Sunday, August 25, 2013

CD Review: Newpoli's 'Tempo Antico'

Tempo Antico

Founded by members that studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music, Newpoli create a folksy form of traditional Italian music with classical instruments, jazzy tunes, and spritely vocal calisthenics. The brisky vocal medleys are akin to the same vocal acrobatics of Finland's Varttina. Many of the songs have historical roots dating back to the fifteen-hundreds, while some originate from the early nineteen-hundreds. The instrumentation is full of classical flavors and medieval minstrelsy. There are thirteen tunes that represent vocal music traditions of operatic and folksy proportions. The giddy instrumentation, bright vocal deliveries, and diverse percussion represent a solid repertoire that is unforgettable. The female vocals are emotive and lively. Tempo Antico is a Mediterranean pleasure with medieval origins and academic backing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jacob Bain & The Publish Quest's 'Then What!?'

Jacob Bain & The Publish Quest
Then What!?

The Seattle-based band, Jacob Bain & The Publish Quest, incorporates a plethora of Afro-beat elements and folk/rock/alternative leanings. There are rap vocals on "Gotta Keep Movin!" and "I Believe People Can Change." Femi Kuti lends some vocals on the title track, "Then What!?." There are great guitar jams here with some jazz, fusion, and rock influences. However, the entire album is relatively light overall. For instance, the rap vocals are not particularly hard or difficult to understand. A mix of instrumentation provides an enjoyable listening experience, even though there are some rap vocals. You will hear congas, trumpet, acoustic guitar, viola, violin, bass, tenor sax, alto sax, baritone sax, keyboards, electric guitar, and classical guitar. The Dave Matthews Band comes to mind at times. "Then What!?," "Gotta Keep Movin!," "The Wall," and "When It Comes" are recommended tracks. There is an urban element to the abovementioned tracks, but there is plenty of room for alternative pop and fusion. Whatever it is called, Then What!? is something that everyone should possess and play. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Samba Toure's 'Albala'

Samba Toure

Born in Mali, Africa, Samba Toure creates moving blues music with lilting guitar work and North African rhythms. Samba tackles the guitar, calabash, and percussion instruments. As a vocalist, Samba resembles Ali Farka Toure. There are backing vocals on a few tracks and traditional violins and contemporary keyboards on others. Overall, Samba's music is full of Malian brilliance with engaging vocals and enthralling instrumentation with lyrics that tackle societal ills. Samba is joined by Djime Sissoko on ngoni, Madou Sanogo on congas/djembe, Zoumana Tereta on sokou, Aminata Wassidje Traore on backing vocals, and Hugo Race on guitar and keyboards. The bluesy tunes and ambulating beats are raw and passionate. Anyone familiar with North African guitar blues will notice Albala--a fast-emerging release that combines the best of both worlds: African roots and blues music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Adham Shaikh's 'Resonance'

Adham Shaikh
Black Swan Records

The atmospheric, down-tempo, and new age incarnations and creations of Adham Shaikh are dreamy, provocative, and futuristic. The light melodies are definitively atmospheric with shimmering 'resonance' and fluid, ambient nuances. There are various mixes on the album, but all of the songs are different and unique. The songs are peaceful, hopeful, and cinematic with long, drifting, aural soundscapes. There are some piano melodies that are pensive, yet not too intrusive. These are selected works from feature films, including Firecelight, EarthPilgrim, Yoga For Cancer Survivors, Secrets, Word Love, and The Sinixt: Bringing Home The Bones. Anyone seeking a cinematic vein of down-tempo or atmospheric music will love Adham Shaikh's instrumental pleasures. Thirteen tracks round out the album. This is perfect for the down-tempo, atmospheric, cinematic, new age, ambient, and improvisational music fan. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Temple Bhajan Band's 'Like A Lotus'

Temple Bhajan Band
Like A Lotus

The California-based, Temple Bhajan Band, creates moving and religious kirtan chants and songs with a numerous cast of vocalists and instrumentalists. Some of the instruments include cello, bass, flute, tamboura, sitar, mrdunga drum, cajon, ektar, harmonium, guitar, and sax. The drone of the harmonium and meandering drum beats combine with the repetitious chants to form a memorable and awe-inspiring musical journey. There are nine tracks in all, but two of them are spoken word tracks with minimal instrumentation. The other vocal tracks include, Nam Pankaja, Jaya Radhe, He Govinda, Hare Krishna 1, Haraye Nama Krishna, Jaya Jaya Sita Rama, and Hare Krishna 2. The songs are rather traditional with many of the songs familiar to those into kirtan, yoga, or chant music. The songs are complex and highly-textured with sounds from South Asia and lyrics in English and Sanskrit. Like A Lotus is a remarkable album for the inner soul seeking outward happiness. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Cristina Braga's 'Samba, Jazz And Love'

Cristina Braga
Samba, Jazz And Love
Enja Records

Brazilian harpist and vocalist, Cristina Braga, employs the help of Ricardo Medeiros on double bass, Jesse Sadoc on trumpet and flugelhorn, Joca Moraes on alfaia drums and tambourine, and Arthur Dutra on vibraphone. The music is rather gentle and carefree. There are eleven tracks that are sensuous and delightful. The light percussion and breezy vocals are jazzy and bossa nova-esque. At any rate, fans of Ceu will be satisfied by the sweeping melodies and delicate rhythms. This is not particularly energetic or dance music; instead, it is more dreamy and contemplative. Every instrument seems to possess a soft, magical tone. Anyone familiar with light jazz, samba, bossa nova, folk, and Brazil pop music will find something to cheer about here. The sounds are reminiscent of 1970s Brazilian jazz music--and that is a very good thing. Don't miss out on Cristina Braga's latest release--your soul will thank you. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Pablo Ziegler & Metropole Orkest's 'Amsterdam Meets New Tango'

Pablo Ziegler & Metropole Orkest
Amsterdam Meets New Tango

A contemporary in the world of Argentinian music, Pablo Ziegler melds tango music, classical, and folk traditions with music from The Netherlands--thanks to Metropole Orkest. Pablo is a talented pianist that includes luminaries, such as Quique Sinesi on guitar, Walther Castro on bandoneon, and percussionist, Quintino Cinalli. The instrumental ensemble is backed with the talented orchestrations and classical-themed medleys of Metropole Orkest. There are nine long tracks that shimmer with fiery jazz-lines, cinematic washes of symphonic beauty, and edgy melodies that inspire and entertain. There are slower jazz melodies and rhythms, along with more energetic displays of musicianship that is anything but boring. The lively bandoneon and emotive strings are classic, yet modern. Anyone looking for new tango music with a jazzy, classical, and symphonic edge, then Amsterdam Meets New Tango is highly recommended. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, August 23, 2013

CD Review: The Great American Robber Barons' 'Reno Nevada And Other Songs Of Gambling, Vice, And Betrayal'

The Great American Robber Barons
Reno Nevada And Other Songs Of Gambling, Vice, And Betrayal
3:05 AM Music And Film

The alternative guitar stylings and psychedelic rock concoctions of The Great American Robber Barons are incredibly infectious, energetic, and classic. The vocal interplay between Keith Dion's lower vocal register and Diana Mangano's higher vocal calisthenics lend a classic touch to the new album. There are sixteen tunes in all, which are all diverse and never boring or flat. The melancholic "Nowhere Left To Go" is a completely instrumental tune with light guitar sounds and no percussion. Keith and Diana join together for "Cemetery," "At The Hands Of The Robber Barons," "Hoo Hoo Man," "Last Tango In Ponsonby," and a few others. The drifting guitar rhythms and great vocals conjure up the classic American folk and rock sounds of the 1970's. Importantly, the music tends to utilize the acoustic guitar sounds over full-blown electric guitar. At any rate, the classy vocals, melodies, and guitar sounds are cohesive, infectious, and memorable. Highly recommended. ~ Matthew Forss  

Monday, August 19, 2013

A World of Blues: Edmonton Blues Festival

This past weekend I attended the Edmonton Blues Festival for the first time. The festival has been in existence since 1999 and has received rave reviews from fans and critics alike for its presentation of diverse artists representing different styles of Blues. What I discovered at the festival was also that artists from around the World are featured. The Blues are indeed universal!

Edmonton Blues Festival 2013

Big Pete is a harmonica player from Holland. He teamed up with guitarist Matt Schofield from the U.K. Their collaboration of "Euro-Blues" was solid and full of technical precision.

Edmonton Blues Festival 2013

I was really looking forward to the Homemade Jamz Blues Band. This trio of two brothers and their sister (14 years old playing the drum kit like a total pro!) feature a guitar and bass made out of car parts. They are as interesting to watch as to listen to, and if they stick with it, I think they are going to be around for a while.

Edmonton Blues Festival 2013

The perfect way to get started on a Sunday afternoon was with the piano stylings of Eden Brent. Her voice was as smooth as silk when singing, but when she spoke to the audience you could hear the Mississippi Delta in her voice!

Edmonton Blues Festival 2013

For me, the highlight of the festival was MonkeyJunk. I first became familiar with this Juno-award winning trio from Ottawa at last year's Edmonton Folk Festival and was eager to hear a full set. To say I was absolutely blown away would be an understatement. Energy, incredible musicianship, a strong beat, great lyrics, vocal talent, and just a hint of eroticism made the performance unforgettable. I am already looking forward to the new album in September.

Edmonton Blues Festival 2013

Ana Popovic, from Yugoslavia, is a woman who can really play guitar! Her sultry vocals and exciting performance had the audience captivated.

~Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Karim Diouf's 'Adouna'

Karim Diouf

The Senegalese culture is rich with musical history by world-reknowned musicians, such as Baaba Maal and Youssou N'Dour. Now, add Karim Diouf to the world's top performers from this interesting and musically-gifted region of Africa. Karim's homeland of Senegal has clearly influenced his latest recording, Adouna. The Senegalese rhythms, language, and arrangements are modern, yet traditional. The grooves are pure Afro-pop with a good degree of Wolof culture represented. There are traditional instruments utilized, but the majority are basic guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. However, the arrangements are very engaging and upbeat. There are eleven intriguing tracks that do anything but keep the listener bored. There are some similarities with other Afro-pop stars of the region, but there are beautiful melodies and vocal arrangements that add another level of texture and professionalism. This is a great album for the Senegalese aficionado or African music listener in general. ~ Matthew Forss 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2013 - Worlds of Music

EFMF 2013 - Scenic Shots

This year's Edmonton Folk Music Festival once again presented a huge variety of folk, blues, Worldbeat, and fusions of these genres and more. For me, a highlight is discovering new sounds from around the World as well as up and coming talent.

Steep Canyon Rangers - EFMF 2013

The Steep Canyon Rangers was probably my discovery of the weekend. The Grammy-award winning bluegrass band fuse country and folk into their lively music.

Havana D'Primera - EFMF 2013

Havana D'Primera, from Cuba, presented an exciting main stage show on Sunday afternoon. The Salsa beats were contagious and I had a hard time stopping myself from getting up to dance right there in the photo pit!

EFMF 2013 - Rosanne Cash

Sometimes the most memorable performances don't happen on any of the stages. Here is Rosanne Cash playing at the CKUA booth. She has such a beautiful voice and her songs are haunting.

EFMF 2013 - Alex Cuba

I have seen Alex Cuba a number of times at the EFMF and he always attracts a huge crowd. When he started to play his signature song "Si Pero No" people danced and sang along - it really is a great song that I never get tired of!

EFMF 2013 - Niyaz

Niyaz, from Iran, was absolutely mesmerizing. The multi-faceted performance included traditional instruments, vocals, dress, and dance. There were even a few belly dancers in the audience!

EFMF 2013 - Makana

Makana totally changed my view of music from Hawaii. Noted as a slack key guitarist, this guy can really play! He is also an activist and enthralling performer.

EFMF 2013 - Amy Helm

Don't accuse Amy Helm of resting on the laurels of her famous father, the late, great Levon Helm. Her performance is full of passion and she has an incredible voice.

EFMF 2013 - Joe Nolan

On the local front, Edmonton singer/songwriter Joe Nolan is someone to watch out for. His memorable songs and unique delivery are just some of the reasons why he just landed a deal with Canadian label Six Shooter Records.


Tim O'Brien was on my must-see list this year. His abilities on guitar and fiddle with his signature bluegrass style translated very well on Stage 2.

EFMF 2013 - Dick Gaughan

Scotland's Dick Gaughan is another performer I have seen multiple times at the EFMF and I always enjoy his storytelling through song.

Iskwew Singers - EFMF 2013

I love music from Canada's First Nations, so I was excited to catch the performance from the Iskwew Singers. A trio of three Cree women from British Columbia, the group performs songs in the plains tradition, telling stories of connection to the earth, Creator, and each other.

The EFMF is always a memorable event and this year was no different. To see my full collection of photos, including performers, people, and various shots around the festival site, click here. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Friday, August 9, 2013

CD Review: Candice Russell's 'So Much More'

Candice Russell
So Much More
Reflect Records

Oregon-based singer and guitarist, Candice Russell, evokes images of a sweet pop princess that knows how to sing and perform. The catchy guitar-based songs are all written by Candice, along with Aaron Russell and Dave Lubben. The pop songs include keys, piano, strings, guitars, drums, and bass. The music is upbeat and Candice's vocals are fairly indicative of Kelly Clarkson with a touch of JoJo. The pop/rock creations are driven by Candice's keen sense of songwriting and ear for strong melodies and moving stories. The upbeat, "Good Luck With That" and "Escape" are perfect pop/rock anthems with catchy hooks and sweet vocals throughout. "My Friend" contains lush melodies and a mix of instruments that still evokes a pop infectious presence. "Remember" is a touching anthem for all abused women everywhere; especially for a Cambodian friend, named Nhu, who was sold into sex slavery. "Someday" is a lush guitar tune with anthemic sound and spot-on vocals. All in all, the ten songs are perfect listening pleasures. Fans of contemporary female pop and rock music will love Candice Russell. Find out why there is 'so much more' to Candice today! ~ Matthew Forss   

CD Review: The Green's 'Hawai'i '13'

The Green
Hawai'i '13
Easy Star Records

A reggae group from Hawaii? You bet. This is the third album from Hawaii's best reggae crooners and groovers. The music is steeped in Hawaiian culture and Jamaican reggae. The opening track, "He Mele No Ku'u Hawai'i," is a traditional Hawaiian chant that begins the musical experience. The rest of the tracks contain smooth, reggae grooves and stellar vocals. The keys, guitars, drums, and bass are top-notch throughout. There is a sense of soul and funk to the mix. Anyone with a good sound system will benefit from the smooth sounds and gliding bass lines. This is contemporary reggae from an island, but it is located far from reggae's beginning in Jamaica. Hawai'i '13 is a number one album all the way around. It's that simple. Reggae fans with an adventurous edge will love The Green. Get it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, August 8, 2013

CD Review: Tal National's 'Kaani'

Tal National

Niger's Tal National is led by Almeida (aka Issoufou Moumine), a leading guitarist from Niamey by night and court judge by day. The music draws upon West African rhythms, soukous, Afrobeat, blues, and rock. The rippling guitars, energetic percussion, and floating vocals represent the great Saharan song traditions in a contemporary setting without straying too far from their Zarma, Hausa, and French linguistic roots. The music is more danceable and structured than other nomadic tunes from the region. The music is also more rooted in rock and blues than full-on traditional arrangements. Nevertheless, the eight long tracks are particularly enthralling and full of dance-floor power. The throaty vocals, fast percussion, and meandering guitar grooves are what makes Kaani shine the most. Still, there isn't anything off-putting anyway. Explore Niger's desert grooves with one of the most influential and hard-working purveyors of the region--Tal National! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Van-Anh Vanessa Vo's 'Three Mountain Pass'

Van-Anh Vanessa Vo
Three Mountain Pass

After spending decades in Hanoi, Vietnam, dan Tranh and dan Bau master, Van-Anh Vanessa Vo, learned to create moving and contemplative pieces of mostly instrumental work. The San Francisco-based musician plays the dan Tranh, a zither instrument, which resembles the koto in looks and sound. The strings are plucked and notes are created by sliding a bridge across the strings. In addition, the dan Bau is a pitch-bending, monochord, which adds a spritely sound to the mix. Also, the Kronos Quartet add their classical strings to the work. Van-Anh Vanessa Vo also plays the hang, which is a Swiss-made steel drum. The entire work is rather avant-garde and experimental to those unfamiliar with Vietnamese folk music. However, there is something magical about the way the strings tell stories through the sounds. There are only seven songs on the album, but all of the songs are rather long. Fans of Vietnamese folk music and contemporary world music will love Van-Anh Vanessa Vo's reflective and creative songs. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Atropolis' 'Transitions'

Cumba Mela

The urban, electronic, and cumbia-type beats of DJ, arranger, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, Atropolis, creates edgy and danceable instrumental and vocal tunes. The new album contains twelve tracks with lush electronic embellishments, horn-like sounds, and tropical or carnival-like noises with a dancehall and party-type atmosphere. The Latin-tinged compositions are not folk music; but a type of global fusion incorporating dubstep, cumbia, kuduro, new age, and dance elements that seem to pull influences from the Caribbean, Balkans, West Africa, and South America. A few guest musicians, including Boogat, Carol C, Darwin Escorcia, Lido Pimienta, and Brent Arnold lend their talents to the mix. Transitions is for the dance fan, DJ aficionado, and global traveler. Nothing is wrong here. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, August 4, 2013

CD Review: Marya Stark's 'The Garden'

Marya Stark
The Garden

The sweet and melodic songs of Marya Stark are steeped in classicism, theatre, avant-garde, alternative pop, and new age concoctions. Marya's vocals are rather soothing with some influence from Sheila Chandra, Squonk Opera, and Katie Melua. There are symphonic arrangements that incorporate cello, bass, viola, tabla, bansuri, sax, violin, accordion, clarinet, and keyboards. The music is not in one specific genre, but it seems to ebb-and-flow through a variety of genres, which arrive in a cohesive, swirling, and addictive form of musical expression. Thirteen songs represent the breadth of The Garden. Borrowing some down-tempo arrangements and vocals indicative of Alpha, Marya still retains a sense of personality that is quite unique and refreshing. In essence, Marya knows how to create evocative tunes and compelling melodies that are unforgettable. Anyone into world fusion, new age, neo-classical, and theatrical music will adore Marya Stark's new release, The Garden. Great music begins in The Garden. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: 10 Ft. Ganja Plant's 'Skycatcher'

10 Ft. Ganja Plant

New England's reggae and roots-inspired group, 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, is definitely aware of how to make killer grooves and Jamaican-infused vocal medleys. The instrumental opener, "In The Garden," is a funky, spacey, and meandering tune that gently entrances and ensnares the listener to listen to more. "The reggae tune, "It's True," is a classic song with funky and reggae beats in a contemporary format. The reggae sounds continue on "Collect The Trophy," "State Of Man," "Sounding Zone," and "Where Do You Want To Be." There is an element of bluesy grooves to some of the songs. The music is rather organic and free from electronic distractions. Anyone interested in contemporary reggae sounds will love Skycatcher. Negatives? Not here. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Abou Diarra's 'Sabou'

Abou Diarra
Mix N' Metisse

A talented n'goni or kora player from Mali, Abou Diarra brings a funky and bluesy element to contemporary Malian music. Each song is delicate and contains weaving song structures with traditional instrumentation and modern embellishments that will satisfy even the most picky Sahelian music connoisseur. The music celebrates Bambara life and society, which is diverse, varied, and historic. There are eleven long tracks that entice and entrance the listener with such grace and tranquility that it is difficult to turn it off. "Sabou," "Aboubono," "Blablabla," "Noumou," and "N'dogoni" are some of the recommended tracks. Fans of contemporary Malian music with the kamala n'goni or kora instrument as the focal point, along with vocals, will love Abou Diarra's latest release. Buy it today! ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Sorie Kondi's 'Thogolobea'

Sorie Kondi
Thogolobea (Famous)
Dutty Artz

Born blind, Sorie Kondi does not let that deter him from making music. Born, raised, and based in Sierra Leone, Sorie manages to create scintillating tunes on the cheery and tinny mbira or thumb piano. There is a back beat that is highly contemporary and reminiscent of the Congolese funk sounds of the 1970s and 80s. There are backup vocals and bass-driven and drum-infused tunes that are vibrant and moving. Sorie's great vocals, which are indicative of Oliver Mtukudzi's, fill in the music with such an organic presence that it is borderline iconic and infectious. There are nine tunes in all. Each tune has a funky, rumba-like presence that keeps the feet moving and human bodies in dancing unity. Thanks to American, Luke Wasserman, Sorie's music is now a reality for an international crowd. Released on Dutty Artz, Sorie presents an addictive mix of modern sounds and traditional instrumentation that does not disappoint. Thogolobea, which means 'famous,' is aptly-titled and not far from the truth. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, August 2, 2013

CD Review: Mara Measor's Self-Titled Debut

Mara Measor
Good Mood Records

A Hong Kong native and current New York resident, Mara Measor, brings a cultured and flavoured mix of alternative pop and jazz with her debut album out this month. Mara is a vocalist, guitarist, and ukulele player. The English vocals are akin to the soft-spoken and soulful Leona Naess, while capturing the charm of Regina Spektor. Mara is joined by Jamie Lawrence on keyboards, cello, harmonium, slide guitars, drums, and assorted percussion. There are additional musicians on strings and guitars. Overall, the melodies and rhythms are rather intimate and sweet without much of a big sound or abrasive pounding, which is great. The repeated sounds and lines are indicative of Katie Melua's recent works. There are twelve diverse songs that are memorable and infectious. Anyone interested in meaningful music and sincere, sweet vocals should check out Mara's new release. Simply amazing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: JeConte & The Mali Allstars' 'Mali Blues'

JeConte & The Mali Allstars
Mali Blues

The rise of Mali blues music in the 1990s gave way to several notable performers in Africa and beyond. Perhaps, the best known is Ali Farka Toure. Ali is mentioned on a track, but his son, Vieux, adds vocals and guitar accompaniment on "Le Monde Pour La Paix." JeConte is a vocalist and harmonica-bluesman from the USA. JeConte is joined by a plethora of star-studded appearances by Souleymane Ann, Khaira Arby, Sidiki Camara, Doussou Koulibaly, Bassekou Kouyate, Moustafa Kouyate, Boubacar Sidibe, Adama Drame, Mahamadou Kone, Sekou Bah, and Vieux Farka Toure. The entire production is rather organic with laid-back, swirling rhythms and melodies marking the blues genre with an international flavor seldom-seen before. The project was recorded over a two-year period in Bamako, Mali. There are twelve tracks that showcase African blues music and the awareness of the people from Mali. The guitar work gets a little rambunctious at times, which is not particularly deleterious. Anyone into Malian guitar music and blues tunes will love JeConte & The Mali Allstars. ~ Matthew Forss