, and a few solo vocal songs. All sung in Norwegian, the music is rich with various string instruments that are pleasant backdrops to the vocal displays of supreme musicianship. The serene vocals and light instrumentation is not too harsh or unnecessary. The sheer volume of songs represents a good cross-section of folk music in Jon's repertoire. The strings and plucked instruments are folksy and not modernized. Fans of Norwegian music should check it out, but fans of Scandinavian folk music in general will love the instrumental and vocal medleys on Komme No Heim. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, August 23, 2012

CD Review: Mandingo Ambassadors' 'Tougna'

Mandingo Ambassadors
Engine Studios

The Guinean-born group, Mandingo Ambassadors, is led by guitarist and director, Mamady Kouyate. Bebe Camara is the vocalist. The guitar is also played by Mamady Kourouma. Jazzy sax and flute renditions are provided by Sylvain Leroux, but sax and clarinet accompaniment can be attributed to Oran Etkin. The energetic drums are played by Andy Algire, while bass guitar by Nick Cudahy is very smooth. Foluso Mimy provides an uptempo mix of percussion instruments to go along with the melodies. The lively, dance-laden rhythms are iconic of Africa's Western coasts. The instrumental musical segments are very danceable and nothing short of brilliant. The eight long tracks are worthwhile for anyone interested in Guinean popular music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Carla Hassett's 'Circulo'

Carla Hassett
Paulista Records

Brazilian-born, Chicago-raised, and an LA-resident, Carla Hassett brings her Brazilian soul and sensual attributes to her new work, Circulo. The funky, jazzy, and always melodic compositions represent a splendid work that is catchy, groovy, and modestly contemporary. The samba, bossa nova, and popular music ambiance is also inherent in the work of Ceu, but Carla's music is more structured. However, the music is still complex and richly-textured like a South American jungle. The result is an English and Portuguese concoction of sunny, breezy, and lounge-worthy tracks that could be used for a little dancing, too. Anyone interested in Brazilian popular music, jazz, bossa nova, lounge, and samba will love Carla's music. Fans of Bebel Gilberto and Ceu will love her. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Orient Noir'

Various Artists
Orient Noir

This fourteen-track release represents the collective efforts of music curator and collector, Dr. Bertram Nickolay. The musical tapestry of the album traverses the Mediterranean, North African region, and the Middle East. Several notable artists are involved in this project, including Watcha Clan, Bi Kidude Baraka, Mahmoud Fadl, Susan Sandler, Ihsan Al-Mounzer, Maurice El-Medioni, The Klezmatics, Emil Zrihan, and others. The music is joyous, boisterous, and classical with touches of strings, percussion, and chaabi dance music and swirling melodies. There are also elements of gypsy, klezmer, jazz, and improvisation throughout. The mix of styles is not a negative, as each song is something different, but always engaging. Listen to the music of Serbia, Jerusalem, NY, Lebanon, Egypt, Zanzibar, France, and elsewhere. Vocals are in Arabic, French, Hebrew, Ladino, and Swahili. This is a great compilation from the Orient. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Wahid's 'Road Poem'

Road Poem

The California-based duo, Wahid, is comprised of Dimitris Mahlis on oud and Chris Wabich on percussion. The Middle Eastern frame drums and meditative oud make a wonderful appearance throughout the album. Road Poem, which is musical poetry at its finest, brings together Eastern and Western traditions to the mix. The wholly instrumental album is void of any contemporary embellishments, such as guitars, keyboards, or other electrified instruments. Instead, the percussion and oud duets provide a sense of serenity and awe in the world of improvisational world music, jazz, and rock. Dimitris knows how to play the oud with a fiery passion, as well as a contemplative style for intros and outros. Chris' percussion is eloquent, precise, and always a pleasure. The energy between the two instrument forms is 'electric,' despite the lack of electrically-charged instruments. The wandering tones of the instruments resembles the galloping camels across North Africa, but the music is inherently Middle Eastern. Nevertheless, Wahid is an album of live tracks with applause at the ends of the tracks. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Peter Link's 'Goin' Home'

Peter Link
Goin' Home
Watchfire Music

Peter Link's new Watchfire release is a true gospel cantata, which means musical compositions for voice and orchestra are based on spiritual texts. The thirteen-track release presents a slew of performers with a gospel and Broadway-esque singing style, including Jenny Burton, Margaret Dorn, Angela Clemmons, Keith Fluitt, John James, Kevin Osborne, Catherine Russell, Vaneese Thomas, Darryl Tookes, Julia Wade, Tom Tipton, and the blaring trumpet sounds of Barry Danielian. The music contains R&B melodies, gospel harmonies, and contemporary arrangements with percussion and piano. The soulful vocals work off of each other during many of the choruses. The classically-tinged, "Come To Me As A Bird," is a solemn Broadway-type tune with magical chimes and sweeping vocals with light string accompaniment and acoustic guitar. The scattered percussion of "I Ain't Gonna Grieve" sets a stylized dance tune of trip-hop with Western-type male vocals early on and female vocals join in by the end. This is not a particularly traditional tune, which is not a negative. "When The Saints Go" is a jazzy, dance-floor beat with soaring female vocals and blaring brass. An electric guitar adds a little frenzied music to the '80's-like arrangements to a traditional tune. There is a bit of funk and gospel ambiances that showcase the musical diversity throughout. Fans of gospel, Christian, Broadway tunes, and inspirational vocal music will find Peter Link to a beacon of light for all seeking musical (and soulful) salvation. ~ Matthew Forss     

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

CD Review: Kati Mac's 'Save Me From Myself'

Kati Mac
Save Me From Myself

Kati Mac is a New York-based singer/songwriter with a stunning resemblance to Shawn Colvin's emotive folk voice and guitar tunings with a little Trish Murphy angst. The alt-country-Western style of "Bullet Hole Road" cements Kati's mark on the world of upbeat, folk-country music with swooning dobro, earthy guitars, steady percussion, and raw vocals. "He's Memory To Me Now" is a candid and quaint little tune with Kati's vocals backed by her acoustic guitar with additional instrumentation. "Lord Have Mercy On Me" is a bluesy track with Southern guitar sounds and reverberating keys. Kati's emotive voice traverses a varied vocal range with an uppity instrumental arrangement featuring gritty guitars, B3 sounds, and percussion. "The Wheel Goes Round" is a folksy, Western ditty with backup vocals and classic country instrumentation of strings, piano, tambourine, and a Southern Revival ambiance without twangy vocals. "Cold Day In Hell" features a few horns and Broadway-esque instrumental arrangements with B3 sounds and crackling percussion. Overall, Kati's thirteen-track release is an excellent examination of the folk-rock-country genre that is not too heavy on rock, country, or blues. It is just good music. Fans of Trish Murphy, Shawn Colvin, and related artists will love it. ~ Matthew Forss   

Monday, August 13, 2012

Johnny Clegg - Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2012

Johnny Clegg by raise my voice
Johnny Clegg, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

I am so glad I was able to catch some of Johnnny Clegg's show at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival on August 12.

Clegg is a powerhouse of singer/songwriter music that infuses traditional Zulu language and African sounds into music that has a message. His incredibly physical performance had the audience waving their hands and dancing along.

Clegg was one of the most politically-charged performers of the weekend and represented the spirit of what a folk festival is all about.

La Bottine Souriante - Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2012

La Bottine Souriante by raise my voice
La Bottine Souriante, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

As a Quebec music enthusiast for many years, I was thrilled when I found out that La Bottine Souriante would be the Saturday afternoon main stage act at the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Although there have been several personnel changes over the years, the music was as lively as ever, featuring accordion, a horn section, foot stomping percussion, and fiddle - lots of fiddle. The dancer also added a lot to the atmosphere of the performance.

Energy and excitement is at the heart of La Bottine Souriante, which takes traditional Quebec music and elevates it beyond linguistic boundaries.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2012

I know people who came to the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival just to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Seeing this incredible band from South Africa that has been around for over 50 years was one of the weekend's highlights for me as well.

Performing in their native Zulu language, the music penetrated the hill at Stage 3 with energy, accented by the group's dance moves. Truly unforgettable.

Jim Cuddy Band - Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2012

Jim Cuddy Band by raise my voice
Jim Cuddy Band, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.
I have been a fan of Blue Rodeo for more years than I care to count. In fact, the very first time I attended the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, it was to see the band hit the main stage.

This year, I got to see Blue Rodeo's lead singer/guitarist (well, one of them anyways - can't forget Greg Keelor!) up close leading the Jim Cuddy Band. The sound was everything I expected it to be: straight ahead country-tinged roots rock, with a few Blue Rodeo classics thrown in here and there. In fact, Blue Rodeo's bassist Basil Donovan was also part of the band.

Jim Cuddy is a very energetic performer and his vocals - and frankly, he himself - have not aged a bit. An impressive concert!

Lennie Gallant - Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2012

Lennie Gallant by raise my voice
Lennie Gallant, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.
Lennie Gallant is a modern troubadour, a teller of stories through song, and a darn fine vocalist. I finally got to see him in concert at the 2012 Edmonton Folk Music Festival on August 11. He sang many songs from his latest release If We Had a Fire, but also some classics like "Peter's Dream" and "Which Way Does the River Run." I am not ashamed to admit that I cried during the beautiful and heartbreaking "Emily's Letters" and was left wanting more - s much more, in fact, that I think I am going to head to iTunes and get that latest albums, and a few older ones as well (I actually think I have one of his on cassette - kids, do you remember what those are?). If you hear that Lennie Gallant is coming to your city or town, be sure to see him. You will have a memorable time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CD Review: Jenn Summers' 'When Life Gives You Lemons'

Jenn Summers
When Life Gives You Lemons

New York-born Jenn Summers is the next big thing to hit the airwaves with pop-driven compositions that contain a little R&B, ukulele, and roots music. Jenn's vocal calisthenics are reminiscent of Michelle Branch and Colbie Caillat. "Blue Velveteen" begins the musical set-up with sparkling vocals, pop-driven guitars, and catchy melodies that can only come from a genius like Jenn. "Get Better" contains lively, almost soukous-driven guitars that are not African in origin, but American-inspired roots elements combine with a little folk and island flavor. "When Life Gives You Lemons, Make L.O.V.E." adds some ukulele and handclaps to the mix with Jenn's soulful voice that harkens the playfulness of American pop songs from the 50s or 60s. "This Side Of Free" and "Wake Me Up" are roots-driven, pop concoctions that possess a flavor that is more rock-influenced than folk. Yet, Jenn's harmonic vocal lines and drum-kit percussion lead the way with melodic structures and youthful exuberance in a somewhat Trish Murphy-esque way. "Don't Mind Me" is a classic throwback to the woodblock, piano, and rippling guitars of American pop standards from the 50s or 60s. Morever, the vocal "oohs" and "doos" solidify the classic musical vein. Overall, Jenn's new work is not only top-notch, but it rivals the power-pop impact of Michelle Branch's The Spirit Room (Maverick, 2001). When Life Gives You Lemons is the best new album to come out this year. It's not sour, but you may shed tears of joy. At any rate, you will not be disappointed. ~ Matthew Forss 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

CD Review: Municipale Balcanica's 'Offbeat'

Municipale Balcanica
Red Tomato Records

The Italian band, Municipale Balcanica, rattles the airwaves with a bit of Balkan music that is hip, contemporary, and rock-inspired, which is similar in tone to klezmer, jazz, and gypsy music. The instrumental music is a party in itself, but some vocals are present in English. The music is lavishly illustrated with numerous instruments, including clarinet, sax, congas, cajon, santoor, cymbals, trumpet, bass, guitar, violin, accordion, among others. The upbeat melodies and brassy rhythms make Offbeat a fascinating recording that is anything but 'offbeat.' In fact, Municipale Balcanica hits the right beats and chords to make this new recording an unforgettable experience. While other musicians tend to rely solely on brassy horns, Municipale Balcanica mixes it up enough to give equal time to most of the instruments involved. There is something magical about this album. It is one of the best progressive Mediterranean albums in a long time. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Meklit & Quinn's Self-Titled Release

Meklit & Quinn
Meklit & Quinn
Porto Franco Records

Meklit Hadero, a native of Ethiopia, and Quinn Deveaux, from California, showcase their blend of soul, blues, and a little downtempo funk from music by Arcade Fire, Talking Heads, MGMT, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, Kyle Field, Neil Young, and Sam Cooke. Meklit's vocals are a perfect mix of Sade and Leona Naess. Quinn's vocals are slightly bluesy, but there is an element of smooth jazz vocalizations with airy and sultry deliveries. The twelve tracks explore a bit of nostalgic jazz, soul, R&B, and downtempo. Meklit writes "Slow" and "Sent By You," which is composed with Quinn. The music contains a plethora of instrumentation, including guitar, keyboard, bass, piano, mellotron, strings, trumpet, tuba, pedal steel guitar, trombone, sax, organ, washboard, B3, and others. The soft grooves and stirring melodies are modern in composition, but they reflect a sort of classical ambiance from America's early music history. The music is not rock or folk; it's just good music with good instrumentation. It's that simple...and delectable. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Easy Star All-Stars' 'Thrillah'

Easy Star All-Stars
Easy Star Records

The Jamaican-reggae and Afro-soul funk styles of music come to fruition on this exciting new work of songs reinvented from Michael Jackson's Thriller. The music is largely progressive, but the songs are recognizable overall. Producer, Michael Goldwasser, brings in a variety of musicians and vocalists, including JoWil, Ruff Scott, The Green, Mojo Morgan, Steel Pulse, Mikey General, Spragga Benz, Michael Rose, Luciano, Cas Haley, Kirsty Rock, and Christopher Martin. Some of the songs included are "Baby Be Mine," "Thriller," "Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Wanne Be Startin' Somethin'." The contemporary music contains grooves that are R&B-tinged, but the reggae vein is more pronounced. This is sure to appeal to fans of Michael Jackson's Thriller with a knack for other genres of music, including jazz, reggae, hip hop, and dance. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CD Review: Avila's 'Featuring Ernest Ranglin'

Featuring Ernest Ranglin
Avila Street Records

Jamaica's ska purveyor, Ernest Ranglin, dazzles crowds worldwide with his scratchy, nimble guitar sounds he produces in several world music and fusion styles. Ernest tackles roots, jazz, funk, and fusion with a strong command of Afro-beat styles. The entire CD features Ernest with several guests, including Yossi Fine, Ian Inx Herman, Jonathan Korty, Ryan Scott, Alex Baky, Jonathan Chi, Evan Frazer, and Alexis Rezon. The music is instrumental and groovy with drums, trumpet, bass, B3, piano, lap steel, melodica, and assorted percussion picking up a majority of the sound. The funky, smooth jazz leanings of "Ernossi" signals a relaxing side of the music that is still dance-focused. The edgy, horn-driven "Swaziland" adds a touch of township jazz, funk, and percussion greatness to the forefront. The opening track, "Manenberg," is actually a song by Abdullah Ibrahim, but it is still a jazz-centered tune with smooth notes and funkadelic notions. Let Ernest take you on a whirlwind of music brimming with boiling rhythms and sounds from Jamaica, Africa, and beyond. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kat Parra's 'Las Aventuras de Pasion'

Kat Parra
Las Aventuras de Pasion
JazzMa Records

California's Kat Parra brings us a rousing mix of Ladino and Sephardic-inpsired tunes with a Latin vein and inspiration from Puerto Rican bomba, afro-jazz, rumba, bolero, cha-cha, ballad, jazz, middle eastern, afro-peruvian, and classical music. The classy vocals and sweeping melodies on piano and percussion on "Call Your Name," is especially inviting and filmic. In short, Kat finds all the types of Latin music styles and delicately lines them up here. The superb instrumentation is pensive, upbeat, and showcases a diverse set of musical talents on vocals and instrumentation. The operatic bolero, "Lo Siento Mi Vida," represents a soulful mix of violin, assorted percussion, and vibrant vocals. The Middle-Eastern-tinged, "Yo M'Enamori D'Un Aire," opens with vibrant hand percussion and drones of strings. Kat's voice is free-flowing and emotive. The entire project is well-worth a listen or two or three. It is ideal for fans of sephardic music with a passion for Latin styles, too. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Elikeh's 'Between 2 Worlds'

Between 2 Worlds
Azalea City Recordings

Between 2 Worlds is a funkified journey into the world of reggae, funk, afro-pop, and blues with heavy African connections, as well as American funk and blues. The opener, "No Vision," contains a little reggae, but flies high with funk beats and English vocals. The reverberating horns and driving rhythms are prevalent on "Know Who You Are," Vieux Farka Toure's guitar hero on "Alonye," as well as "Olesafrica," featuring Ojah Awake. The entire project is upbeat, rich with African nostalgia, and funkadelic beats with driving horns and soukous-like guitar stylings. Anyone with an interest in Afro-funk, afro-jazz, and contemporary African music in general will love their music. This is also an excellent fusion of sort between North American rock and funk with Africa's indigenous rhythms and melodies. The result is an outstanding product of musical achievement. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Midtown Men's 'Sixties Hits'

Midtown Men
Sixties Hits

The original cast of Jersey Boys are now Midtown Men on this album of nostaglic ear-candy. The Midtown Men resurrect American pop songs from the 1960s on the aptly-titled Sixties Hits. Eleven songs represent a wide array of pop hits, including "Dawn," "Time Of The Season," "Ain't That Peculiar," "Candy Girl," "Up On The Roof," "Can't Buy Me Love," "California Dreamin'," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Bye Bye Baby,'' plus several others. The execution of the songs is generally well-developed and fairly close in sound to the original hits with full instrumentation. The upbeat songs are well-suited for the vocal ranges of the Midtown Men. The flamboyant theatrical and Broadway-inspired antics are appropriately-suited for the songs on this album. The party-type song styles and feel-good music is highly-recommended for fans of pop hits from Americans golden era of music. Fans of the original artists will be pleasantly-surprised throughout. Give it a listen today. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Jesse Terry's 'Empty Seat On A Plane'

Jesse Terry
Empty Seat On A Plane

Jesse Terry's latest release of contemporary American folk-pop, Empty Seat On A Plane, traverses nostalgic folk styles of Ryan Adams and James Taylor, while forging his own path of light, roots-inspired folk-pop. There are also blues-tinged elements on some of the tracks. The bluesy, gospel-tinged "Bitterroot Valley," sets the standard for folk-blues with reverberating B3, grungy, sauntering electric guitars, strings, and soulful vocals. The folk-pop styles and vocals reflect a perfect male equivalent of Shawn Colvin's music. The scintillating "Scared Of Nothing," contains superb folk guitar leanings and alternative percussion that is dreamy and compelling. "Grace On A Train" contains tapping percussion, crystalline acoustic guitar strumming, and a few cymbal clangs near the end of the song. The entire song is rather reserved and slow in tempo. Nevertheless, the twelve songs represent a solid mix of acoustic folk-pop and Americana music in the vein of Shawn Colvin, Ryan Adams, Venice, and James Taylor. There would not be an empty seat anywhere Jesse Terry performs. ~ Matthew Forss