Friday, September 28, 2012

DVD Review: Soul Resonance - A Cross-Cultural Celebration of Zimbabwean Music

Soul Resonance - A Cross Cultural Celebration of Zimbabwean Music
By Douglas and Laurel Epps, narrated by Taj Mahal
83 Min.
Sacred Path Explorations

The opening sequences of the film include a few interview snippets with marimba musicians and various marimba (balafon) performances across the USA. Taj Mahal narrates the origins of Zimbabwean music with still images of maps, instruments, and people. The mbira origins were explored, as well as input from ethnomusicologist Robert Kauffman, musician Stella Chiweshe, the late-Ernest Brown, and Erica Azim. The development of British culture throughout the country threatened the indigenous music traditions of Zimbabwe, which was then preserved by Robert Sibson, who started the Kwanongoma College of Music. Zimbabwean music stars, Dumi Maraire, Thomas Mapfumo, and others are discussed. The rise of the marimba ensembles in America began with Dumi Maraire in the late 1960s. The rise of Shona music with mbira and marimba began in Seattle, Washington with the Minanzi Marimba Ensemble led by Dumi in the 1970s. During the 1980s, the spread of shona music traveled south through Oregon, while inspiring many communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. The website Dandemutande was created in the early 1990s in order to join others around the world with an interest in Zimbabwean music. Also in the early 1990s, the shona music sound spread eastward to other areas in the West. The final scenes of the film showcase a few different ensembles from various communities and schools with final thoughts by a few musicians and teachers. This a perfect film to expose world music fans to the wonderful world of Zimbabwean music in Africa and in the USA. However, this is primarily a traditional music production that surveys Shona music in the USA and not the guitar traditions popularized by many performers since the 1970s in Zimbabwe, including notable guitarist and singer, Oliver Mtukudzi. On that note, Soul Resonance is still a good buy for Shona music fans. ~ Matthew Forss      

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Global Bass Vol. 3'

Various Artists
Global Bass Vol. 3

The global beats of electronic, bass-heavy, and dance music is introduced to us on the tracks gracing UrbanWorld's new release, Global Bass Vol. 3. The musical style is upbeat, funk-driven, and jazzy. There are African, South American, and European elements throughout. The Afro-funk and Afro-latin musical genres are well-represented, but there appears to be a good amount of world grooves from hard-to-describe locations or styles. Superpendejos, Silver Bullit, Los Chicos Altos, Idan K, Empresarios, Kosta Kostov, Rube, Systema Solar, and many others are represented here. This is an adventurous mix of instrumental and vocal music with a capacity to evoke danceable rhythms from urban sources. The music has substance, which is amplified with the multiple cultural influences and musical genres. However, the bass is a defining characteristic of the music--no matter where it originates. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Los Cenzontles' 'Regeneration'

Los Cenzontles

The music of Mexico and California is brought to life upon the tracks of Regeneration. The music is rooted in Mexican folk traditions with swaying rhythms rich in instrumentation and percussion. The vocals are primo, no matter what track is played. The jaunty folk-rock melody of "Murmullos," is very upbeat and alternative with a good amount of pop to go around. Los Lobos' David Hidalgo provides some musical input for the project and plays keyboards, drums, guitars, accordion, B3, mandolin, and adds vocals on "The Silence." Other artists provide instrumentation on zapateada, electric bass, jarana, piano, violin, sax, guitar, drums, and assorted percussion. It seems the music strikes a fine balance between rural and urban Mexican folk music with endearing pop senses from America. The fifteen track release is littered with good hooks, riffs, and musical medleys that are contemplative, danceable, and heartfelt. The Spanish vocals are soulful and emotive. Fans of Mexican folk-rock will love everything about it. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Jackopierce's 'Everywhere All The Time'

Everywhere All The Time

The Dallas-based alternative rock group, Jackopierce, named after the founder's, Jack O'Neill and Cary Pierce, bring us catchy vocal harmonies and guitar rhythms with outstanding percussion. Overall, the music takes on a slight folk and country element that is steeped in memorable hooks, riffs, and lines. The folksy "Alright By Me" is layered with good hooks, percussion, and blazing fiddle or violin strings. The poignant, quiet anthem, "Killin Me," is a heartfelt ballad that is reflective with sparkling guitar notes and tambourine-shakin' percussion. The track is relatively slow with acoustic guitar and vocals. "Around Me Now" begins as a possible dance song with echoing vocals and a metallic, urban beat that morphs into a pop/rock tune of catchy sounds. The folksy "Lonely" contains beautiful harmonies and acoustic guitar with simplistic percussion that shimmers with life. As a whole, Jackopierce presents a very good mix of upbeat tunes that stand alone without much influence from other artists. Everywhere All The Time is going to be a hit with everyone. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Opium Symphony's 'Blame It On The Radio'

Opium Symphony
Blame It On The Radio
Man or Machine Records

The Dallas-based Opium Symphony consists of founder, Kellen Ross on vocals and guitar, along with Jarrett Kramer on guitar, Derron Bell on drums, and Drew Nolde on bass. The upbeat rock music contains elements of Stone Temple Pilots and Green Day, but it is inherently Opium Symphony. The rock is not too hard, but it is more layered and explosive than the typical Top 40 hits. "Down The Rabbit Hole" is a hard rock/grunge anthem with eerie vocals and a good beat. "Soul For Sale" contains a buzz-saw-like electric guitar solo with heavy percussion and a lack of vocals until mid-song. Still, the music is mostly instrumental throughout the song. "Gospel" is another heart-pounding track of electric angst that is somewhat melodic and driven by punchy guitars, drums, and punishing percussion accents that propel the music into rock heaven. "Return Of The Ghost" is a cinematic, mostly instrumental song with spacious vibes, atmospheric embellishments, and majestic sounds of jazzy beauty with a few vocals near the end. Overall, Opium Symphony is right on the mark with their latest release, Blame It On The Radio. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jason Sinay's 'Ape & The Wall Of Questions'

Jason Sinay
Ape & The Wall Of Questions

California-based, Jason Sinay, brings us six new songs and a few covers by Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead. The music is steeped in keyboards, guitars, drums, and bass. The ballad-esque, "I'll Bring You Diamonds," is a soulful little tune with acoustic guitars, percolating keyboards, and cinematic qualities and harmonies. "Hey Mama" contains piano tones, Southern rock elements, and grungy guitars. "Gimme The Time" contains a soulful, swaying melody that is rich with slide guitar sounds, jingly guitars, and bluesy percussion. "Santa Rosa" is a moving, rock song with a good beat that is road trippin' rock at its finest. The music is good without any faults. Anyone with an interest in good music will love Jason Sinay's latest release. You will have many more answers than questions with this release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Hannah & Maggie's 'Muscle & Bone'

Hannah & Maggie
Muscle & Bone

The New York-based female folk duo present us with compelling and catchy vocal melodies on Muscle & Bone. The vocal similarities with Sarah MacLachlan, Heidi Talbot, Avril Lavigne and Shawn Colvin are not too far-fetched. The pleasant melodies and vocal arrangements on "Ghost," solidify their mark with glorious instrumentation and unforgettable chords with background vocals delivered in an Enya-esque manner. "Burlington, VT" contains a nice jazzy trumpet, acoustic guitar, and upbeat percussion with scintillating ukulele or mandolin. "Keeping Calm The Lives We Know" is a steady folk tune with ambulating vocals and charming melodies. "Sara" slows it down a notch and incorporates a little cello for reflective elements. "As You Wake" is an upbeat, folk-country tune with loads of Southern Appalachian charm without the accents. "The Room Fiddler" is a perfect folk-pop tune that is simply magical. This is one of the best albums in any genre in a long time. There is plenty to chew on here. Simply amazing. ~ Matthew Forss   

Thursday, September 27, 2012

CD Review: Beatriz Aguiar's 'Nomade'

Beatriz Aguiar

The smooth and sultry voice of Uruguay's Beatriz Aguiar is romantic and unforgettable. In the same manner, the instrumental hooks are equally enthralling. Her voice is accompanied by strings, piano, guitar, accordion, percussion, and bass. The classical, string sounds are breezy and contemplative. The militaristic "Manzanilla," contains a nice drum-beat and moving vocals. This is familiar music to fans of South American session or jam music. Think Ruben Blades meets Bach. However, this is fairly unique overall, as Beatriz' voice is fluid, dynamic, and supple. The music is classical, jazzy, and pop standard all the way. Fans of Beatriz will rejoice with this one. Others unfamiliar with Beatriz' work will quickly find out how much they've been missing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Isra-Alien's 'Somewhere Is Here!'

Somewhere Is Here!

Born in Israel and based in New York, Isra-Alien bring us an energetic set of mostly instrumental songs on nylon string guitar and steel string guitar. Isra-Alien is Oren Neiman and Gilad Ben Zvi. The guitar duo explore the worlds of Mediterranean Seas, Middle East, Balkan lands, and Sephardic/Klezmer/Yiddish components all by guitar. The guitar stylings are not too far off from flamenco, but there is a good dose of experimental guitar music here. Anyone with a fascination for new age guitar, Jewish guitar music, Middle Eastern guitar music, and instrumental tunes should love Isra-Alien. Somewhere Is Here! contains something for everyone no matter where they reside. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Roksonaki's 'Nauryz'


Kazakhstan's Roksonaki is an ethnic ensemble with traditional instruments and tunes that highlight the beautiful music indigenous to the region of Central Asia on the historic Silk Road route. The music is diverse and pop-focused on two tracks--"Saulem-ai" and "Aitys." The first is rather melodic and catchy with a folk-rock style and backup vocals. The latter is a more contemporary tune with atmospheric winds and bossa nova style embellishments. However, the throaty, guttural vocals remind us we are not too far from Central Asia. However, the song merges into a pop-driven medley of angelic voices and showtune-type arrangements with operatic vocals and Broadway-esque renditions. The other tracks contain Jew's harp, drum-kit, keyboard, danyrga, bagpipes, dombra, hand drum, kyl-kobyz, acoustic guitar, saz-syrnay, and assorted percussion. The eleven tracks are a perfect accompaniment to anyone's Central Asian music library. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Analog Players Society's 'Hurricane Season In Brooklyn'

Analog Players Society
Hurricane Season In Brooklyn
Studio Brooklyn

The Brooklyn-based Analog Players Society shake up the music scene with loads of thick grooves and funky, instrumental rhythms that throw in jazz, soul, pop, and dance. The opener, "Free," is wholly instrumental and loaded with Afro-jazz hooks and funky melodies. "Hurricane Season In Brooklyn" is a jazzy medley with scat vocals and a percussive background and a spacious keyboard nuances. "Let The Music Play" is an instrumental gem with piano, percussion, and reggae-type beat without a noticeable African vein. The soulful, female vocals on "I Can't Wait" is a classic throwback to the 1970s, but it is decidedly modern in feel and tone. "Just A Day" continues the classic, funky, soul tune with great vocals. Anyone with an interest in groovy, Afro-inspired, jazz tunes will love the Analog Players Society. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mokoomba's 'Rising Tide'

Rising Tide
Zig Zag World

Born in Zimbabwe and based in Belgium, Mokoomba mix Afro-fusion sounds of jazz, pop, and folk with drums, beatbox, percussion, keyboards, strings, wind instruments, and kora for a scintillating musical journey. The upbeat music is littered with rousing percussion and Latin-esque tunings reflecting a little Portuguese presence. Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin influences are present, but Afro-pop is probably the most fitting description. "Masangango" reflects a Malian or Senegalese composition with ambulating percussion, backup vocals, and shimmering kora sounds. The funky "Mangongo" is a dance-friendly tune that is very refreshing. There are twelve tracks in all and none of them are the same. Fans of Afro-fusion, Afro-pop, and African music in general will love Rising Tide. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CD Review: DeLeon's 'Tremor Fantasma'

Tremor Fantasma

The Sephardic wanderings of Mexico's DeLeon are inspired and influenced by Jewish musical traditions and folk music from Western Europe, Central Asia, and the Mediterranean. The contemporary music is not overtly-traditional in scope, but it contains a slight nod in that direction. Fortunately, the modern leanings of percussion, bass, guitars, and up-tempo instrumentation provide a Spanish feel and slightly experimental mode overall. For instance, the instrumental rock tune, "Lamma Bada," contains punchy electric guitar displays of beauty with Middle Eastern-type shakers and meditative drumming. The retro Brazilian-tinged tune, "Para Que Quero," is a jingly tune with an electric guitar solo and reverberating vibes. The sweet song contains smooth grooves, haunting vocals, and a Latin rock feel unsurpassed by other groups. The country-tinged, "Barminan," represents an Appalachian tune with banjo-picking and fast percussion. Who would think Sephardic nomads ventured up and down the Appalachian? This represents DeLeon's global appeal and varied genre stylings. DeLeon is a very good Sephardic music that is hip, fun, and ready to take the world by musical storm. ~ Matthew Forss 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Song Review: Derek Nicoletto's "Champion"

Derek Nicoletto
"Champion" on Kind Ghosts

New York-based and rock-driven, Derek Nicoletto, brings us a hot new rock track, "Champion," off his first solo album, Kind Ghosts. The song opens with a symphonic, static-driven rock intro with a majestic shower of electronic power. The 1980s-like electronic shades of synth heaven provide a great boost to the song, especially during the chorus. The laser-like noises and percussive rock beat accompanies Derek's rock vocals that are loud, but understandable. There is a delicate balance between the background instrumentation and Derek's voice. All in all, the song may take on electronic characteristics from 80s rock or dance music, but it is inherently contemporary. I give it 5 stars out of 5. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, September 20, 2012

CD Review: Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman's 'Hidden People'

Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
Hidden People

The UK's folk-based duo, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, are a couple with great guitar and vocal skills. Sean is the brother of Seth Lakeman, another renowned folk musician from England. The folk rock renderings of "Oxford, N.Y." are especially inviting. The diverse vocal calithenics and music chords are engaging and catchy throughout. There are no weak tracks here. The upbeat tune, "Hang The Rowan," is very catchy and groovy. There is an element of rock to this tune. But it is also one of the best tunes on the entire album. If Heart and The Cranberries made a song in England, this would be it! Though, the beautiful "The Wisdom Of Standing Still" is a close second. Anyway, Hidden People should appeal to people everywhere. Folk fans rejoice with this one!~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Young'uns' 'When Our Grandfathers Said No'

The Young'uns
When Our Grandfathers Said No
Navigator Records

The UK's The Young'uns are a folk trio that create emotive tracks of strings, guitars, accordion, and piano. The twelve tracks are great folk tunes with catchy melodies and fun lyrics. The vocals are representative of Celtic, Scandinavian, and Scottish/English folk melodies. This is contemporary folk, but there are no rock elements present. There are solemn moments and upbeat vocal displays of English charm. There are some vocal winners here, including "The Chemical Worker's Song," "Harbour Voice," and "Roll Down." Anyone with an interest in English folk music will love The Young'uns. Fans of vocal music from the same region will be pleased, too. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ana Gazzola's 'Musicas E Palavras Dos Bee Gees'

Ana Gazzola
Musicas E Palavras Dos Bee Gees

Brazilian-born and LA-based, Ana Gazzola, brings us reinterpreted songs of the famous group, Bee Gees. However, the songs are not disco here. Instead, there is a strong Brazilian pop prevalence that is smooth, jazzy, and groovy. The smooth tracks are also sung in Portuguese. These are some of the hits of the Bee Gees. Some of the tracks include, "Charade," "Emotion," "How Deep Is Your Love," "Words," and seven other songs. The original melodies are still here, but the Brazilian bossa-nova tones are overpowering, but not in a negative manner. Ana is the vocalist, but also the percussionist and sax player. Mike Clinco joins her on electric/acoustic/rhythm guitars, Antonio Sant'Anna joins in on bass guitar, Pablo Medina is on keyboards, and Ze Bruno Eisenberg is on drums. The vocals are more mature than Ceu, but equally-endearing. Anyone with an interest in Brazilian or Portuguese music will love this one. Plus, Bee Gee fans will like it, too. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kwame Afrovibes' 'Let's Go'

Kwame Afrovibes
Let's Go

Afrobeat from Spain via Ghana? Yes. Kwame Adzraku is the lead singer and instrumentalist with the band Kwame Afrovibes. On Let's Go, Kwame plays drums, maracas, sticks, piano, guitars, shekeres, hammond B3, keyboard, rhodes, tambourine, and other instruments. As a vocalist, Kwame can be compared with Fela Kuti, but the tracks are sung in English, Ewe, Spanish, Accran, and Ashanti. The African languages are represented throughout. Guest musicians play djembe, synth, sax, steel drum, kalimba, and cabaza for another layer of percussion and texture. The funky, psychedelic ramblings are upbeat, danceable, and groovy. There is a high-level of musicianship that is not seen in many other recordings today. Anyone with an interest in West African jazz, makossa, soukous, pop, and rock will love the intricate renderings of Kwame Afrovibes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Real Vocal String Quartet's 'Four Little Sisters'

Real Vocal String Quartet
Four Little Sisters
Flower Note Records

The San Francisco-area quartet finds music and beauty in jazz, pop, string, and classic traditions. RVSQ is Irene Sazer on violin and vocals, Alisa Rose on violin and vocals, Dina Maccabee on viola and vocals, and Jessica Ivry on cello and vocals. "Machine" is a Regina Spektor song with delicate vocals and writhing string melodies. "Homage To Oumou" is a plucked string tribute and vocal medley in honor of Oumou Sangare--a female diva from Mali, Africa. Though, the string arrangements represent Scandinavian traditions. There are prancing tunes of Brazilian charm ("Copo Vazio"), Cajun folk music ("Allons a Lafayette"), and a David Byrne cover ("Knotty Pine"). The diverse material on the album is easily captured on the strings and vocal melodies without leading to boredom. String fans unite with the pleasant instrumental and vocal magic of the Real Vocal String Quartet. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, September 14, 2012

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Norge, Mitt Norge...?'

Various Artists
Norge, Mitt Norge...?

The national identity of Norway is preserved, yet reinvented, with historical songs made anew for today's generation. However, the songs are still folk centered and light pop with equal doses of classical and jazz. The title is translated as 'Norway, My Norway.' The music is arranged by Valkyrien Allstars, but Moddi, Aissa Tobi, Trond Granlund, Viggo Sandvik, Osla Fagottkor, Sudan Dudan, and Solveig Slettahjell have their hand in the mix, too. The thirteen track release is largely a folk music compilation that was recorded in an old Parliamentary room in Oslo, where the concept of Norway as an independent state was decided between 1814 and 1854. The music contains fiddles, drums, bright vocals, bass, and horns. The melody of "Deilig er Norden," resembles "Beautiful Savior"--a popular Christian hymn. Anyone with an interest in folk music from Scandinavia will love this one. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mahsa Vahdat & Mighty Sam McClain's 'Love Duets Across Civilizations - A Deeper Tone Of Longing'

Mahsa Vahdat & Mighty Sam McClain
Love Duets Across Civilizations - A Deeper Tone Of Longing

Iran's Mahsa Vahdat and America's Mighty Sam McClain bring us a new album of musical poetry inspired by the poetry of Mohammad Ibrahim Jafari and Erik Hillestad. The music is bluesy and classical with both Farsi and English vocals. The instruments are varied, including acoustic/electric guitars, Fender Rhodes, harmonica, piano, trumpet, ney, kamancheh, vibes, and double bass. The session songs are more adventurous and textured than previous releases from Mahsa Vahdat. Nevertheless, the contemporary music arrangements on "When You Came" are rooted in blues, jazz, and Central Asian music. The nine other tracks are a mix of soul blues and Central Asian music, which is a treat, as it is very well-composed with a favorable, long-lasting result. In short, two acclaimed and talented musicians bring us an album that is worth listening to over and over again. You will love it! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, September 7, 2012

CD Review: Baba Alex's 'Chandra Shakti'

Baba Alex
Chandra Shakti

Based in Canada, but living part of the year in India, Baba Alex is a celebrated raga musician and kirtan singer. The music is steeped in the swirling sounds of the sitar, Bansuri flute, shenai, and tabla. The seven track release is very classical in its arrangement, but the vocals reflect a more modern presentation. There are various ragas presented here, including Bhoop Kalyan, Gunkali, and few other classical music interpretations. Baba Alex speaks Hindi, Bengali, English, and French. Married to the daughter of a Baul singer, Baba Alex solidifies his mark in the world of inventive instrumental ragas and classical singing. At about fifty-minutes, this album is in-depth enough for even the most passive raga fan. Let the spirit of the Bansuri and shenai envelope your soul today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Edo & Jo's 'Kirtan Alive'

Edo & Jo
Kirtan Alive

The Australian kirtan duo, Edo & Jo, brings us rousing, emotive, and inspirational devotional tunes inspired by yogic vibrations and universal harmony. Kirtan is a sacred, devotional expression of music and vocals that bring inner peace to souls around the world. In this case, kirtan is accomplished with Sanskrit vocals by Edo & Jo, along with flute, harmonium, ukulele, synthesizer, acoustic/electric guitar, and vibes. In addition, a fleet of Indian percussion, including tablas, dholaks, violins, manjiras, tombaks, mridangams, and darabukas accompany some of the songs. Kirtan is marked by repetitive vocal lines and rhythms, which is fairly evident on Kirtan Alive. The ecstatic union of sounds is very enthralling and addictive. Fans of kirtan, Hindu devotional music, yoga music, and inspirational music will love the kirtan wanderings of Edo & Jo. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Karine Polwart's 'Traces'

Karine Polwart

Scotland's Karine Polwart continues to amaze listeners with another poignant folk music release titled Traces. In this project, there are 'traces' of history, love, poetry, sadness, and social issues. Karine is the vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist, and she is joined by her brother on backup vocals and guitars, and Inge Thomson on accordion, percussion, and backup vocals. This is perhaps the most varied album to date from Karine, which mainly applies to the plethora of instrumentation not normally used in Scottish folk music. For instance, the marimba, vibraphone, and harmonium are some of the diverse instruments used. Overall, the music is warm, inviting, and delightfully-appetizing. This is Scottish folk at its best. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Bellowhead's 'Broadside'

Navigator Records

UK's acclaimed folk-rock group, Bellowhead, arrive with a new album that attempts to continue the band's writhing folk-rock rhythms and melodies that are playful, loud, and theatrical. The experimental and improvisational antics are contemporary and classical at the same time. The jaunty rhythms, quick melodies, and horn-driven outros are seemingly outlandish and crude, but the effect is awe-inspiring. Not particularly traditional, the tunes are reinvented with a plethora of exciting instruments (nearly twenty to be exact) that are always engaging. Canada's Scottish and Irish fusion band, Glengarry Bhoys, are similar, but more rock-driven than Bellowhead. Though, the quirkiness of Squonk Opera is observed on occasion. Nevertheless, Bellowhead knows how to achieve success with both live performances and recorded music by understanding English folk tune heritage and understanding what contemporary listeners want to hear in a fun manner. The dozen tunes are traditional in nature and every one is stellar. Nothing is amiss here. Bellowhead is above everyone else when it comes to English folk. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Debbi Walton's 'Sweet State of Mind'

Debbi Walton
Sweet State of Mind
Ultra Sound Records

The smooth, folk-rock concoctions of Texas-based singer/songwriter/guitarist, Debbi Walton, brings us a Southern charm with warm words and kind melodies. The sunny rhythms and arrangements contain a little blues elements. The instrumental repertoire consists chiefly of acoustic guitar, bass, electric guitar, slide guitar, banjo, mandolin, accordion, and harmonica. Debbi is a great singer with a voice a little more earthy than Shawn Colvin's voice. The melodies are gentle, sweet, and folksy. There are elements of Texan folk and country, but the resulting sound is largely contemporary folk with a dash of blues and a touch of soul. Overall, Debbi's eleven songs represent a good cross-section of her abilities to make music entertaining. There is also a nostalgic element from the 60s or 70s in the vocal and instrumental deliveries. Folk fans rejoice with this one! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Somali Party Southall'

Various Artists
Somali Party Southall

The UK-based Somali Party Southall release features the music of Abdulkarim Raas, Raj Kumar Lagoo, Nimco Degan, Mehboob Meghjee, Kuljit Bhamra, Al-Karim, Mohinder Kaur Bhamra, and Siciid Hussein. The UK-based musicians represent a Somali and Punjabi collective of musical styles ranging from jazz, pop, bhangra, and Bollywood playfulness. The instruments are varied and prevalent throughout the album. For instance, the bongos, tabla, dhol, oud, keyboards, violins, dholak, guitar, sax, clarinet, and flute play a large role in the instrumental arrangements. The vibrant beat and exciting vocals on "Ya Salam Ya Salam" is especially intriguing, because it contains a bit of bhangra, Bollywood, and East African influences. Nimco Degan stars as the lead singer on "Qalbigayga Lulayee." The final dance track is "Dholdrums," which features bhangra greatness on various drums and percussion without vocals. This is perfect for fans of UK bhangra or Punjabi music. Get your party started today with Somali Party Southall. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Chemako's Self-Titled Release from Italy

Ultra Sound Records

The gritty folk-rock stylings of Italy's Chemako is surprisingly similar in tone and arrangement to America's Southern folk, rock, and blues music. Moreover, the vocals are in English and the instrumentation is largely based in the Deep South. The slide guitar, piano, banjo, dobro, acoustic guitar, mandoguitar, drums, harp, ukulele, sax, and flugelhorn round out the instrumental repertoire. A few of the songs contain female lead singers, including "Maintenance Free," "Let It Burn Wild," "Save The Moon," "The Ocean Song," "Tears For Breakfast," and "George Harrison's cover, "All Things Must Pass." The Sarah MacLachlan-esque "The Ocean Song" contains a little Shawn Colvin-esque vocals and guitar playing with bass, drums, and flugelhorn. The music is bluesy, Western, and Southern rock with a folk twist. The music is unlike anything heard, because it does not sound 'Italian.' At any rate, listeners enthralled by folk rock and blues will love Chemako. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Shahrzad Sepanlou's 'Yek Rooz'

Shahrzad Sepanlou
Yek Rooz (One Day)

Born in Tehran, Iran and based in California, Shahrzad Sepanlou is a talented musician and vocalist that incorporates piano, percussion, bass, bouzouki, sax, and keyboards on her latest release, Yek Rooz. The jazzy, contemporary music is sung in Persian, but the instrumentation is top-notch throughout. There are hints of classical, jazz, and pop sounds indicative of Azerbaijan and Armenia, too. The Central Asian songstress is joined by Faramarz Aslani on "Maa." The musical arrangements of "Komakam Kon" are particularly enthralling, because the piano, emotive vocals, and ambulating percussion are classy and nostalgic with a modern twist. The music is not overly-showy, but the dance beat of "Che Konam" and electric guitar on "Ghazal Foroush" reflects a more youthful ambiance. Yek Rooz has everything for the discriminating listener--soft melodies, sensual vocals, dance beats, and reflective instrumental sections. Fans of Persian popular music should check out Yek Rooz today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Diego's Umbrella's 'Proper Cowboy'

Diego's Umbrella
Proper Cowboy
Ninth Street Opus

San Francisco-based gypsy rock masters, Diego's Umbrella, is a riot live and on their new recording, Proper Cowboy. With a title nod to spaghetti Westerns, there is something wild and unabashed in Diego's music. The musically-rich "Thrash Mexican Budapest" is a lively gypsy thrash/rock anthem that is catchy, entertaining, and clearly the best track on the album. The heady, dance-friendly "Bulletproof Shine" screams of gypsy street ska with some urban beats. "Amsterdam Pt. 1" contains haunting fiddle, militaristic drumming, and cinematic symphonies of aural color. "Amsterdam Pt. 2" is not an instrumental tune like its predecessor. Instead, this song is more of a rock anthem with English vocals and a contemporary edge. Fans of klezmer, gypsy rock, and fun party music should check out Diego's Umbrella. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Caroline Herring's 'Camilla'

Caroline Herring
Signature Sounds

The Southern folk/blues/pop style of Mississippi-native and Georgia resident, Caroline Herring, is nostalgic, historical, and thought-provoking. The folk repertoire consists of acoustic guitar and vocals by Caroline, as well as Steven Sheehan on acoustic guitar, Fats Kaplin on pedal steel, fiddle, and banjo, Bryan Owings on drums and chains, and Bryn Davies on upright bass. The serene fiddle and sweet vocals on "Black Mountain Lullaby" are especially inviting. Though, the banjo really gets a workout on "Fireflies." The vocals are reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Heidi Talbot, and Karine Polwart. The vocal "Traveling Shoes" is void of any instrumentation.  The album art represents an artistic presence of simplistic domesticity and equality issues commonplace in the 1960s. At any rate, the scintillating folk guitar and instrumentation is full of good things. Fans of the aforementioned artists will add Caroline Herring's new release to their collection without any reservations. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mamadou and Vanessa's 'Faso Mali'

Mamadou and Vanessa
Faso Mali

Malian blues are captured on the latest release from the Malian-native and California-based, Mamadou Sidibe, and his wife, Vanessa. The fifteen track release contains richly-textured songs loaded with great instruments indicative of Mali's Wassoulou region, including kamale ngoni, keregne, kousouba, balafon, calabash, djembe, guitar, accordion, and bass. To give listeners an idea of what the songs are about, one need not look any further than the track two: "Ali Farka." Though, the music is not steeped in electric guitar throughout, but it does contain the bluesy lines that made him popular with the world. Vanessa's playful "Beautiful Thing" is an an English song with folksy accordion and Mamadou's Malian vocals. Many of the songs contain bright melodies and heady rhythms that are both traditional and contemporary. In short, this is the best recording of Malian music this side of Timbuktu...literally. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Hijos de Agueybana's 'Agua del Sol'

Hijos de Agueybana
Agua del Sol
Tumi Music

Puerto Rico's Hijos de Agueybana play bomba music on their latest offering, Agua del Sol. Bomba music is a richly-textured drum and dance music form born out of a group of Africans forced to work sugar plantations. The barrel drums and vocal choruses make the music stand out with tons of rhythm and magical musical textures. The group is led by Otoqui Reyes and consists of eight musicians. THe largely traditional nature of the vocals, drumming, and assorted percussion make Agua del Sol soar high with African ambiance. The thirteen tracks are rich with vibrant vocals and drumming, which resemble West African traditions in a contemporary form. The only sense of modernity is captured in the opening song, "Saludo al Sol," which includes an electronic pan flute sound that plays throughout the mostly instrumental piece. Anyone interested in the traditional music of Puerto Rico should find Hijos de Agueybana in their repertoire. ~ Matthew Forss