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Various, The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru

PostPosted: Fri Jun 20, 2008 11:33 pm
by Gordon Neill
I have a certain weakness for culture clashes, where traditional local music first collides with Western pop music and hot running electricity. I suppose there’s always the risk of them getting it horribly wrong and striking the wrong note. But there’s often the chance of something new and interesting being created amongst the debris of not getting it ‘right’. Last year, for me, it was Cambodian rock’n’roll. This year it might be Peruvian surf guitar music.

This compilation from the late 60s and 70s is billed as ‘psychedelic’, which I think is a bit misleading. Rather than some Peruvian take on Jimi Hendrix, it sounds more like Joe Meek having a go at cumbia. Which is fine by me. I quite like those early 60s twangy hits. And I quite like cumbia, even though its distinctive jogging rhythm makes me picture all those posh people elegantly cantering at the Badmington horse trials.

Listening to the first few tracks, I can see why this CD has been getting some glowing reviews. It’s cumbia, but not as we know it Jim. The short two-or-three minute tracks grab your attention with their distinctive trebly guitar sound. And, while the musicians aren’t horsing around, there is a certain humour and wit about it all. The trouble is that, after six or seven tracks of this stuff, a certain weariness sets in. There isn’t a lot of variety, either in the pace (that medium paced cumbia canter), or in the instrumentation (this-is-the-age-of-electricity guitar). While there are some vocals, it has the feel of an instrumental album, dominated by the trebly guitar sound, and, occasionally, the trebly farfisa organ sound.

The version of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ is the nearest thing to a stand-out track. You can’t help wishing that the man had spent more quality time with his electric guitar, rather than squandering his talents on all those moody concept albums. But once Ludwig has dismounted, it’s back to the same restrained, reined-in feel. It’s so unrelentingly taken at a pleasant jog, that you wish for something more thrilling or unexpected to happen. Perhaps a bugle to sound a cavalry charge or spark a stampede, or even waking up with a dead horse’s head on the pillow. But no. It’s much the same stuff that keeps getting trotted out.

Listening to this all the way through, my ears start to get repetitive stress syndrome. It’s not that there’s no variety, it’s just that it’s the same variety all the time. It’s like finding nothing but hay in a hay stack. No needles, no escaped prisoners of war, no moist intertwined lovers. Just hay. Hay ho, hay ho, it’s off to work we go. My ears find themselves clutching at straws, looking forward to the weekend, or at least the finishing post.

It’s not that this is a bad album. It’s quirky, interesting and full of short attractive tunes. I like it, but in short bursts. Take a tip from the horse’s mouth, it’s more like a safe each-way bet on a pleasant listen, rather than an odds-on contender for compilation of the year. Five-star album, or exciting new sub-genre? Neigh.


PostPosted: Sat Jun 21, 2008 1:12 am
by taiyo no otosan
Another belter of a review, Gordon. I've not heard the album, just a few tracks, but your review totally confirms what I expected it to be like as a whole.

When are you going to start writing reviews for fRoots?

PostPosted: Sat Jun 21, 2008 9:40 am
by Gordon Neill
taiyo no otosan was paid to ask:

When are you going to start writing reviews for fRoots?

Ha! Thanks for that. I dunno, when Ian makes me an offer I can't refuse, I suppose. I don't mean the type involving severed horses heads, more like stuffing used fivers in my pockets until it brings tears to my eyes.

More seriously, I'm not sure if I could compete with the regulars. Regulars like Con, Garth and Jamie - even Ian himself - actually know what they're talking about. I just wander about the globe making with the funnies. But it keeps me amused.

PostPosted: Sat Jun 21, 2008 10:03 am
by Chris P
Yet another brill review that manages to be more informative and originally descriptive than 90 % on offer in the rags, but also simultaneously funnier than 95 % of off-loaded wit fuelled offerings.
Proffered hats and doffed gnats to Gord

PostPosted: Sat Jun 21, 2008 10:49 am
by Jamie Renton
Gordon Neill wrote:Regulars like ... Jamie - actually know what they're talking about.

Shurely shome mishtake