Wednesday, September 25, 2013

CD Review: Mark Lassiter's 'Endlessly'

Mark Lassiter

Georgia-native and North Carolina-based, Mark Lassiter, brings us an exciting and upbeat EP that promises to be enthralling, refreshing, and contemporary. The opener, "Endlessly," is a crooner's special with heady pop/folk/rock confections that is simply great overall. The remix to the title track provides a little more diversity with down-tempo, electronic, and dance-type elements that are anything but boring. "Life's Like That" opens with a pensive piano melody, atmospheric washes, and a female back-up singer. Mark's pop vocals are slightly husky, but generally clear throughout. The influence is not particularly rock or country. "You're My Favorite" contains throbbing B3 sounds, rock percussion, and scintillating guitars with vocals to match. Vocally, Mark is in a category all his own. However, Mark tends to resemble Sister Hazel with a bit of Venice. At any rate, the four-track release is much too short, but thankfully, we can replay each song over and over - guaranteed, you will. ~ Matthew Forss    

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

CD Review: Gabriela Pepino's 'Let Me Do It'

Gabriela Pepino
Let Me Do It
Tratore Music Brasil

The Berklee College of Music-trained singer, Gabriela Pepino hails from Brazil, but her musical influences are far-reaching. Gabriela brings a unique soul, blues, and jazz swagger that is refreshing and sultry at the same time. For instance, "I Just Wanna Make Love To You," is a bluesy tune with a sultry voice amidst a jazzy backbone. The laidback "Dose Of Scotch" is classy, jazzy, and folksy. "If I Lived In France" contains a bit of contemporary cafĂ© music with a bit of French suavity that melds with Brazilian jazz and a bit of quasi-reggae. "Headache" opens with a few horns and glittering guitars with soulful vocals and show-tune-type backup singers. "Baby" begins with jaunty piano and a snare drum with blurby bass and a Regina Spektor-type vocal intro. However, the music moves into a more blues vein at times. This is not a typical Latin, Brazilian, or South American album. It contains a blend of blues, jazz, pop standards, and soul that is incredibly memorable and fun for everyone involved. Fans of great music will love it. It's that simple. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Peter Calandra's 'Ashokan Memories'

Peter Calandra
Ashokan Memories

Based in New York City and inspired by the sights and sounds of New York's Upper Hudson River Valley, Peter Calandra presents us with an emotive, contemplative, and wholly instrumental release of solo piano music. The music is gentle and sweeping with delicate fingerings and soft tonal pleasure throughout. The dreamy "Mettcohonts Flowing," is akin to the delicate flowing properties of a babbling brook that are interjected with brighter hints of tonal color on the higher piano registers. "Gertrude's Nose" is a very pensive and twinkling piano delight that flows freely in an almost jaunty manner. "The Ice Caves" is a more lounge jazz-focused piece with multiple piano notes being played at the same time. Furthermore, the piano notes are produced in light waves of dreamy sound. There are eighteen tracks in all. The sweeping melodies on "Overlook" should not be missed. Fans of new age, solo instrumental piano, and jazz will appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances of Peter Calandra's latest release that is inspired by nature and made for Man. ~ Matthew Forss 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

CD Review: Hewar's 'Letters To A Homeland'

Letters To A Homeland
Dreyer Gaido

Syria's Hewar combines traditional Middle Eastern music with scat singing, opera, classical music, and jazz, which resound with joy and talent. "Hewar," which means "dialogue" in Arabic is a fitting title for music that brings people together no matter where they live. The group brings Armenia's Jivan Gasparyan to the forefront, along with special guest, Andreas Mueller on double bass. The group is primarily comprised of Kinan Azmeh on clarinet, Dima Orsho on vocals, and Issam Rafea on oud and vocals. The album was recorded live at Morgenland Festival Osnabrueck on October 7th, 2011. The nine tracks represent a plethora of musical achievements that are definitely worth listening and sharing with others. Anyone familiar with classical, operatic, jazzy, and Middle Eastern tunes will love the vocal stylings and instrumental arrangements on Hewar's latest release. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: More Like Trees' 'Roots, Shoots & Leaves'

More Like Trees
Roots, Shoots & Leaves
BBE Records

London, England-based trio, More Like Trees, creates quirky, urban, folk, roots, rock, and pop flavored samplings for our ears on Roots, Shoots & Leaves. The group combines some drum n bass, flamenco, classical, hip hop, indie, dance, dub, and world fusion for a delicious mix of tunes that are unforgettable. With vocals like Jason Mraz, Coldplay, Jack Johnson, and Dave Matthews in an urban vacuum, More Like Trees bring everything out on this release. The music is somewhat difficult to define or describe, but the affect is seamless, catchy, and addictive. Thirteen tunes represent a wide array of musical influences with varied vocals. It also mixes some experimental and avant-garde influences that are very compelling and top-notch. Anyone familiar with innovative British music with a world fusion and alternative vein will find solace in Roots, Shoots & Leaves. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Alific's 'Echoes From The Soul'

Echoes From The Soul

Alific (aka Brendan Dane) combines down-tempo electronica with world reggae beats for an unforgettable musical journey on Echoes From The Soul. Alific collaborates with KBong, Lenny Kurlou, Stick Figure, Mateo Monk, Haile Supreme, and even Frank Mitchell Jr. of Thievery Corporation-fame. This is a DJ's paradise with urban grooves, world fusion, catchy loops, and vibrant percussion with fluid vocals and atmospheric embellishments. There are fourteen tunes with great instrumental set-ups and world grooves with English vocals on most tracks. Alific's impressive nightclub resume stems from experience in both California and Washington, D.C.. The dub and reggae sounds resonate with such splendor and grandeur throughout. Electronic, dub, reggae, and upbeat down-tempo lovers will find happiness in these tunes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Uri Sharlin And The DogCat Ensemble's 'Back To The Woods'

Uri Sharlin And The DogCat Ensemble
Back To The Woods
Folk Dune Records

Israel-native and New York-based instrumentalist, composer, and producer, Uri Sharlin, brings us an instrumental feast of nine cinematic, edgy, and jazzy tunes from around the world. With an accordion in hand, Uri presents an amalgamation of cultural influences from Latin, Middle Eastern, European, and Arabic. All the songs are instrumental and rather theatrical in production with pensive beats, jazzy solos, and rocking rhythms with plenty of percussion and pizazz. Uri is also a talent on the Wurlitzer and piano. Uri is joined by his DogCat Ensemble on bassoon, bass clarinet, guitars, bass, percussion, flute, alto flute, pandeiro, and zabumba. There are cumbia elements, plaintive moments, and avant-garde jazz, which are very approachable and sinuous. Anyone with a passion for musical instruments and world beats will love Back To The Woods. ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, September 21, 2013

CD Review: Ali Bello's Venezuela Tunings On 'Connection Caracas-New York'

Ali Bello
Connection Caracas-New York

Venezuelan-born and New York-based, Ali Bello is a talented violinist with youthful vigor and jazzy undertones. The Latin-themed recording is rich with jazz elements and Latin American percussion. The violin displays are on par with Ruben Blades' Panamanian ensembles. The mix of classical, folk, jazz, roots, and Latin genres are very compelling and enthralling. However, vocals are not present on this album. The nine tracks contain piano, guitars, violins, sax, bass, drums, maracas, percussion, and other instruments, which make the album shine with Latin delight. One need not venture too far from Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Venezuelan roots here. Anyone with an interest in violin music with added percussion and world fusion elements will find a connection with Ali Bello's latest release from Zoho Music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Akale Wube's 'Mata'

Akale Wube

The France-based Afro-beat group, Akale Wube, is named after a song by Ethiopia's Getatchew Mekurya. Mata is alive with Afro-beat rhythms, edgy psych punk, drifting melodies, and funky grooves that are instrumental and memorable. The punchy sax joins the lilting guitar, bubbling bass, scintillating krar, and soaring flutes. The Rhodes, trombone, violin, bugle, and trumpet makes an appearance, too. The music of Ethiopia is rich with psych-funk and Afro-beat jazz that is fairly well-known throughout the world music community. Akale Wube presents five new tracks and additional tracks reinvented with the works of Mulatu Astatke, Feqadu-Amde-Mesqel, Tsehaytu Beraki, and two traditional compositions. The music is quite upbeat and funky with smooth beats and psych-enriched qualities that could jazz-up any night club in Addis Ababa, or your hometown's music hot-spot. ~ Matthew Forss 

Friday, September 20, 2013

CD Review: Rebeca Vallejo's 'Azucar, Canela'

Rebeca Vallejo
Azucar, Canela
WMB Productions

Spanish songstress, Rebeca Vallejo, brings us a mix of flamenco, romantic medleys, jazzy piano, and Brazilian musical flavors on her latest release, Azucar, Canela, which means, 'sugar, cinnamon.' The flavorful title sets the musical tone for a spicy and sweet collection of lounge jazz tunes and effervescent instrumental arrangements. The suavity of Rebeca's voice is heartfelt, joyous, and emotive. There are ten tracks with two bonus tracks. The piano, percussion, accordion, and vocals are the mainstay of the album. The flowing piano melodies are timeless and definitely a favorite on the album. The punchy sounds and beautiful vocals are top-notch and very likable. Taste it today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jyotsna Srikanth's 'Call Of Bangalore'

Jyotsna Srikanth
Call Of Bangalore
World Music Network

Jyotsna Srikanth plays Carnatic or South-Indian classical music on violin, but it is accompanied by a mridangam (two-sided drum) and khanjira (frame drum). There are six long tracks that run over seventy-eight-minutes long. Some of the compositions are rather peaceful and classical, while others are upbeat and very moving. The violin still retains a somber tone that is rather organic and earthy, but the addition of the mridangam thuds and khanjira slaps fills in the melody with such precision and pleasantness. "Brovabarama" is the longest tune at nearly forty-minutes. It is especially spacious and somber...almost meditative. The violin is akin to L. Subramaniam's work. At any rate, Jyotsna will enrich the lives of all who listen to the mesmerizing and Carnatic tracks on Call Of Bangalore. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Salaam's 'Train To Basra...And Other Stories'

Train To Basra...And Other Stories

With ties to American blues and Iraqi folk music, you know this is going to be a good one. Salaam is spearheaded by musician, lyricist, violinist, viola player, oud player, joza player, Dena El Saffar. She is backed by a splendid array of musicians, including Tim Moore on dumbek, tupan, and riqq; Amir El Saffar on trumpet; Lety El Naggar on ney and sax; Stephen Harms on bass; Sam Finley on guitars; Svetla Vladeva on accordion; and a few others. The result is a richly-textured work that includes Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African roots. There are even liner notes describing the song background. Vocals are not present on this album, but the instrumental arrangements intermingle and literally speak volumes. Twelve moving tracks round out the album. Fans of Iraqi music, instrumental Arabic music, Middle Eastern music, and percussion music will find it deeply satisfying. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nazaket Teymurova's 'Mugham'

Nazaket Teymurova

The traditional music of Azerbaijan has been a popular Caucasus mainstay throughout Central Asia and around the world. Mugham is form of classical poetry and improvisational musical arrangements following an Iranian-Arabic-Turkish melody continuum, or maqam. In this case, Nazaket brings us four long compositions in the mugham style: (1) Dastgah Kharidj Segah, (2) Mugham Bayati Shira, (3) Tasnif and Chahargah, and (4) Ashiqam and Mugham Hijaz. The music is traditional overall and features the great vocal style of Nazaket Teymurova, but she is accompanied by various musicians on tar, kamancha, balaban, naqara, drone naqara, qosha naqara, kanun, and oud. The first song is the longest at nearly thirty-eight-minutes. Fans of Arabic maqam, mugham, Central Asian music, and Azeri music will definitely love Nazaket's album. Liner notes are in English, French, and Azeri. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Turkey's Cigdem Aslan Releases 'Mortissa'

Cigdem Aslan
Asphalt Tango

Turkish-born singer, Cigdem Aslan, presents us with a debut album of rousing smyrniac, rebetiko, Balkan, gypsy, and Greek-themed compositions. There are also Sephardic, Turkish, Kurdish, Bulgarian, Roma, and Ladino leanings. Cigdem's voice is timeless and youthful. The thirteen songs are lively, refreshing, and upbeat. Most of the songs are reinvented from the 1920s and 30s. Mortissas are women that are independent and do not behave as society expects, which gives Cigdem's album a fitting title. Not exactly a rebel, Cigdem stays true to Mediterranean, Grecian, and Turkish roots with memorable rhythms, vocals, and melodies. There is even a Central Asian tone; especially with the qanun and baglama. At any rate, Cigdem Aslan creates beautiful songs that deserve to be heard around the world. Start listening today! ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Dragon Flutes Rising's 'Flute Meditations'

Dragon Flutes Rising
Flute Meditations

Jonathan Wolf (a.k.a Dragon Flutes Rising) is a talented end-blown flute maker of xiaos based in Portland, OR. These end-blown flutes are of Chinese origin, but their sound is organic, airy, and serene. Flute Meditations is a seven-track release that features nature sounds and xiaos. There are no vocals on this one. Instead, the nature sounds and breathy flute sounds evoke a sense of calming and relaxation that is perfect for anyone looking to kick back and relax. In the same manner, the music is ideal for yoga, meditation, or perhaps even sleep therapy. As an acclaimed yoga teacher, shiatsu-certified masseuse, and a capoeira trainee, Jonathan provides a well-traveled and innovative mix of influences for the music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jayme Stone's 'The Other Side Of The Air'

Jayme Stone
The Other Side Of The Air

Canadian banjoist, composer, and producer, Jayme Stone, brings us a fresh release of globetrotting instrumentals that fit a chamber orchestra with such passion, intensity, and experimentation. This represents not only a classical side, but also an African and American roots conglomeration. Imagine experimental jazz with world fusion and classical undertones directing the entire project. The sparkling banjo tones and blurting horns and vibrant strings keep everything moving along unapologetically. It may be world jazz, world music, world fusion, or neo-classical, but one thing is for sure: the music is top-notch. Anyone looking for plaintive and relaxing tunes that seem to incorporate different ethnic influences will love this jazzy, classical, and unique recording. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mario Adnet's 'Um Olhar Sobre Villa Lobos'

Mario Adnet
Um Olhar Sobre Villa Lobos

Latin Grammy-winning composer, arranger, and performer, Mario Adnet, hails from Brazil. Mario's jazzy and classical pieces include the warmth and talent of Milton Nascimento, Edu Lobo, Monica Salmaso, Paula Santoro, Yamandu Costa, and Muiza Adnet. There are rich orchestrations that are cinematic, improvisational, and uplifting. The fourteen tracks represent a solid repertoire of Brazilian-fused classical compositions with a touch of jazz and filmic qualities to entrance every listener everywhere. The orchestrations are a definite highlight, but the vocals are also quite desirable. Fans of Brazilian classical music, jazz, bossa-nova, pop standards, and South American music should check out the nostalgic tunings and chords on Mario Adnet's latest release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Garifuna Collective Releases 'Ayo'

The Garifuna Collective

With the release of Watina several years ago with the late-Andy Palacio, The Garifuna Collective took the world by storm with infectious grooves, South American rhythms, and Afro-Amerindian cultural influences. Thanks to Belizean producer, musician, and label founder, Ivan Duran, The Garifuna Collective is still a reality today. There are twelve tracks on the new album inspired by a new generation for the future. "Ayo," "Ubou," "Mongulu," "Dungua," "Pomona," and "Alagan" are especially enthralling. Though, anyone with an interest in Garifuna music, Afro-Amerindian music, Belizean music, and world music in general, will find Ayo to be a very emotive, upbeat, and graceful album. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Raya Brass Band's 'This Train Is Now'

Raya Brass Band
This Train Is Now

The Brooklyn-based band, Raya Brass Band, releases a new album, This Train Is Now, which frolics with Balkan brass delight and thick rhythms that do not let go. The trumpet work of Ben Syversen allows the tracks to brighten with jazzy eminence. The tupan accompanies most of the tracks and provides a deeper, more rich tone to the percussion repertoire. The throbbing tuba, pulsating accordion and farfisa, along with the tenor horn, keyboard, and sax, provides a full-on assault of sound with improvisational know-how and blissful sounds. Fans of Balkan jazz, klezmer, Romany music, and Mediterranean sounds will be enlightened by this energetic and prominent recording of infectious music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: 1987 Talking Drums' Reissue For 'Some Day Catch Some Day Down'

Talking Drums
Some Day Catch Some Day Down

Originally released in 1987, Talking Drums' Some Day Catch Some Day Down is a rhythmic romp into Ghana's Afro-beat legacy with lively horns, immense percussion, rippling guitars, and great vocal harmonies. About a dozen musicians comprised the 1987 group, which provided various instrumental accompaniment, including the more popularly-known congas, sax, flute, bass, keyboards, guitar, timbales, bells, flugelhorn, and trumpet. However, there are numerous Ghanaian and West African percussion instruments used throughout the recording that are too numerous to mention. At any rate, the result is Afro-beat heaven with lively vocals. There are liner notes for each song, too. In addition, this is an enhanced CD, which provides nine MP3 bonus tracks after placement in a computer. These are groovy grooves with upbeat percussion and happy vocals. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Cape Verde's Neuza Releases 'Flor Di Bila'

Flor Di Bila

The music of Cape Verde is best-known with the late-Cesaria Evora, but young up-and-comers have graced stages worldwide, including Tete Alhinho, Fantcha, Lura, Mariana Ramos, and Carmen Souza. One need not ignore the sweet and beautiful voice of Neuza. The thirteen-track release represents an introspective examination of the island's rhythms and melodies, such as talaia baxo, samba, and rabolo. The breezy songs are filled with emotive sensibilities that come across quite well. The instrumental arrangements are provided by guitars, cavaquinhos, baixo, piano, gaita, orgao, sax, afuche, coros, and assorted percussion. Anyone seeking upbeat island songs in a contemporary format will love Neuza's new release. ~ Matthew Forss   

CD Review: Brazil-native, Antonio Loureiro, Releases 'So'

Antonio Loureiro

A master of vibraphone, drum, percussion, piano, bass, guitar, and vocals, Antonio Loureiro knows how to make lively music with a passionate and playful tone that is unforgettable and spontaneous. The ten-track release is mostly instrumental, but some vocals show up from time to time. There are over one dozen additional guest musicians, which supply a good degree of musical accompaniment on jazzy percussion, playful horns, and classical fusion with various degrees of ethnic elements cropping up, too. The Brazilian roots shine through on every track with lively percussion, playful piano melodies, and a host of fusion elements that scream South American influences. Fans of Brazilian jazz and folk music will love this one. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Argentina's Tremor Releases 'Proa'

Wonderwheel Recordings

Contemporary folklore musicians, Tremor, shake it up with Proa, which is a heady mix of digital noises and sounds with groovy beats, South American percussion, and exotic embellishments that are never dull or boring. The trio features Camilo Carabajal on bombo leguero, snare drum and caja; Gerardo Farez on keyboard and analog synthesizers, bombo leguero, snare drum, drums, melodica and kazoo; and Leonardo Martinelli on guitars, charanga, ronrocco, walaycho, sachaguitarra, kazoo, trutruca, bombo leguero, synths, samples, and programming. Keep in mind there are some vocals throughout, but the majority of music is instrumental. There are a few guest musicians on tarkas, quenas, sicus, clarinet, bass clarinet, and soprano sax. The title Proa symbolizes "the place where the bow of the boat cuts through the water." In this case, Proa cuts right to the top of the surface with quasi-modern beats, swishy percussion, and a South American spread of luscious sounds and melodies. Think of Nuklearte mixed with psychedelic cumbia masters, Bondi Blaster and Chico Trujillo. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sean Tyrrell's 'Walker Of The Snow'

Sean Tyrrell
Walker Of The Snow
The Vital Record

Irish folk music is alive and well with the voice and fingertips of Sean Tyrrell. Sean's poetic interplay between folk, pop, country, and soul on the mandocello, mandola, banjo, and tenor guitar, awakens the spirit with a contemplative, timeless, and enigmatic work. The anthemic songs contain a host of instrumental accompaniment on keyboards, piano, whistles, bodhran, Hammond organ, fiddle, slide guitar, and others. This is Irish roots music at its finest. There are eighteen songs in all with nearly one-hour-and-ten-minute running length. This is not jig music. This is rather intimate, pensive, emotive, and mournful music with a strong story backbone. Anyone with an interest in Irish folk music without dance or jig music will love Sean's latest release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Gao Hong's 'Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream'

Gao Hong
Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream

Pipa master, Gao Hong, is a Chinese lute player with a knack for creating beautiful melodies and scintillating songs. On Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream, Gao enlists the help of acclaimed-veena player and vocalist, Nirmala Rajasekar, Michelle Kinney on cello, Biplab Bhattacharya on table, David Hagedorn on percussion, Shubhendra Rao on sitar, Joseph Schad on piano, and Kenny Endo on taiko drum. The galloping melodies are steeped in an Indo-China medley of song elements that work quite well together. The instrumental work is full of spritely melodies that represent a little Inner Asian influences, such as Mongolian folk songs. There are some vocals on "Butterfly" and "Celebration," but they are primarily used for an aural accompaniment. Fans of South Asian, Chinese, and Central Asian folk music should add Gao Hong to their collection. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Go: Organic Orchestra's 'Sonic Mandala'

Go: Organic Orchestra
Sonic Mandala
Meta Records

Composer, Adam Rudolph, brings us thirteen sensational, improvisational, and mesmerizing world fusion tracks and Brahim Fribgane composes the last track, "Part Twelve." As a composer and conductor, Adam leads a group of thirty-some musicians to musical greatness with loads of cinematic flavors, classical renderings, and world percussion with a dash of strings and horns for good measure. There are elements from South Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. The organic elements are fairly evident with mostly instrumental arrangements and very little vocal appearances. Anyone with a passion for various flutes, horns, conchs, didgeridoos, zithers, and assorted percussion from around the world will love the fluid, punchy, and expressive display of musicianship throughout the album. Some of the tunes are mysterious, suspenseful, and free-flowing. Do not let this one get away! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Wouter Kellerman's 'Mzansi'

Wouter Kellerman
Kellerman Music

Hailing from South Africa, Wouter Kellerman is a flautist with an ear for European and African melodies and rhythms. There are a variety of languages and vocal arrangements. For instance, there are reggae-fused vocals, backup vocals, scat singing, and others. The popular African song, "Malaika," is covered here in Swahili. Basic Afro-pop instrumentation is all here, but the songs possess a multicultural vein truly is "African and otherwise...," according to Wouter Kellerman. There are lush melodies, airy flutes, pensive piano, heady percussion, and world fusion sounds that awaken the spirit and lift the feet. With a diverse musical background, guest musicians from different countries, and a wide variety of instruments, Mzansi is a world fusion feast for the ears. Anyone with an interest in world jazz, African music, world fusion, instrumental, and rhythmic, musical wanderings will love Mzansi. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, September 19, 2013

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Brasslands: A Motion Picture Soundtrack'

Various Artists
Brasslands: A Motion Picture Soundtrack
Evergreene Music

Balkan Gypsy, klezmer, and jazz music is represented here with a dozen tracks by some of the world's best-loved and least-known brass bands on Brasslands..., which is a film of the same name. You will hear the instrumental prowess of Slavic Soul Party!, Demiran Cerimovic Orchestra, Zlatne Uste, Raya Brass Band, Veveritse Brass Band, and others. The album centers around a Serbian village festival in Guca, where one of the world's largest brass band competition is held. Most of the bands profiled on this recording are from Serbia with a Romani heritage, but Zlatne Uste is from The United States. However, this soundtrack features music and musicians from western and southern Serbia where different ethnic communities compose different styles of brass band music. At any rate, the music is upbeat, instrumental, and distinctly Balkan. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Txutxukan's 'Surf The River Lee'

Surf The River Lee
Wild Boar Music

Hailing from France, Txutxukan (pron: tchoo-tchoo-ken) is a Balkan/Gypsy group named after the Basque phrase for "puttering about" or "doing odd jobs". However, Txutxukan shows no signs of puttering out or about on their latest release, Surf The River Lee. The group is comprised of Dylan Gully on clarinet, sax, kaval, and recorder; Bruno Hollemaert on guitar, bouzouki, accordion, and banjo; Eric Belot on upright bass and electric bass; Joachim Mouflin on percussion, drum kit, and bouzouki; and Joseph Detailleur on accordion. Special guest musician, Stella Rodrigues, plays the gamelan on "El Din." There are a few vocals for added effects. However, the majority of the album is largely instrumental. The instruments come together to form a Klezmer, Gypsy, and Balkan result that is edgy, dance-laden, and always moving. There is a bit of jazz, classical, and avant-garde influences, but nothing is too overt. The sauntering melodies, uppity percussion, and catchy rhythms are breezy, addictive, and richly-textured. Discover Txutxukan today! ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Kobo Town's Trinidadian Rumblings On 'Jumbie In The Jukebox'

Kobo Town
Jumbie In The Jukebox

Canadian transplant and Trinidadian native, Drew Gonsalves, brings us a rousing mix of calypso, reggae, acoustic, and island music rhythms on Jumbie In The Jukebox. There is an element of nostalgic fusion, jazz, lounge, and classical music, which blends perfectly with the calypso and roots percussion and beats. One hip hop and ska-inspired tune, "Postcard Poverty," is a bit punchy, jazzy, and urban overall. Don't worry; it's hip hop for the whole family. There are punchy dancehall tunes, mellow grooves, intelligent lyrics, and dub-influenced sounds that incorporate a bit of everything from Portuguese rhythms, Congolese guitar riffs, Caribbean dance elements, and calypso-roots music. Each tune is different and present something very likable. Anyone interested in calypso-inspired tunes will love Kobo Town's latest offering. ~ Matthew Forss 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CD Review: Tamikrest's 'Chatma'


Upon first examination of the cover art, one may be reminded of the iconic 1985 National Geographic photo of Sharbat Gula - a young Afghan girl, named Sharbat Gula, known for her mesmerizing facial shot. In this case, the plight of North African refugees are highlighted with an emphasis on familial affiliations. North African blues guitar rock may have been popularized by Tinariwen, but Tamikrest also fills the big guitar shoes with Chatma. The ten-track release contains bluesy, guitar riffs, licks, and slides with booming bass, Tamasheq vocals, and some percussion. The affect is a contemporary release without a complete dismissal of North African music traditions. All of the tunes are rather upbeat; except for "Achaka Achail Aynaian daghchilan," "Adounia tabarat," and "Timtar." Some of the songs have characteristic, female ululations in the background, which are quite intoxicating. The guitar sounds are fluid, organic, and slightly rustic, which are very fitting overall. The beats are catchy and memorable. This is not a polished dance album or a pop production, but fans of Tidawt, Tinariwen, Terakaft, Toumast, and others, will find some great stuff here. Essentially, anyone with a passion for North African guitar music will love Tamikrest. Buy it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CD Review: Switzerland's Aurah Releases 'Summon The Sky'

Summon The Sky
Very Music Inc.

Aurah is a Swiss-born and American-based duo with an ambient, electronica, and down-tempo groove. Aurah is comprised of musicians Marc Dold and Judith Martin. The opening tune, "Three Little Birds," is a Bob Marley cover, but it is a perfect new age tune with soaring vocals and contemporary arrangements. "Take My Breath Away" is a blissful tune with a smooth bass-line, electronic arrangements, and wispy vocals in a Hooverphonic-esque manner. "Summon The Sky" is an atmospheric gem with soaring vocals, blurby electronics, and a heavenly, yet subtle beat with a dreamy foundation. "Shine On" is a rootsy, electro-acoustic anthem with a few guitars, heady percussion, and back-up vocals in a somewhat rock instrumental manner that is not too loud. "Khorwa" contains a little electronic vocals, booming percussion sounds, and atmospheric blips that thoroughly explores the nature of world fusion and contemporary downtempo early on, but a strong rock vein pushes through. The final track, "Pleasant Placidness," is a rustic guitar song with a meandering melody without the aid of additional instrumentation for the most part and no vocals. Aurah is a mix of downtempo, dance, dream, meditation, and new age. Anyone seeking creative downtempo and ambient music will love Aurah's latest offering. ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, September 16, 2013

CD Review: Qetiq's 'Rock From Taklamakan Desert'

Rock From Taklamakan Desert
Dreyer Gaido

Uyghur rock music? You bet. This is a compelling, energetic, and unforgettable romp through the rock music of northwest China's Xinjiang province. There is a good combination of electric guitar, bass, drum, and vocals. The vocals are at times akin to Pearl Jam's lead singer. However, the music is not as hard as Pearl Jam. There are a plethora of traditional instruments in the mix, which includes dutar, citar, darbouka, riqq, and daf. There is even a little throat-singing on "Qara Jorgha," which plaintively accompanies the sweet sounds of the dutar. The emotive "Ag Bayan" is a great vocal and instrumental ballad - no matter what language it may be in. These songs come from a Uyghur and Kazakh perspective. Each track contains beautiful melodies and instrumentation that cannot be missed or ignored. Anyone interested in contemporary rock music with a traditional twist from China's northern deserts will love this one. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Danny Michel With The Garifuna Collective's 'Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me'

Danny Michel w/The Garifuna Collective
Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me

Canada's Danny Michel joins The Garifuna Collective to bring a funky, blues, and rock infused mix of music to the Belize-born collective. The rhythmic percussion, sparkling guitars, and swaying vocals weave around a Caribbean-inspired and California-like pop-rock idiom to form a sensational product of musical creativity. Something that is rather unusual is the fact the songs are mainly in English. Thankfully, Folks like Danny Michel, the Lebeha Drumming Center, and Jacob Edgar at Cumbancha want to preserve the magical sounds of Belize's best kept musical secret that can now be found in performances and airwaves around the world. Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me is an album with ten songs that seem to touch on folk/pop and blues music with some world fusion thrown in for good measure. Fans of a little blues, folk, and world fusion with good beats and catchy melodies will love the latest release from Cumbancha. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Lala Njava's 'Malagasy Blues Song'

Lala Njava
Malagasy Blues Song
Riverboat/World Music Network

Anyone familiar with Malagasy music knows about the valiha (tube zither) and probably Tarika - one of the most popular bands from Madagascar. However, you need to know about another group spearheaded by blues songstress, Lala Njava. Lala creates moving, contemporary, and bluesy tunes with lush Afropop rhythms and melodies that are very accessible. Lala is the chief vocalist, but is joined by Dozzy Njava on guitars, Pata Njava on drums/percussion, and Maximin Njava on bass. There are also backing vocals in the mix, along with a banjo and accordion making an appearance on a few tracks. Lala's vocals are rather choppy and mature beyond her years, but that breaks up the backing vocals and crystalline instrumentation. Vocally, Lala is the African equivalent of Stevie Nicks. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Pooja Goswami Pavan's 'How Shall I Say?'

Pooja Goswami Pavan
How Shall I Say?

A prominent educator, composer, and scholar of Hindustani classical music in Minnesota, USA, Pooja Goswami Pavan present us with seven long vocal tracks. Each track is rich with North Indian classical influences and instrumentation that includes tabla, harmonium, sarangi, and tanpura. The strings are dreamy, trance-inducing, and highly-textured. The vocals reverberate with classical veins and a commanding voice. The tabla blurts out thuds that are fast and precise. The droning harmonium and sarangi fill in the melodies with a brighter tone overall. The vocals nor instrumentation are particularly catchy, but that is not the point of Hindustani music. The music should be enjoyed for its arrangements, vocals, and sounds that represent hundreds of years of practice and performance. The album runs over one-hour, which is perfect for anyone trying to immerse oneself in Hindustani musical culture. Give yourself a dose of Hindustani reality with Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan's How Shall I Say?. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Belize's Lebeha Boys' 'Lebeha Drumming'

Lebeha Boys
Lebeha Drumming

Belize is known for a traditional drum music tied to the Garifuna music traditions. These traditions bring together African, Caribbean, and South American Indian flavors to the music. This is mostly a drumming release with wood hand-drums, shakers, and background vocalizations. The rhythms are intense and punchy. There are eight tracks that feature a mix of turtle shells, primero drums, shakas, and segunda drums. The percussion accompaniments resemble a carnival-esque atmosphere with everyone having fun and enjoying the music-making process. This is a release by the Lebeha Drumming Center in Hopkins Village, Belize from 2005. All instruments and vocals are performed by Garifuna youth. These are the roots that gave the late-Andy Palacio worldwide fame. Fans of traditional drumming recordings will love this--especially fans of Babatunde Olatunji. Own a piece of musical history today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Cape Verdean Titina Releases 'Canta B. Leza'

Canta B. Leza
Astral Music

A native of Cape Verde, Titina grew up listening to composer, poet, and activist, B. Leza. The songs on this new album represent a nearly twenty-five year gap from the original recordings. The music is as timely as ever, as Cape Verde music continues to be on the world music map--thanks to the likes of Cesaria Evora, Bau, etc. Titina presents a mix of heady island rhythms and classic pieces of musical ingeniousness on Canta B. Leza. The songs represent a mix of morna and fado music with both male and female vocals throughout. There are only seven tracks, but the last track, "Rapsodia (Medley of Mornas)," is almost eleven minutes long. Anyone familiar with the Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, and European-infused music of the Cape Verde islands will understand the significance of Titina and everything she offers here. This is a recording that should not be missed. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Debashish Bhattacharya's 'Madeira'

Debashish Bhattacharya
Tridev Music India

Madeira is an album that explores the lighter side of Indian classical music with a mix of slow-paced ragas, upbeat rhythms, and semi-classical compositions. The album is a family affair with Debashish Bhattacharya being joined by his daughter, Anandi Bhattacharya on vocals and Subhasis Bhattacharya, Debashish's brother, on tabla. There are five tracks in all. "Madeira" is a sixteen-minute tune showcasing Raga Lalit (aalap on Chaturangui), "Morning Gait" on Raga Kaunsi Bhairav (composition in vilambit teentaal), "Jhoom" on Raga Kaunsi Bhairav (composition and jhala in med. and fast tempo), "Colours Of Love" on Raga Manj Khamaj (chaiti), and "O My Beloved!" on Raga Pilu (thurmi). As the tracks play out, each one brings in a little more percussion, vocals, and/or sitar. Anandi's vocals are sweet and light with a slight huskiness that seems to add more maturity to the mix. At any rate, fans of Debashish Bhattacharya will love the new recording, as well as fans Indian classical music in a slightly contemporary setting. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Ireland's Meav Brings Us 'The Calling'

The Calling
Atlas Realisations/Warner

Meav's golden voice is angelic and crystal clear throughout her new release, The Calling. The heavenly vocals are steeped in new age concoctions wrapped in glistening particles of luscious ear candy. "The Calling" features angelic vocals and a scintillating acoustic guitar line backed with Enya-esque, symphonic reverie. "Light Flight" is a bit punchy with a rollicking acoustic guitar line and angelic, backup vocals. The song is very moving and jig-like with a contemporary edge. The lighter, "The Songline To Home," is a more serene tune with classical and new age characterizations that are very pleasant overall. Overall, Meav's voice is what stands out here. However, the affect could not be achieved without the presence of the instrumental backing. The fluid flutes, cascading vocals, and classical arrangements in a contemporary setting are very memorable and uplifting. If Heaven had a voice, Meav would be the vocalist. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Zansa's 'Djansa' From Ivory Coast, Africa


The Afrobeat leanings of Zansa stem from the Ivory Coast influences on Adama Dembele's compositions and arrangements. The music is highly contemporary with guitars, drums, bass, keyboard, and vocals in Bambara, French, English, and Baoule. The West African elements are not only represented by the Afro-jazz leanings, but also from the indigenous instruments, including the djembe, congas, shekere, sangban, dundun, kinkine, kanye ka, tama, kola nut shaker, bell, as well as various electric strings to keep it interesting. The heady rhythms are diverse, richly-textured, and always moving. The dance beats are organic and steeped in African traditions and culture. Zansa is Adama Dembele, Casey Dean, Patrick Fitzsimons, Sean Mason, Ryan Reardon, Matt Williams, and a host of guest musicians. The dozen song track-list is great for percussion fans, as well as contemporary Ivory Coast music fans. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, September 15, 2013

CD Review: Jody Quine's 'Seven'

Jody Quine

Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, Jody Quine is best known for her vocals in Balligomingo and Sleepthief. Now you can add a solo project to her credit. Seven is a folktronic and electro-acoustic medley of sorts with groovy dance tunes and upbeat melodies. "Tonight" is upbeat and electro-acoustic, which is indicative of some of Madonna's earlier work. "To Be Frank" begins a little slow, but quickly warms up to a contemplative melody and electronic backing that is rather minimal overall. Jody's vocals are the real charm here. There are vocal similarities with Beth Orton and Sinead O'Connor. "Piece Of My Heart" is something straight out of Nina Gordon's vocal repertoire with a piano, guitar, and percussion beat to boot. "I Love You" contains frame drum percussion and a minimalist repertoire of instruments, as the vocals fill the void. "Finch Diving" is a slightly urban tune with cinematic strings, electronic backing, and a heady beat with clear vocals. There are only seven tracks on the album, which may be one reason for the album title. One thing is for certain--Seven is five stars out of five all day long. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Heather Stewart's 'What It Is'

Heather Stewart
What It Is

A California-native, Heather Stewart, amazes listeners with gentle crooning and pensive guitar work on her latest release, What It Is. The opening title track, What It Is, represents a gentle romp into light pop and rock fanfare with a touch of folk and alt-country. "Stand Up" is a quaint folk and pop anthem with glorious vocals and sparkling guitar sounds with upbeat percussion. "I Lied" is a quiet and sauntering guitar tune with laidback vocals and apologetic lyrics tied to minimal instrumentation. The vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Adele's more contemplative and emotional works. "We'll Learn" is an open road ode with vocals somewhere between Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Lucinda Williams. The uppity percussion and guitars are somewhere between pop, country, and alternative with crystal clear vocals throughout. "A Little More" is a groovy alt-folk and pop song with glistening guitar chords not too unlike that of Nina Gordon. All eleven tracks are catchy and diverse. If you are into great music with a spaciousness and deliciousness rarely seen in contemporary music, then you will love Heather Stewart's sophomore release. ~ Matthew Forss      

Saturday, September 14, 2013

CD Review: Stone Diamond's 'We Stole The Stars From The Black Night'

Stone Diamond
We Stole The Stars From The Black Night
Davin Enterprises

With ties to New York and Germany, Stone Diamond rocks out with some heady blues-inspired tunes with an alternative--almost grungy--edge. The solid vocals are not too loud or intrusive. There are rock harmonies and swirling guitar melodies that do not disappoint. The entire album was produced, composed, and engineered by lead vocalist and bassist, Cy. Cy is joined by Josh on vocals and guitar, along with The Tongue on drums. The trio perform hard-hitting, yet melodic anthems of blues-rock greatness. "Tattoo" leaves its mark with Soundgarden-esque vocals and guitar arrangements. "U Know" is a more languid tune with grungy guitar arrangements that meander with a mysterious beat that is more thriller or spy film soundtrack related than modern rock band performance. At any rate, this showcases the diverse song stylings and sounds Stone Diamond has no problem creating. "When We Were Young" contains a little alt-country rock and blues elements with a classy, almost vintage feel. The guitar and percussion beats resemble early U2. "Long Hard 5 Days" reaches into some grungy, rock-infused music with electronic voicings and punchy bass. Overall, there are eleven tracks that feature a range of grungy, alt-rock, and blues-infused concoctions that are not for the faint of heart (aka Top 40 listener). However, the songs may make the Top 40 list in the future, but Stone Diamond contains a hard edge that is surprisingly easy to listen to. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Nikhil Karula's 'Solo Sessions'

Nikhil Karula
Solo Sessions
Groove Infinity Records

The California-based pop/rock jam band, Nikhil Karula, brings us Dave Matthews Band-esque melodies and some vocals. Nikhil is the lead vocalist, acoustic guitarist, and electric guitarist. He is joined by Ray Bergstrom on lead electric guitar, Matt Spencer on bass, Adam Gust on drums, Zane Musa on sax, and Chris Lovejoy on percussion. The five-track release, opens with "Spark." The tune is rather mellow with fluid sounds and a jam band presence. "He Said, She Said" is a more laid-back tune with light guitar accompaniment and soft sax with equally soft vocals. "Broken Roads" begins with a B3-type sound and Southern-tinged guitar accompaniment. This is a Southern rock anthem that is unique and fresh. "Silent Tears" is a rather pensive pop song with a somber tone on violin and piano. "Fade Away" is an uppity jam tune with lively guitar, percussion, and vocals. The instrumentation overall is rather memorable and varied. Some of the vocals are a bit forced in some places, but it is nothing too difficult to swallow overall. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Grand Old Grizzly's Self-Titled Release

Grand Old Grizzly
Grand Old Grizzly

A Texas alt-country act, Grand Old Grizzly presents us with an upbeat, bluegrass, and folk-tinged tunes with clever lyrics and memorable melodies on drums, guitars, keyboards, pedal steel, and bass. Grand Old Grizzly is led by vocalist and guitarist, Will Thomas. But he is joined by Mark Riddell on bass, vocals, keyboards, and percussion; Dustin Welch on banjo; Paul Beebe on drums, vocals, and guitars; and Craig Feazel and Katie Stuckey on pedal steel. The Americana folk sounds are rousing to say the least. There is even a bit of grungy/country-rock on "Tallahassee." The vocals on most of the songs resemble a younger version of Counting Crows-frontman, Adam Duritz. There are pop-centric elements which are bright and energetic, but the vocals are never loud or indiscriminate. The simplistic "I Was Thinkin'" is a dreamy ode on guitar with light instrumental embellishments. "Pretty Little Head" contains a slew of poetic vocals and giddy guitar stylings with pure pop pleasure wrapped around a country-esque backbone. There are eleven songs in all and none of them suffer from any insufficiencies. Grand Old Grizzly is grand music with a heart and soul. ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Solveig and Stevie's 'Zombie Lover'

Solveig and Stevie
Zombie Lover
Crystal Lake Records

Washington-based, Solveig & Stevie are Solveig Whittle and Stevie Adamek.  Solveig is the lead vocalist and lyricist, while Stevie is a musician with producer credits.  Zombie Lover is an album with seven songs that contain mostly Solveig’s vocals throughout.  The music represents pop and rock concoctions that contain a good degree of electronic, folk, dance, and alternative elements. There are guitars, drums, electronic programming, bass, and flutes that fill in the melodies. "Zombie Lover” opens with a grungy bass intro and heady rhythm section with a dark groove and female vocals that are rather light, yet authoritative.  The rolling guitars, percussion, and poetic vocals create an Evanescence-meets-Cranberries brew with a soulful folk vein.  The rock grooves are reminiscent of Jace Everett, too.  At any rate, the music is very moving, mysterious, and memorable. “Creation” opens with a light guitar tone and electronic blurbs and echoing, female vocals that are soft, soulful, and pop-focused.  The background swishes and atmospheric adornments lend an almost New Age feel to the music.  Solveig’s female vocals are sweet and clear, which are surprisingly reminiscent of Native American singer/songwriter, Annie Humphrey-Jimenez.  The miscellaneous background sounds of water, animals, and rocks probably connote the creation of the world.  The environmental noises coalesce perfectly with the New Age flutes, electronic embellishments, and Solveig’s angelic voice.  The keyboard adds a few soft touches to the music with a slight dance or pop theme straight out of the 1980’s.  However, the song is still rather futuristic and modern. “Keep Your Eyes On Your Heart” begins with a few guitar strums and tambourine-like sounds. A blend of mixed vocals produced in a folksy setting resembles a power-pop anthem.  The combination of vocals and guitars creates a full sound with lots of texture and catchy hooks.  The guitars and vocals are accompanied by punchy bass and an electronic shower of futuristic, industrial sounds that are choppy, heady, and punchy.  The combination of folk vocals and heady electronic embellishments are not very typical in today’s music, but it seems to work for Solveig & Stevie.  The songs ends with a mix of industrial sounds that are metallic and electronic. “I Just Can’t Breathe” opens with lilting guitar and electronic swishes, echoes, and a rap medley. The rap music breaks up the folk or electronic monotony, but all genres mentioned above are represented here.  Solveig & Stevie shows that pop, folk, alternative, electronic, dance, rap, and hip hop are not too difficult to work with.  There are symphonic vocals and arrangements that are catchy and unforgettable.  The swishy rap instrumental combines a little dance, chiptune, pop, electronica, and urban grooves with crystal clear vocals for a magical outcome that is not annoying, deleterious, or unnecessary. “Fire” begins with a few brisk, guitar strums that incorporate a little tambourine-like sounds and grungy, metallic, and industrial adornments.  The vocals are rather pop-based, but the music seems to evoke a little 1980’s vibe with modern electronica.  The playful vocals and edgy arrangements are rather fresh and unique without resorting to banal doldrums.  Once again, Solveig & Stevie create an unusual, but exciting song with lively flutes, piano, keyboards, bass, guitars, drums, and infectious grooves. Zombie Lover represents a diverse array of songs with different genre-defying tunes that incorporate a number of instruments, arrangements, and sounds for an interesting listen.  All of the songs are worthy of airplay, despite a somewhat incongruent mix of genres and sounds. Solveig & Stevie find a way to make it all work without sacrificing melody, rhythm, and quality. This is a top recording for fans of Americana folk/rock or bands such as Evanescence, Cranberries, Nina Gordon, and Jace Everett. ~ Matthew Forss