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Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:45 am
by howard male
OK, in the spirit of keeping things ticking over here during this difficult time - here's my latest bunch of CD reviews from the Indie on Sunday.


Artist - Carolina Chocolate Drops
Title - Genuine Negro Jig
Label - Nonesuch Records

This North Carolina band have a great live reputation. The only problem is that - as with their previous release - the production is a tad dry, so the old barn you want to picture them cooking up a banjo, fiddle and guitar-led storm in, simply isn’t evoked. But this minor reservation aside there’s a fine selection of traditional tunes here (plus a couple of originals and Wait’s ‘Trampled Rose’) which further cement this African-American trio’s mission to prove that ‘old-time music’ can still be a vital force.


Artist - Tamikrest
Title – “Adagh”
Label – Glitterhouse Records

The “spiritual sons of Tinariwen” says the press release, which is one way of putting it. But this is really Tinariwen-by-numbers with much of the edge and rococo detail removed. It’s perfectly pleasant, and may convert a few more rock fans to the idea that Saharan desert blues isn’t as alien as they thought, but there’s not much that’s rebellious about this Touareg rebel blues. They’re actually at their best when they strip everything back, as on the hypnotically restrained closing track, “Toumastin.”


Artist – Vinicio Capossela
Title – The Story-Faced Man
Label – Nonesuch

Do we really need an Italian Tom Waits? Well, if the artist concerned comes with the full approval of regular Waits guitarist Mark Ribot (who plays on 6 of the 17 tracks here) the answer is yes. But Capossela is no mere Waits impersonator. Vocally he’s more versatile than the old growler, and both his unhinged Dadaist rockers and his delicate piano ballads show him to be an exceptional songwriter in his own right. There’s also an element of that other great Tom; Mr Ze, in there somewhere.


Artist – Various
Title – Next Stop … Soweto. Township Sounds from the Golden Age of Mbadanga
Label – Strut

We’ve had plenty of vintage music from Mali, Nigeria and the Congo in recent years but very little from South Africa, so this CD is an exciting prospect. This is raw, joyous, and absurdly catchy township jive, primarily from the 1970s, that speaks of the resilience and optimism of a people with seemingly no way out of the vicious apartheid regime that even labelled black musicians criminals. For better or worse, there would have been no Vampire Weekend without this stuff. Indispensable.


Artist – Alcoholic Faith Mission
Title – Let This Be The Last Night We Care
Label – Pony Records

This Brooklyn band seem as interesting in the accidental creaks that sliding fingers make between forming guitar chords, as the chords themselves, and presumably also delight in the moments when the signal from a mercilessly punished musical instrument goes into the red. But the tunes are strong and hymnal, with echoes of Arcade Fire and Califone, and the album’s one would-be hit, ‘Got Love? Got Shellfish!’ has a thrilling Bowie-esque chorus. Sombre yet still life-affirming.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Wed Jun 23, 2010 7:02 pm
by howard male
Just realised it's been a while since I posted a bunch of reviews, so here you go.


Artist – Balkan Beat Box
Title – Blue Eyed Black Boy
Label – Crammed Discs

This New York trio have been producing deftly programmed global fusion for more than five years now, but it’s on this third album that their song writing skills finally measure up to their studio craft. There’s a stronger hip-hop undercurrent, a greater sense of political engagement, the beats have more forward momentum, and every blast of Berber woodwind and Gypsy brass seems to be part of an organic whole. They’re now a band I’d like to see live, and there’s no greater complement.


Artist – Mama Rosin
Title – Bruie Lentement
Label – Voodoo Rhythm

Forget questions of authenticity and credibility, this Swiss Cajun/Zydeco trio make a thrillingly suped-up racket with the standard Cajun weaponry of guitar, banjo, melodeon and rub board. Although it’s the spirit of Joe Strummer and Les Negresses Vertes which are most evoked in the ragged exuberance of the music, it’s the Velvet Underground who the band give a witty nod to with their cover art. Rarely has the undiluted live essence of a band been captured so successfully in the studio.


Artist – Rango
Title – Bride of the Zar
Label – Voodoo Rhythm

The dry, muted sound of the tanbura and the frenetic rattle of an array of percussion instruments (including the wooden xylophone from which this Egyptian/Sudanese collective gets its named) produce a bustling, involving backdrop for the sonorous call and response vocals. But what really makes this outfit stand out is the fact that the five-stringed simsimiyya has been fitted with an electric pickup which subtly adds a smidgen of funky distortion to what is otherwise a fairly traditional sound.


Artist –Yaaba Funk
Title - Afrobeast
Label – Yaabaphone

This London ten-piece get the whole Afrobeat/hi-life mix just about right with a lose, natural sound driven by a fluid yet intense rhythm section, bursts of on-the-nail brass, and plenty of light and shade in the vocals which are shared by Richmond Kessie and Helen McDonald. Refreshingly there are few concessions to contemporary dance music trends as it’s all about the natural push and pull of a great live band. But there’s a couple of digitally-only remixes available for the hard of dancing.


Artist –Choc Quib Town
Title - Oro
Label – World Connection

The backbone of this Afro-Colombian trio’s music is hip-hop, but the beats have a thrilling elasticity so often lacking in the genre. And despite the potential language barrier of most of the absurdly catchy songs being in Spanish, this debut album’s vibrant mix of ragga, funk, and various Colombian and Latin roots styles makes it one of the most immediately appealing chunks of crossover hip-hop since ‘The Score: Refugee Camp’ by Fugees. Sexy, tough, and compellingly bouncy.


Artist - Various
Palenque Palenque! “Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91”
Label – Soundway

These intense in-your-face floor-fillers defy all the laws of musical appreciation by being simultaneously mind-numbingly repetitive and peculiarly involving. The explanation, of course, is that even if structurally the songs are mostly just endlessly repeating choruses held down by tightly circling bass figures, the devil is in the details - and the power of real musicians playing together as if their lives depend on it. I’ve surprised myself by the number of times I’ve returned for more.


Artist – Mirim Makeba
South Africa’s Skylark
Label – Nascente

Football means diddlysquat to me, but at least the World Cup has meant a flood of great compilations with a South African theme. And there’s no musician more important to the history of this country than the singer and legendary civil rights activist, Miriam Makeba. Compiler, Phil Meadley has inventively put all the tradition more township jive-orientated material on one CD and the heavier, funkier and more politically motivated material on the other. A must-have collection.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 12:14 pm
by howard male
And here's a few more...

Artist – Luisa Maita
Title - Lero-Lero
Label – Cumbancha

A favourite album of last year came from Brazil’s Ceu. Ms Maita is following in Ceu’s sand-coated footsteps with this cool and sophisticated effort, although even if there are the same nods towards dub, trip-hop and electronica, it’s not quite as ground-breaking in its deconstructions of bossa nova and samba. But having said that, ‘Fulaninha’ has a Jamaican dancehall vibe about it, so there’s still some stretching of the envelope. An easy-going but thankfully not too easy-going debut.


Artist – Various
Title – Anywhere on this Road
Label – WCJ

Sadly this is the last time we’ll have the consummate guidance of Charlie Gillett (who tragically died earlier this year) to help us find our world music bearings. As ever there are name acts such as Tuereg desert rockers, Tinariwen, and grizzled bluesman Seasick Steve, alongside some stuff which even the most focussed globalist may not have come across before. K’naan (of ‘Waving Flag’ fame) is represented by the immensely moving tale of his gun-downed childhood sweetheart,‘Fatima’


Artist – D.O. Misiani and Shirati Jazz
Title – The King of History
Label – Sterns

What an intoxicating amalgam of sounds make up these classic Kenyan Benga songs of the 1970s. A kick drum provides the workman-like four-to-the-flour backbone, high-on-the-fretboard guitar melodies curl themselves in knots as they generously spin out, vocalists sing lyrics of both the heart and mind, and the bass bubbles away volcanically, slipping and sliding around the beat. As ever, Sterns have done an excellent job in both the quality of the recordings and the extensive sleeve notes.


Artist –Leif
Title – Inland
Label – Nevado Records

This Canadian songwriter sings lyrically complex songs with a voice that’s a cross between Nina Simone at her most world-weary and Devendra Banhart at his least annoying. Accompanying himself on just piano, guitar or banjo with the occasional addition of orchestra strings and drums, there’s a spiritual resonance to his ballads that makes them both timeless and monumental despite their ragged fragility. Originally self-released in 2008, it has now deservedly found a label better able to promote it.

Artist –Various
Title – Balkan Fever London (Mind the Brass)
Label – Green Queen Music

Sometimes UK-based global acts get a rough deal because what’s on your doorstep somehow isn’t ‘exotic’ enough for the purists. But for Balkan/Gypsy music the balance at least gets redressed a little here. I’ve certainly discovered a few new bands from listening to this rousing compilation that I’ll be checking out live at the first opportunity. For on the whole these are real brass and accordion-driven bands kicking real arse, not sterile studio projects utilising credibility-enhancing samples.

Artist – Cheikh Lô
Title – Jamm
Label – World Circuit

The Senegalese singer’s first album in five years is something of a return to form after a couple of lacklustre offerings. There’s a sensuous spontaneity to the arrangements which can only have been the result of a live band interacting with each other. As ever, Lô stirs up a potent brew of Afro-Cuban, African, reggae and flamenco influences. In fact the cheery ‘Il N’est Jamais Trop Tard’ even has a South Sea islands vibe about it. If you’ve not heard Lô before this would be a great place to start.


Artist – Various
Title – Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira!
Label – Mais Um Discos

Expectations might lead you to believe this is just another samba and bossa nova collection. Not at all. This double CD is a mostly rewarding survey of what cutting-edge Brazilian musicians are producing under the influence of everything from indie pop to left-field hip-hop. It’s at times like this one wishes their wasn’t the label ‘world music’ to put off a lot of potential listeners who would come to realise that British and American music is not the be all and end all when it comes to innovation.


Artist – Various
Title – Manana, El Tango - Perlas del Label
Label – Manana

Manana - the label founded by the Gotan Project’s Eduardo Makaroff - should be given some kind of award for its packaging alone: this compilation of contemporary tango opens up into an atmospheric 3D illustration of startling complexity. From barroom rowdy to heart-achingly lyrical it’s effectively a best-of introduction to the label’s output so far. There’s tunes by Melingo, Di Giusto, and Makaroff, amongst others, which are by turns edgy, classy, steeped in tradition and elegantly modern,


Artist – Asmara All Stars
Title – Eritrea’s Got Soul
Label – Out Here Records

If you like the Ethiopian soul funk sound of the early 1970s you should find much to enjoy in this contemporary take on it. Eritrea is Ethiopia’s neighbour and many of the country’s musicians actually contributed to those classic recordings. The main difference with this contemporary project is the influence of Jamaican reggae. But the dub elements fold perfectly into the sinuous Ethiopian grooves - as our own Dub Colossus have already demonstrated. Vibrant, heady, and sensuous stuff.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 1:12 pm
by Alan Balfour
howard male wrote:Artist - Carolina Chocolate Drops
Title - Genuine Negro Jig
Label - Nonesuch Records

This North Carolina band have a great live reputation. The only problem is that - as with their previous release - the production is a tad dry, so the old barn you want to picture them cooking up a banjo, fiddle and guitar-led storm in, simply isn’t evoked.
I'm heartened to find I'm not alone in being of similar opinion concerning the first CD which just didn't do it for me, despite the plaudits it received. On ther other hand, their live performances are magic - some super ones on YouTube.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2011 10:06 am
by howard male
A few more CD reviews:



Artist – Paolo Conte
Title – Nelson
Label – Wrasse Records

You don’t have to understand every language the 73-year-old Italian composer sings in here (French, Spanish, Neapolitan and English as well as Italian) to know that his single-malt voice is gruffly crooning about lost loves, lost time - perhaps even lost luggage - all adding up to a moving yet idiosyncratic reflection on his own mortality. But, as ever, Conte’s hauntingly askew perspective circumnavigates overt sentimentality with cosmopolitan panache. As good as anything he’s done.


Artist – Brian Eno with Jon Hopkins & Leo Abrahams
Title – Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Label – Warp

Eno’s first for Warp begins with some predictably ethereal Enoesque chords informing us we are in yet another green world. But later things warm up for a while with some tribally intense pieces that are unusually opaque and up-tempo for the man who generally has such a less-is-more approach. Perhaps this is partly the influence of his two collaborators, keyboardist Jon Hopkins and guitarist Leo Abrahams. But whatever, it’s a rare pleasure to hear Eno being so 'Blank Frank'-ly edgy and noisy.


Artist – Aurelio
Title – Laru Beya
Label – Real World

Despite reggae being the supple and subtle backbone to much of this Garifuna artist’s second album, it has the unmistakably unique flavour of previous releases from this Central American coastal community, such as Andy Palacio’s seminal ‘Watina’. By turns swaggering with a carefree carnivalesque joie de vivre, and seemingly channelling a Cape Verde spirit of melancholy that so evokes the disenfranchised human spirit, ‘Lara Beya’ is a texturally and emotionally involving treasure.


Artist – Mama Rosin
Title – Black Robert
Label – GutFeeling

The Swiss Cajun/punk trio’s third album is a little more introspective - although introspective is a relative term when it comes to these lovers of the rowdy and ramshackle. However, the rousing melodeon and guitar-led party numbers are juxtaposed to one or two more lyrical banjo-led tunes which perhaps better conjure the spirit of a more laidback Louisiana of around a century ago. Another timeless and rambunctiously alive recording from this impassioned outfit.


Artist – Tulipa
Title – Efemera
Label – Totolo

Brazil is most famous for its samba and bossa nova but these days what it does best is intelligent, innovative pop music. This debut from a young Sao Paolo lass is at first a little off-putting in the way it tries to cozy up to you. But it’s saved by off-kilter arrangements, unpredictable chord progressions, and a wayward charm that has made me return to it over and over again. Sometimes child-like in a good way, its sophistication is complemented by an admirable lightness of touch.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Thu Feb 24, 2011 9:24 pm
by Jonathan E.
howard male wrote:. . .
Artist – Aurelio
Title – Laru Beya
Label – Real World

Despite reggae being the supple and subtle backbone to much of this Garifuna artist’s second album, it has the unmistakably unique flavour of previous releases from this Central American coastal community, such as Andy Palacio’s seminal ‘Watina’. By turns swaggering with a carefree carnivalesque joie de vivre, and seemingly channelling a Cape Verde spirit of melancholy that so evokes the disenfranchised human spirit, ‘Lara Beya’ is a texturally and emotionally involving treasure.
. . .

Honestly, Howard, I simply can't fathom how you can say that reggae is the "supple and subtle backbone" to this album. Granted the album includes some guest spots and subsequent influence from Youssou N'Dour and Orchestra Baobab — but even that is minor, although more pronounced than any hint of reggae. I suppose you might claim that there's the very faintest of similarities between Garifuna drumming and nyahbinghi but even that would be a bit of a stretch. Neither can I understand how you can call Watina "seminal" given that Andy Palacio had several releases prior and was already a big star (as they go) in Belize. If there's a seminal Garifuna album, it would have to be the Paranda title, released and re-released several times but dating from 1998 on the copy I have. Both Andy Palacio and Aurelio Martinez played on that. However, perhaps you'll be pleased to hear, the biggest mystery to me about this release has nothing to do with you — and that is why there appears to a marketing campaign to rename Aurelio Martinez as simply Aurelio, which makes him not show up on many searches for those of us who go back a while with his music and use his full name. It sort of divorces him from all that earlier work, including that excellent earlier album, Garifuna Soul. Ahh, the mysteries of the music world!

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2011 1:26 am
by Jonathan E.
No, WAIT! I get it now! Three songs have a sort of reggae/Jamaican feeling. Guess I just wasn't being subtle or supple enough — but, perhaps a thighbone rather than a backbone?

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2011 10:47 am
by howard male
Thighbone? Backbone? What’s the flippin’ difference, J! (OK, don’t bother to answer that).

As I’ve tried to explain before regarding these Independent on Sunday reviews (now reduced from about 100 to about 82 words) I don’t have much room for manoeuvre on subtleties of distinction. The minute I start to go off on a tangent to say this or that track has these influences whereas the opening track has more of a nyahingi influence, I’m out of words! In other words I can only paint in the broadest strokes. Note how, for example, it’s taken you twice as many words just now to pull me up on just a couple of things. But having said that, I thought I’d sufficiently sign-posted other influences by mentioning Cape Verde and ‘Carnivalesque’ and using the word ‘unique’.

Here’s a bit of homework for you, J. Why don’t you go back to your desk and write an 82-word review of a current release and I’ll point out all the biographical facts and subtleties of influence you have failed to communicate in it. ;-)

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2011 8:11 pm
by Jonathan E.
howard male wrote:Thighbone? Backbone? What’s the flippin’ difference, J! (OK, don’t bother to answer that).

But can I have a chuckle? Please.

howard male wrote:As I’ve tried to explain before regarding these Independent on Sunday reviews (now reduced from about 100 to about 82 words) I don’t have much room for manoeuvre on subtleties of distinction. The minute I start to go off on a tangent to say this or that track has these influences whereas the opening track has more of a nyahingi influence, I’m out of words! In other words I can only paint in the broadest strokes. Note how, for example, it’s taken you twice as many words just now to pull me up on just a couple of things. But having said that, I thought I’d sufficiently sign-posted other influences by mentioning Cape Verde and ‘Carnivalesque’ and using the word ‘unique’.

Here’s a bit of homework for you, J. Why don’t you go back to your desk and write an 82-word review of a current release and I’ll point out all the biographical facts and subtleties of influence you have failed to communicate in it. ;-)

Yeah, I know, Howard, it's a cruel world and I'm not being facetious (for once). Eighty-two words for a CD review is farcical and does no one any favours.

But, look at the bright side. I'm reading your work and taking it seriously enough to respond, hopefully on the substance rather than merely the style. I don't really expect to agree with you on a lot of things — that's one reason why I read what other people think, to understand the differences of perception and taste — but, as I've said before, I think your writing has improved tremendously over the past few years. I'm very impressed by the obvious effort you've made and the results you've obtained. You are one of the relatively few writers who does not simply regurgitate the press release, toe the industry line on a release, or spend an entire review discussing the history of an artist without getting around to giving much impression of the release at hand.

Having said that, it's true that I can be a bit of stickler for the odd word that rubs me up the wrong way and that I consider incorrect or inappropriate for one reason or another. In the case of your Laru Beya review those words are "reggae" and "seminal" — although after sufficient consideration I did come around to understanding your use of "reggae," not that I agree with it. Part of my response here is that I actually feel rather ambivalent about Laru Beya, as I've been feeling about several of the "blockbuster" world music releases of late. It's nice, it's pretty, very pleasant even, but I think a little overly ornamented and safe, a bit too groomed for the assumed market. It's yet another work that I want to like more than I do — and that makes me think about my own response and be particularly interested in the responses of others.

Homework? Eighty-two words? Surely you jest, sir! I can't even get out of bed in less than 82 words.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2011 11:20 pm
by howard male
Jonathan wrote -

I think your writing has improved tremendously over the past few years.


Why thanks boss! But I have to say I disagree. I much prefer my early IoS reviews where a track sounded like “a no-mans-land of overlapping radio stations,” or Mariza sang against a “chaise longue of orchestra strings, or the bass ngoni on Bassekou’s first album provided ‘velvety ballast’. These days I just can’t seem to summon similes and metaphors with the same kind of novel but sparkling aptness, damn it. What’s a metaphor? It’s so the man from the gas board can see how much gas you’ve used (I did make up that joke though).

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:19 pm
by Jonathan E.
For once, I'm close to speechless! There must be some Law of the Universe that says that Howard and I can't agree on anything. Or perhaps I'm just not too fond of overly-fantastic similes and metaphors.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 6:33 pm
by howard male
Or perhaps I just like winding you up, Jonathan.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2011 8:16 pm
by Jonathan E.
No, no, no — I simply cannot imagine such a thing. It is almost as unlikely as me amusing myself by winding you up.

Did I ever tell you about my collection of clockwork toys?

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Sun Mar 13, 2011 1:52 pm
by howard male
In that case, J, we are, between us, a perpetual wind-up machine.

Re: Some more CD reviews

PostPosted: Sun Mar 13, 2011 9:34 pm
by Jonathan E.
We could make some serious crust between us then!

[I do hope AndyM is not reading this.]