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