Sunday, August 30, 2009

CD Review: Tcheck Out Tcheka


As of late, Cape Verde has produced some notable musicians such as, Tete Alhinho, Cesaria Evora, Lura, and Carmen Souza. Be sure to include Manuel Lopes Andrade a.k.a. Tcheka in the mix. On Lonji, Tcheka performs a modified form of batuque music with breezy, acoustic guitar stylings, Afro-Latin percussion, and Cape Verde vocals. The music is at times difficult to concretely categorize, as it takes on several nuances borrowed from African, Jazz, Latin, Portuguese, and Caribbean roots. However, it is distinctly unique and always refreshing. It is never overly-intrusive, but it does provide an entrancing and warm ambiance for any mood or occasion. If you are interested in the music of Cape Verde, then "(t)check" out Tcheka's Lonji today! Song titles and instrumentation are provided in the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CD Review: Northern Melodies by Eskil Romme and Friends


Himmerlandsmelodier is named by the location 'Himmerland'--a district of northeastern Jutland, Denmark. 'Melodier' connotes the musical 'melody' portion of the title. Eskil plays soprano sax, and is joined by the UK's Karen Tweed (accordion), Ghana's Ayi Solomon (percussion), Poland's Andrzej Krejniuk (bass), and Denmark's Ditte Fromseier (violin), Morten Alfred Hoirup (guitar) and Peter Rosendal (piano). The album is entirely instrumental. Almost every instrument shares the spotlight from time to time. The sounds of the violin, sax and accordion dance effortlessly, as if entwined, throughout the title track, 'Spring Peace'. The songs are not defined by any one genre, but they definitely possess a cozy, down-home feel. This is music with substance, originality, and fluidity. Make Himmerlandsmelodier a part of your life today! Song titles in Danish and English are included. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, August 23, 2009

CD Review: Eden Mi Qedem - Music from the Garden of Eden

Eden Mi Qedem
Eden Mi Qedem (Eden From The East)
Samuel Nelson

Jerusalem-based Eden Mi Qedem fuses contemporary Arab music with Jewish contributions. The band's name comes from the Biblical book of Genesis, which is inspired by the creation of Mankind and perfection of the Garden of Eden. As expected, the band draws heavily upon the rhythms and instrumentation of the Middle East. You will hear the violin, qanun, ney flute, tanbur, keyboards, and guitars create a modern and energetic musical tone. The historical roots and inspiration of Eden Mi Qedem explores Biblical poetry through original songs and Biblical Psalms. There are some great instrumental interludes and jamming sessions that flow in and out between modern and traditional music modes. In order to understand the music as something more than contemporary Arabic music, you might want to check out a similar group from Israel: The Idan Raichel Project. All in all, Eden Mi Qedem utilizes some danceable rhythms, groovy tunes, and a touch of Mesopotamian style. Listen to the Garden of Eden through the music of Eden Mi Qedem; it's that perfect! The liner notes contain song titles and information in English, Arabic and Hebrew. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Alex Cuba

Alex Cuba
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
With his signature afro and sideburns, Alex Cuba's looks are as striking and unique as his music. Originally from Cuba and now living in British Columbia with his family, Alex Cuba performed in Edmonton during the recent Edmonton Folk Music Festival. His energetic and skillful blend of Spanish lyrics with upbeat melodies encompassing elements of jazz, funk, and pop enthralled the audience during several performances and workshops. ~Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Tango From Bucharest, Romania

Oana Catalina Chitu
Bucharest Tango

Bucharest Tango is a 2008 release of Oana Catalina Chitu's resurrection of classic folk ballads of tango songs from 1913-1963. Of course, tango music is normally frenetic, and Oana's music is no different. Still, there are some slower moments indicative of a sultry, lounge club. Nonetheless, there are hints of Klezmer, Balkan, Mediterrean, and South American influences. There are some very skilled virtuosos on violin and cymbalom which are well worth a listen. Instruments include violin, cymbalom, guitar, double bass, sax, clarinet, and accordion. There is always room for another tango album in your collection, and Bucharest Tango belongs at the top! Liner notes include lyrics in Romanian and English. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tribecastan...from New York?

Strange Cousin

If the world had a soundtrack, Strange Cousin would be it. Tribecastan attempts to showcase the world's music with various percussion, wind, string, and less-commonly-played instruments. For instance, one track, 'Tribecastani Traffic Jam', contains a Pakistani Taxi Horn. This is an instrument aficionado's fantasy. Some instruments you will hear include the penny whiste, bendir, riq, fujara, tupan, shells, mandolin, bamboo flute, koncova, dutar, tambur, Indian oboe, kanun, and many, many more. As expected, Strange Cousin picks up sounds from around the world, most notably from Europe, Central Asia, and the Mediterranean. Sometimes albums fall short when they try to incorporate too much, but Tribecastan succeeds, because each track is different and it's delivered in focused moderation. This is a 99% instrumental album with only a spattering of vocals. It's a wonderful journey to begin--and it starts in a place called New York City. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ersatzmusika...Songs Memorable

Songs Unrecantable

The slightly psychedelic, avant-garde, post-Soviet roots music of Ersatzmusika is more uncategorizable than unrecantable. The rather languid English vocals possess a slightly Russio-Germanic undertone, as the band members are Russian-born, but sought refuge in Germany. Some of the songs are energetic, while others are more subdued with hints of Gypsy, folk, and pop leanings. Yet, the entire album contains a darker musical tone that amazingly does not disengage listeners, but make them lean in. The instruments used are fairly usual, including guitar, drums, bass, cello, synthesizer and harmonica. Of course, it's a matter of how they are used in order to understand how the music of Ersatzmusika came to be. The slower, instrumental moments remind one of a downbeat or trip hop band like Zero 7 or Air. Despite unsuccessful categorization, Songs Unrecantable is still one of my favorite albums of none.~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tony Allen's Not-So 'Secret Agent'

Tony Allen
Secret Agent

The term afro-beat was attributed to the musical stylings of drummer, Tony Allen. He was also a drummer and a former musical director of Fela Kuti's band from 1968-1979. On Secret Agent, Tony remains true to the afro-beat style, while also incorporating funk, jazz, and hip hop beats. Eleven tracks are played by band members from France, Cameroon, Martinique, and Nigeria. The tunes are mostly instrumental, but vocals do exist, with some borrowing English words. The rhythms are most certainly dance-friendly. Tony's latest release is a perfect accompaniment to other afro-beat recordings, notably Legends of Benin (Analog Africa, 2009) or Nigeria 70 Lagos Jump (Strut, 2008). If you are a fan of afro-beat, or African music in general, you will enjoy Secret Agent. The secret's out and ready to satisfy listeners all around the world. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Oumou Sangare's 'Joy'

One of Mali's great female vocalists, Oumou Sangare presents us with her fifth album since 1989. Seya, otherwise known as 'joy', is an energetic release celebrating life, love, happiness, and independence. An impressive array of a few dozen contributors lend talents throughout the album's tracks. As a result, the tracks are richly embossed with an array of instrumentation and funky beats. Oumou's musical origins from southern Mali serve as a continued influence in her music. For instance, she combines a Wassoulou groove with a kamale n'goni instrument to honor past Wassoulou singers on 'Donso'. Seya contains great vocal melodies, pleasant rhythms, and unique instrumentation. The traditional instrumentation is played in such a way to seem more contemporary. This is funk, afro-beat, highlife, and everything in-between. Pick it up today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tuva's National Orchestra

Tuvan National Orchestra
Independent Release

The Tuvan National Orchestra was formed in 2003. It comprises members of other throat-singing ensembles, including Chirgilchin, Alash, and Tyva Kyzy. The orchestra is now led by director and conductor Ayana Mongush who includes nine compositions released in a limited CD pressing. The contents of songs range from mythical legends to the environment, instruments, and personal longing. Additionally, the Tuvan national anthem is included in the opening track, 'Tooruktug Dolgai Tangdym'. On the whole, orchestral music tends to reflect classical leanings, but the Tuvan National Orchestra melds history with the present to produce very enlightening and contemplative works that are anything but boring. This is a perfect album for anyone interested in throat-singing or traditional music of Central Asia. ~ Matthew Forss
Photo courtesy Tuvan National Orchestra website:

CD Review: Alas...Alash!

Independent Release

In recent years, a slew of musical abums and compilations devoted to throat-singing from the steppes of Central Asia have graced the stores and charts. Those familiar with Huun Huur Tu, Egschiglen and Hanggai should pick up Alash's self-titled 2007 album of Tuvan throat-singing songs. Alash's ensemble does not incorporate Western instrumentation or modern beats. Instead, they present traditional songs with traditional instrumentation. Moreover, the liner notes detail the types of string and wind instruments used, including igil, kengirge, shynggyrash, limpi, murgu, byzaanchy, and doshpuluur. The instruments evoke images and sounds of nature indicative of indigenous Tuvan surroundings of grasslands, rivers, and animal galloping. At times the vocals seem otherworldly, but that only adds to the mystique of the Tuvan musical culture. The liner notes include a brief introduction to the music, throat-singing styles, and lyric translations from Tuvan to English by Sean Quirk. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Denmark's Helene Blum

Helene Blum
En Gang Og Altid (Once and Forever)
Pile House Records

En Gang Og Altid was released in 2008. Denmark's Helene Blum offers a poignant album of vocal songs and folksy guitar playing. There is a mix of traditional Danish tunes and original compositions. The instrumental repertoire contains guitar, mandolin, whistle, fiddle, bass, duduk, dobro, and others. The incredible songwriting abilities and voice of Helene can cut through any darkened moods or sadness. In effect, her voice has the ability to summon Heavenly spirits of harmonious goodness. In a universe all her own, she is relatively comparable to Ireland's Heidi Talbot, Scotland's Karine Polwart, and Canada's April Verch. All in all, you should discover Helene Blum today--your ears will thank you! Liner notes include lyrics in Danish only. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Azerbaijan's Sevda Alekperzadeh

Sevda Alekperzadeh
Sevdali Dunya (Worlds of Love)

The jazzy and sultry voice of Azerbaijan's 32-year-old Sevda Alekperzadeh brings us a lovely set of vocal and instrumental tunes from the Caucasus. Sevda sings in Azeri. The songs include instruments such as the piano, double bass, cello, kamanche, nagara, ud, drums, duduk, tar, saz, brass, zurna, and others. The majority of songs are composed with a jazzy-Mugham influenced musical background. Though, 'Ay Giz' is one exception that sounds like a pop standard from the 1940's. The incomparable Malik Mansurov lends his instrumental skills on the iconic tar instrument for a few tracks. Anyone familiar with classical, Turko-Asiatic music will find Sevdali Dunya tantalizing for the ears. The liner notes include song titles and lyrics in French, English, and German. It only takes a few listens before you understand why the world should love Sevda Alekperzadeh. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Arrested Development

Arrested Development
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
This band is not folk, but certainly gave an "arresting" performance last weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Arrested Development is hip hop with a message.

Decidedly Afrocentric and socially conscious, Arrested Development is the antithesis to the gansta rap movement of the 1990s. The meaningful lyrics, solid rhythm section, and funky dance moves had the audience pulsating to the beat. A folk festival is indeed a unique venue for this kind of music, but just goes to show that it caters to people with a wide spectrum of musical appreciation. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spirit of the West: Spiritual Ever After

Spirit of the West
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
Spirit of the West is an enduring band from Vancouver. For over 25 years, Spirit's unique blend of folk, rock, punk, and Celtic music has gained a huge following under that catch-all of musical labels: alternative.

The band's 25th anniversary compilation, Spirituality, was released last year. Spirit of the West also still tours on a regular basis, most recently as the opening act for Great Big Sea.

Spirit of the West also performed this past weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Maintaining a high energy level, the band had people dancing in front of the stage and into the beer gardens, especially to such classics as "Political," "Save This House," and "Home For a Rest." ~ Paula E. Kirman

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hanggai: "Newgrass" From China

What do you get when you mix roots music with traditional throat singing performed by a bunch of musicians presenting the sounds of the Mongolian population in China? You get Hanggai - a musical treat for the ears.

Dressed in traditional Mongolian garb, the members of Hanggai took to the stage at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past weekend for a workshop entitled "Newgrass." Along with The SteelDrivers, Hanggai performed some incredibly energetic music combining electric guitar work with traditional Asian instruments. One piece in particular, which kept getting faster and faster with every verse, had the audience clapping and dancing.

Mixing throat singing with rock sounds is a very unique musical combination. The band is based in Beijing and is starting to get the international recognition it deserves. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Daby Touré: Magic from Mauritania

Daby Touré
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
The name Touré has become synonymous with World Music, the large Africal family having producing several bands and solo artists. Daby Touré has recorded and performed both solo and with his brothers and now resides in France. His sound is unique in that he combines intelligent, introspective songwriting with captivating melodies and a great beat.

I was, of course, very familiar with Daby Touré's music before seeing him perform this past weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Seeing him live helped me gain a whole new appreciation for his work. With a very laid-back and friendly approach (I don't think the smile ever left his face) he rhythmically strummed his guitar and presented songs about life and love. His songs never get repetitive and are downright captivating.

If you ever get the chance to see Daby Touré live, don't pass up the chance. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Hot Tuna: Still Smokin' After All These Years

Hot Tuna
Originally uploaded by raise my voice

Hot Tuna
is one of those bands whose reputation precedes them. A career of performing some of the finest blues-rock music ever made over four decades, to call this San Francisco-formed band legendary seems like a understatement.

According to the CBC's Holger Peterson, who introduced Hot Tuna's Sunday afternoon concert at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival on August 9, this was the band's first-ever appearance in Alberta. Looking around at the audience, I could tell some had waited a long time for this moment to come.

Founding members Jorma Kaukonen (vocals and guitar) and Jack Cassidy (bass) are still the core of the band, adding mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff. Acoustically slipping and sliding their way through traditional and original blues tunes, the trio captivated everyone watching. Particularly spectacular was Kaukonen's finger-picking and strong vocals, which at times reminded me of the late Jerry Garcia.

The numerous instrumental breakdowns and musical back-and-forth between all of the members made a hot afternoon even hotter. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Oysterband: A Pearl of a Performance

Originally uploaded by raise my voice
Oysterband is a legendary band on the international folk music scene. Steeped in the traditional music of Britain, Oysterband has endured numerous changes in both personnel and style over the band's 30-odd year history. Currently, Oysterband could best be described as folk-rock, but with many layers of roots in music from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and throughout the UK.

Still actively recording and touring, the band was in Edmonton this past weekend for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Performing on the Saturday afternoon main stage, Oysterband was in fine form. Smooth music, clear vocals, and an engaging stage presence had the crowd captivated.

Oysterband has been reaching a new audience in recent years. Some of their songs have taken a political direction and has put them in solidarity with fellow British musicians Chumbawumba (who were performing acoustically throughout the festival as well). The two bands have performed and recorded together on numerous occasions.

The band's latest album is entitled The Oxford Girl & Other Stories and contains stripped-down re-recordings of some of the bands favourite songs from throughout its 30 year history. Lead singer John Jones also recently put out a solo recording called Rising Road. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir

First of all, let's get a couple of things straight. They aren't a choir. They aren't from the mountains. In fact, they are from Calgary (which is close to the mountains, but not quite). They are the Agnostic Mountain Choir and they perform music with an old-time Blues style -- with their own new-time twist.

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir was another Edmonton Folk Music Festival discovery for me. I had heard rumblings about the band (all good) and had a chance to check them out during a jam session workshop with Daby Touré and Hot Tuna. Thumping acoustic bass, twanging guitars, and vocals with all the grit and soul of an old Bluesman - I was so impressed, I checked out the band's latest album Ten Thousand on iTunes when I got back from the festival.

If you like traditional Blues music but are open to something different, you need to check out the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir. ~Paula E. Kirman

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Great Lake Swimmers

Great Lake Swimmers
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
As I was heading to the concession area at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past window, one of my friends waved me down and told me that I simply had to check out this incredible band called Great Lake Swimmers. I heard similar raves from others, so headed back to Gallagher Park early Sunday afternoon to hear the band's hour-long set.

Although this was the first time I had heard of Great Lake Swimmers, judging from the enthusiastic and plentiful crowd the band already has an established following. Indeed, the band already has four albums under its belt, the latest being Lost Channels which was released this past March.

What catches me most about Great Lake Swimmers is the atmosphere of the music. Rootsy with an upbeat tempo and just a hint of twang at times, Tony Dekker's understated vocals set the tone for his songs that are hauntingly beautiful. The songs have a dreamy feel to them without becoming repetitive.

I have no doubt that Great Lake Swimmers gained some new fans during their Folk Fest performance -I can personally attest to that! ~ Paula E. Kirman

Digging The Skydiggers

The Skydiggers
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
If you have never heard of The Skydiggers, it likely isn't your fault. Let this be your introduction to the Toronto-based band that presents a blend of folk, country, and rock.

The Skydiggers is one of those bands that has fallen through the cracks time and time again. Deserving far more acclaim than it has received, The Skydiggers has been the repeated victim of record labels going under and as a result, has never been promoted to the extent it should be.

Known for melodic, harmonious songs like "I Will Give You Everything," "A Penny More," and "Slow Burning Fire," The Skydiggers are celebrating 20 years as band. Members have come and gone (most notably co-singer/songwriter Andrew Cash - Peter's brother) but the core trio of the lively and eccentric Andy Maize on lead vocals, Josh Finlayson on guitar, and Ron Macey on bass has endured.

The Skydiggers recently released a retrospective entitled The Truth About Us which features remastered versions of most of the band's best-known songs. The band still tours actively as well, and was in Edmonton for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, playing a concert on August 8. The hour-long set saw fans old and new alike swaying and singing along.

As someone who owns the band's first album on cassette, I could not help but feel nostalgic when the host announced that The Skydigger's was celebrating 20 years this year. And despite the blazing heat of the summer afternoon, I broke out in goosebumps when they performed "I Will Give You Everything." Andy Maize was in fine form with his frenzied body movements and facial expressions, making witty quips in between songs.

The Skydiggers continue to be one of the hardest-working bands in the Canadian music scene. Hopefully, it won't take another 20 years for The Skydiggers to gets its due. ~ Paula E. Kirman