Friday, June 28, 2013

CD Review: Rachel Barton Pine's 'Violin Lullabies'

Rachel Barton Pine
Violin Lullabies
Cedille Records

American violinist and award-winning performer, Rachel Barton Pine, presents us with an amazing set of lullabies on violin, which is joined by Matthew Hagle on piano. The album was inspired by the birth of her daughter a few years ago. After looking for classical music for lullabies, Rachel came up with Violin Lullabies, which features selective compositions from Brahms, Gershwin, Ravel, Schubert, Strauss, Rebikov, and others. The meditative and sweeping piano melodies alongside the somewhat somber and melancholic violin tunes creates a purely classical approach that is fun for mother, baby, and anyone else. There are twenty-five instrumental lullabies and cradle songs from across Europe. The earthy violin and plaintive piano sounds are a perfect mix for the neo-classical world. Rachel knows how to evoke emotive responses on violin without compromising anything. Fans of classical music will rejoice here, but anyone interested in relaxing or lounging will find plenty of music to eat up. It's high-brow wow for the common folk! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Brian Larney's 'At The Starting Line'

Brian Larney
At The Starting Line
Nunya Records

Connecticut-based singer, guitarist, and composer, Brian Larney, takes the spotlight on At The Starting Line. The folk music-based material contains a bit of Southern rock, contemporary pop, and nostalgic Americana. The eleven song release contains catchy melodies and rhythmic textures that are pure pop gold. The pop/rock anthem, "Closed Door," is a perfect song with a little Southern rock influences and lush harmonies. "Solace" is a little classic ditty with jangly guitars and an uppity tune that is highly-reminiscent of the late-Owsley. "Never Argue With The Devil" opens with jingly guitar lines and soft vocals in the vein of Fountains Of Wayne and the late-Owsley. "You Me And Allison" is an upbeat, jingly, pop-focused tune with swishy percussion and full guitar sounds. The classic folk tunes are more rock-inspired than folk, but there is an element of nostalgia inherent in similar songs from America's folk explosion in 1960's and 70's. Still, Brian puts a more modern spin on the music with a little Southern rock and contemporary folk. Each song gives us something to remember and that is definitely a positive quality. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Arlon Bennett's 'World Of Possibility'

Arlon Bennett
World Of Possibility

New York-native, Arlon Bennett is a songwriter, singer, and guitarist with a knack for classic Americana songs steeped in nostalgic settings and contemplative memories about life. Folk music is the primary genre showcased here. The vocals are a bit of James Taylor and the classic Americana songs of Fountains Of Wayne. The slight Paul Simon references are not too far from the truth throughout. "I America" is a harmonica-tinged and guitar-focused song with uppity choruses and harmonic backup vocals. Basically, it is America's soundtrack. "A Friend Of You" contains crisp guitar strums and punchy percussion. "Everything He Says" is an upbeat folk music anthem with catchy melodies and twangy resonances. There is a hint of country music driven by a folk music background. The music is also similar to the so-called 'country music' of contemporary Inuit music performers. Though, Arlon sings songs in English and about events, life, and family in America. Anyone with an interest in clear vocals, folk melodies, and a pop presence should find Arlon Bennett at the top of any listening list. Imagine the possibilities with Arlon Bennett. ~ Matthew Forss 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

CD Review: SoCorpo's 'Inelement'

Ears Wide Open Records

The new age music maestros, Sasha Bogdanowitsch and Sabrina Lastman, conjure up images of a natural world bombarded by otherworldly vocals, sounds, and arrangements that are as historic as they are futuristic. The melee of music is accomplished with autoharp, bowed psaltery, mbira, and other electronics. The metallic, punchy, and tinny sounds are processed and reinvented for a different affect overall. The songs are very creative and vocal. The vocals are not very traditional, yet they represent a variety of singing traditions that are angelic, abrupt, and varied. Think of the Squonk Opera meets a Mongolian throat-singing group, while on tour with Kristi Stassinopolou. The wide array of sounds are sometimes reserved to allow the vocals prime-time coverage. Anyone familiar with Scandinavian singing traditions stemming from related Inuit song types will especially love the music of SoCorpo. Everyone else may enjoy the tunes as a more experimental project. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Elsten Torres' 'Waiting For Clouds'

Elsten Torres
Waiting For Clouds
Real/Artificial Music

The Cuban-born and New York-based singer/songwriter, Elsten Torres, is no stranger to creating pop hooks and rootsy, Americana songs wrapped in an alternative and progressive package that is memorable and catchy. The opener, "A Perfect World," is a melancholic and down-tempo guitar tune with earthy vocals. "Bleeding Hearts Club" is a catchy, roots song with a slight nod back to 1960's and 70's folk music from America's heyday. "Closer Tonight" is a soft ballad that is contemplative, melodic, and classy. "Keep Me Waiting" is an uppity guitar tune with some spunk, yet clearly alternative leanings. The punchy chords and earthy vocals are reminiscent of Springsteen and The Devlins. "Sitting On Your Throne" begins with a poppy opener that is reminiscent of a 1960's pop song, yet with a slight reggae beat. Think of The Wonders from Tom Hanks' film, That Thing You Do!, and the symphonic keyboard stylings of Craig Armstrong. The rootsy, "Through Her Window," is a guitar gem and vocal winner that is an appropriate male counterpart to Shawn Colvin. Fans of good folk, alternative, progressive music with a slight throwback to mid-twentieth century song greatness will understand why Elsten Torres comes in way ahead of the pack. Waiting For Clouds is down-to-earth as it gets. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Maracatu New York's 'Baque Do Brooklyn'

Maracatu New York
Baque Do Brooklyn
Nation Beat Music

Maracatu New York is a band steeped in the maracatu band music of northeast Brazil. The New York-based group consists of numerous musicians that play sax, trumpet, trombone, tuba. caixa, alfaias, gongue, viola, guitar, bass, drums, agbe, and other instruments. The overall sound is energetic and party-like with Mardi Gras-type sounds and danceable tunes. The band music is raw and authentic, which is reminiscent of capoeira--also from Brazil. The vocals are vibrant and youthful. However, the instrumentation is the real winner here. There are twelve songs in all. Fans of Brazilian big band brass and percussion will love it. Yet, anyone into Brazilian, Latin, or dance music should love this world fusion concoction. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, June 21, 2013

CD Review: Zedashe's 'Intangible Pearls'

Intangible Pearls
Multiflora/Electric Cowbell Records

The polyphonic singing traditions of the Caucasus, especially from Georgia, stem from centuries of religious devotional chants and folklore. The amazing vocal chants are steeped in rich traditions and local cultures. The vocals are accompanied by chonguri, panduri, doli drum, garmoni, and chiboni. As a mostly vocal album, Intangible Pearls touches on the beauty of the human voice amidst different melodies, harmonies, and textures. Founded in the 1990's, Zedashe largely was created to transmit vocal songs originally lost during the Communist era. The group's name comes from special earthenware jugs made for wine. The entire album consists of twenty-five different songs spanning many generations, centuries, and social origins. Anyone interested in vocal polyphony and Caucasus music will want Zedashe to be a part of any collection. Discover it today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Carmen Souza's 'Kachupada'

Carmen Souza

Cape Verde's Carmen Souza brings us an energetic mix of island rhythms and jazz melodies on Kachupada. There are thirteen songs in all, but 'My Favourite Thing' is one of those iconic odes that seems to transcend time and cultures. The fast rhythms and quick vocal tempo changes speed occasionally. However, the jazzy interludes shed some of the indigenous influences at times. Nevertheless, Carmen's voice is still young and fresh with bright elements and embellishments that keep one coming back for more. There are various vocal acrobatics that mimic some of the instrumentation. There are more indigenous elements that are not to be missed. Jazzy outros, folkish displays of fun, and complex textures make it all worth while. Fans of Cape Verde music, Portuguese music, and island rhythms will be especially enlightened by the music of Carmen Souza. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure's 'Mon Pays'

Vieux Farka Toure
Mon Pays
Six Degrees Records

The late-Ali Farka Toure's son, Vieux, releases a new album, Mon Pays, which means, 'my nation.' The album was born in Mali and represents an audio examination of current troubles, situations, and traditional practices. This is a great Malian recording with all the charming folk instruments one can handle, including the calabash, djembe, ngoni, kora, shakers, turtle shells, bamboo, triangle, and kourignan. The upbeat melodies and North African rhythms set this recording apart from others, because there is such a scintillating texture of catchy, enthralling, and memorable tunes. There are ten tracks in all. There are instrumental and vocal moments throughout. The earthy vocals are as harsh as the Saharan sands at times, but that is part of the brilliance overall. The galloping music is perfect for fans of North African music, folk music, Saharan music, and Malian musicians. Own another fine piece of Malian music before it is too late. This is a fine addition to any musical reper-'toure'. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Joy Dunlop's 'Faileasan'

Joy Dunlop
Hearth Music

Scotland's Joy Dunlop combines vibrant, Gaelic vocals a slew of folk instruments and whirling rhythms that are bright, edgy, and historic. The quick vocals are quite fitting with other Gaelic performers, including Julie Fowlis. There are fiddles, pipes, whistles, piano, drums, percussion, and other instruments and sounds on Joy's newest release, Faileasan, which means, 'reflections.' There are slower tunes, such as "Eilean Luinn" and "Cumha Chailein Ghlinn Lubhair," as well as energetic tunes, like "Puirt A Beul Earraghaidhealach" and "S Daor A Cheannaich Mi 'Phog". Joy's angelic vocals carry the songs into very relaxing worlds of comfort and solitude. There are traditional themes here, but the songs are created for today. There are vocal traditions indicative of Inuit, joik, and Inner Asian derivatives. Importantly, this recording is made in Scotland and it does not steer too far away from that tradition. There are eleven songs total. Yes, the music is as beautiful as Joy. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Idan Raichel Project's 'Quarter To Six'

Idan Raichel Project
Quarter To Six

The Idan Raichel Project is back at it again with another impressive recording. Quarter To Six represents a compilation of sixteen songs mostly in Hebrew. However, Idan Raichel is joined by the famed Ana Moura and Vieux Farka Toure on two songs. The same piano melodies, symphonic orchestrations, and world fusion arrangements are still prevalent here. There is a mix of Egyptian, West African, Middle Eastern, and world pop elements that make Idan Raichel so enthralling. One of the album highlights include "Achshav Karov." The upbeat melody and soaring rhythms are reminiscent of "Mi'Ma'Amakim" from the last album. Though, "Ba'Layla" is close behind. Still, all of the songs possess the same musical fervor and catchiness that made his previous albums so popular. Some of the songs are a little more exploratory and not as structured as most of the songs on the previous albums, but they are still worth a listen. Fans of adventurous and catchy world music will find comfort here. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Yungchen Lhamo and Anton Batagov's 'Tayatha'

Yungchen Lhamo and Anton Batagov
Cantaloupe Music

Tibet's golden voice, Yungchen Lhamo, joins forces with Russia's post-minimalist pianist, Anton Batagov. The two unlikely paired up to form a unique blend of Buddhist devotional and folk music with equal pairings of classical and jazz. The rather minimalist recording does not include many instruments, as the human voice takes the lead. The piano melodies are rather reduced and soft. There are seven total tracks on the album. Many of the songs are over eight minutes long. The long songs tend to enrapture listeners into a devotional trance that is angelic and melodic in the same manner. The spacious rhythms and melodies reflect an Inner Asian and Russian ambiance. Anyone familiar with yoga music, Tibetan chants, religious vocal music, Russian piano music, and world fusion from this part of the world will love Yungchen's long-awaited follow-up to Ama. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, June 13, 2013

CD Review: Noel Black & XRA's 'Chromatic Warfare'

Noel Black & XRA
Chromatic Warfare
Independent Release

Coming to New York from the Caribbean, Noel Black reinvents the world of hip-hop, dance, and electronica, along with his West Coast songstress, XRA. Two musical worlds collide on Chromatic Warfare with Caribbean-tinged rhythms and urban DJing at its finest. XRA's DJ skills and vocal presence are unmatched. Noel Black's rough voice is direct and melodic. However, the rather short album may be off-putting for some. Nevertheless, the four tracks: "Riot," "We Get Busy," "Judge Before Reading," and "D.O.I. (Declaration of Independence)" are unique and fresh enough to be enjoyed over and over. The music is repetitive at times, very electronic, industrial, and urban. The mix of spacey electronica and urban grooves with rap and hip-hop influences are a combination that works. Anyone interested in progressive poetry and electronic music with an urban flair will find Chromatic Welfare a blast. ~ Matthew Forss   

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

CD Review: Oliver James' 'Chasing The Sun'

Oliver James
Chasing The Sun
Wire & Wood Recordings

New York-based, Oliver James, writes creative songs steeped in Americana with a bit of intellectual and alternative musical leanings. There are some pop inflections with musical influences from Iggy Pop, R.E.M., All American Rejects, U2, and others. The music is very unique and it touches on several interrelated genres of progressive, alternative, jazz, rock, folk, pop, and classic rock. The symphonic string constructions and epic rock solos are interspersed with instances of poetic songwriting and melodic instrumental arrangements. "Lovers Bridge" is a powerhouse jazz/rock song with obvious Springsteen-esque qualities. "Before He Turned The Gun On Himself" opens with a rather somber tone on guitar and strings. The earthy vocals are moving and followed by an angelic and operatic vocal tone near the end of the song. The anthemic song opens up into a magical medley of instruments and vocals that are not negative overall. "Avenue Of The Stars" begins with a graceful guitar tune and airy vocals. There is a country or folk element highlighted by the sliding drone of the lap guitar. Overall, Oliver James knows how to chase the sun and the dream of making music that people want to hear...over and over again. ~ Matthew Forss     

Song Review: Freddie Atlas' "Vain"


New York City-based singer, songwriter, and pianist, Freddie Atlas, brings a hopeful and contemplative mood to the new single, “Vain.”  The meandering piano melodies and wistful, symphonic washes and arrangements provide a sense of classicism with rather steady vocals.  The music revolves around an absence of percussion, which highlights the vocal performances and new age piano.  “Vain” opens with the sounds of rainfall and flowing water interrupted with a loud, but distant, thud.  The rainfall is joined by a symphonic crescendo of new age delight that soars in and out of blissful resonance.  The tone is somewhat dreamy and it reflects a hopeful sense of yearning.  The symphonic piece wanes and a slow, pensive piano arrangement begin.  Freddie’s slow, but achingly beautiful vocals take over, but they are not very pronounced.  Instead, the vocals seem to match the instrumental accompaniment with ease.  There are a few wispy, background vocals that accompany Freddie’s vocals in parts, but they are mainly indiscriminate.  Mid-song, Freddie’s vocals attain a bit of a more up-tempo peak, along with some orchestral arrangements. The free-flowing piano melody is sparkling, meditative, and memorable.  The piano melody continues for the last minute or so of the song, while some water sounds return, as in the beginning. Freddie Atlas seems to hit all the right chords here.  The music starts slow and patient, but opens up a bit with some more up-tempo piano parts and orchestral washes of sound.  Instrumentally, the song succeeds without fault.  Vocally, Freddie has an innate ability to wrap his vocals around smooth and classical melodies with effortlessness.  The pensive and calming, yet emotional vocals, are somewhat reminiscent of Paul Buchanan’s work with the instrumental down-beat and new age-isms of Craig Armstrong.  At any rate, Freddie’s song is an excellent composition that elicits many emotions and feelings without tripping up.

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)


Sunday, June 2, 2013

CD Review: Lawson Rollins' 'Full Circle'

Lawson Rollins
Full Circle
Infinita Records

American guitarist extraordinaire, Lawson Rollins, brings together a dozen songs that mix world fusion with flamenco, new age guitar stylings, and Spanish-tinged melodies. Many of the instrumental songs are akin to the guitar stylings and arrangements of Jesse Cook. Lawson plays classical, flamenco, and electric guitars, along with keyboards and drum programming. Lawson is joined by Dominic Camardella on keyboards and piano, Dave Bryant on drums and percussion, Randy Tico on acoustic and electric bass, Richard Hardy on clarinet, soprano sax and flute, Charlie Bisharat on violin, and Cameron Stone on cello. The scintillating melodies are timeless and free-flowing. Anyone with an interest in acoustic guitars and instrumental music will find happiness in Lawson's latest release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Oana Catalina Chitu's 'Divine: Romanian Songs From The Repertoire of Maria Tanase (1913-1963)'

Oana Catalina Chitu
Divine: Romanian Songs From The Repertoire Of Maria Tanase (1913-1963)
Asphalt Tango Records

One of Romania's greatest chanson singers, Maria Tanase, created music in every venue imaginable--from clubs, restaurants, theatres, suburbs, and beyond--showcasing her inner and outer talent with memorable folk songs. The musical repertoire featured cymbalom, guitar, violin, sax, accordion, drums, and double bass that are carried on by today's singer, Oana Catalina Chitu. A native Romanian herself, Oana sings the music of Maria with such memorable and iconic abilities that transcend time and world regions. There are a dozen songs on the new album that convey a true Balkan presence with heady rhythms, folk tunes, dances, waltzes, and vocal earthiness so inherent in Maria's original music. Anyone familiar with female vocal music that is folksy and nostalgic should check out Oana's latest work. Fans of Maria Tanase will love the diverse musical incarnations that do her original music justice. ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, June 1, 2013

CD Review: Gaudi's 'In Between Times'

In Between Times
Six Degrees Records

Born in Italy, based in the UK, and currently traveling the world, Gaudi encapsulates the world fusion epitomy with electronic beats, traditional instrumentation, and groovy dance tunes. There are a plethora of guest musicians that reinforce the highly-textural nature of the compositions. For instance, Michael Rose adds some vocals on "Put Your Guns Down," while Jahmai, Danny Ladwa, Lee Scratch Perry, and Deadly Hunta add their talents on "Life," "Why U Wanna Run" and "Unlimited Possibilities," "I Start To Pray," and "Babylon Is Fallin," respectively. The music is a mix of fusion, dance, reggae, rock, electronic, hip-hop, and rap. This is not really a purist type of album, but a fusionist will be right at home. Anyone into world fusion with a contemporary pulse will find Gaudi very appealing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Women Of Brazil'

Various Artists
Women Of Brazil
Putumayo Records

The breezy and laidback samba, bossa nova, and Latin jazz of Brazil's many ethnic communities comes alive on a classic compilation of new artists and contemporary compositions. The music is characteristically Brazilian, which does not include electronic, techno, rock, or dance-type musical styles. Fans of traditional music will love the new Putumayo release. You will hear new music from Nossa Alma Canta, Graca Cunha, Clara Moreno, Flavia Coelho, Maguinha, Aline Morales, Luisa Maita, Juliana Kehl, Mart'nalia, Miriam Aida, and Miriam Maria. Anyone familiar with South American music that incorporates jazz elements and a few delicate electronic embellishments will desire the Women Of Brazil with open ears. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Firil's 'Smile Som Sumarsole'

Smile Som Sumarsole
Etnisk Musikklubb

Firil is led by Norwegian vocalist, Margit Myhr, but is joined by fellow countryman, Olav Luksengard Mjelva on Hardanger fiddle and Swedish musicians, Anders Hall on viola and octave fiddle with Adam Johansson on guitar. There is a mix of instrumental and vocal tunes throughout. The thirteen track release contains some soul-stirring and toe-twirling melodies that are upbeat, authentic, and raw. The sweet vocals of Margit Myhr are unforgettable and resemble the likes of Emma Hardelin and Jenny Wilhelm. The mostly traditional release brings together unique folk traditions from the Hallingdal region of Norway. Anyone familiar with traditional Scandinavian folk music will love it, yet it is accessible enough to entertain listeners in other world regions. ~ Matthew Forss