Friday, November 26, 2010

CD Review: 4-CD SET - Free Africa

Various Artists
Free Africa [4 CD]

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of freedom for many African countries, Maquis Music released a four-disc set of popular music from all-around Africa. Some of the countries represented include Mali, Togo, Congo, Guinea, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Angola, Cape Verde, and Ethiopia. Some of the artists include Djelimady Tounkara, Mahmoud Ahmed, Alpha Blondy, Ismael Lo, Bassekou Kouyate, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Manu Dibango, Orchestra Baobab, Cesaria Evora, and many more. Music originating from the 1960's to the present is included. Many styles of music are represented, including, highlife, afro-beat, jazz, saharan, blues, folk, roots, and afro-latin. Of course, it is possible to include every, or even some, of the African musicians from these regions in one album set. However, the folks at Maquis Music succeed in presenting a well-rounded collection of African music from established and lesser-known artists. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Master Musicians of Jajouka

The Source

Named after a village in Northern Morocco, the Master Musicians of Jajouka is led by Bachir Attar on ghaita, lira flute, quimbri, and vocals. The long introductory track, "Habibi Tsitini", is a guimbri (lute) anthem with violin, drums, and some vocals. The calming flute and drums of "Hanging Out In Jajouka" reflect the lighter musical side of The Source. After twenty-some years of music-making and collaborations, Bachir Attar returns to 'the source' of his musical roots by recording the album in his home. The spiritual and ritual music of Jajouka is rich in Sufi musical traditions that provide curative or healing properties through music. The mostly instrumental approach to 'Jajouka music' involves a rhythmic, traditional beat without modern arrangements, albeit interruptions. Jajouka means 'something good is coming to you'. In this case, 'something good' is Bachir Attar's Master Musicians of Jajouka. Trance on over to your favorite record store this holiday season and buy it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Heidi Talbot's 'The Last Star'

The Last Star

The Irish singer/guitarist, Heidi Talbot, continues to create inspiration, sweet, and tender folk songs with all the charm and charisma Ireland has to offer. The folksy instrumentation of accordion, ukulele, piano, percussion, guitar, bass, whistles, uileann pipes, harmonium, and fiddle provides an engaging listening experience. As a songwriter, Heidi composes and arranges songs with her husband, John McClusker. However, "Start It All Over Again" and "The Shepherd Lad" were attributed to Scotland's Karine Polwart. Additionally, the late-Sandy Denny is covered on "At The End of The Day". Heidi's English vocals possess the sound and sincerity of America's folk singer/guitarist, Shawn Colvin. If anything, The Last Star represents a strong release that does not outshine prior releases, but that does not make it bad. In fact, Heidi's latest release is slightly more folk than rock or pop. Liner notes include English lyrics. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Real Vocal String Quartet

Real Vocal String Quartet

The all-female quartet of violin, viola, voice, and cello makes a resounding impact on the musical world with their self-titled debut. With very little in the way of other instrumentation, the quartet's influence of Scandinavian, African, European, and the music of the Theatre shows the diversity of stringed instruments. The California-based group takes care to walk the fine line between classical, folk, roots, new age, bluegrass, and jazz music. The tender vocals meld together with the instrumentation to form a perfect union of sound. With some vocals hinting a bit toward Finland's Varttina and instrumentation like that of Squonk Opera, the Real Vocal String Quartet is a contemplative release of cathartic bliss. However, some parts may be particularly slow, as in "Grean Bean Stand" or the gorgeous "Place For Me". Those looking for music of Bach or Beethoven should look elsewhere. The Real Vocal String Quartet is here to play new classical music for a new world and they are the 'real' deal. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Hungarian Rock with Napra

Holdvilagos (In The Moonlight)

The Balkan-folk-rock group, Napra, is a bit of a heady, guitar and brass-driven band that favors the punk-jazz grooves of modern society. The urban vocals and bass beat of "Tulipanos" cements their mark in the world of Hungarian rock. Bordering on Russian folk and Balkan jazz pop, Napra is anything but a sleepy journey through Transylvania. "Sas Ferenc Hoditasa" is a fast, guitar-driven tune with folksy rhythms and vocals. The slower pop-ballad, "Hang a Hangbol", showcases one of the many different sounds and sides of Holdvilagos. Given Hungary's geographical location within Central Europe, it is not surprising Napra is influenced directly or indirectly by Balkan jazz, Central Asian pop, Russian folk, Scandinavian rock, Rom-Rock, and even South American music! The range of melodies, sounds, and vocals is a refreshing delight to come out of Hungary. If you have not experienced some spine-tingling, folk-rock from Hungary, then experience it today with Napra. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Souad Massi's 'O Houria'

Souad Massi
O Houria (Liberty)
Wrasse Records
Algerian-born and France-based, Souad Massi, releases yet another superb release of French-tinged pop music. Steeped in French music traditions, O Houria represents an infectious and mature album that does not contain one weak track. The magnificent musicianship by the vocalist and guitarist is especially evidenced on the catchy opener "Samira Meskina", country-influenced "Une Lettre A...Si H'med", the folksy "Tout Ce Que J'aime", the laid-back ballad "Khabar Kana", the piano ballad and duet with Paul Weller on "Let Me Be In Peace", and the bluesy "Enta Ouzahrek". Souad sings in French, English, and Arabic. As a whole, the music is catchy, but not too loud or vocally-forced. The relatively reserved instrumental sounds originate from the bass, piano, guitars, drums, banjo, ukulele, bouzouki, mandolin, oud, and accordion. In essence, the suave and sensual Souad Massi delivers on all accords. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Madou Sidiki Diabate, Ahmed Fofana, & Alex Wilson in 'Mali Latino'

Mali Latino

World-pianist, Alex Wilson, joins fellow Mali-countrymen, Madou Sidiki Diabate and Ahmed Fofana on a musical project that was in dire straits of a financial setback. However, with a little effort, the financial situation reversed itself and Mali Latino is now a realized project that bridges the connection between African and Latin rhythms, instruments, and beats. The highly-danceable "Donkan" is a rousing Afro-Latin piece with piano, brass, kora, percussion, and everything good. The young Malian vocalist, Aoua Kasse Mady Diabate and Italian Davide Giovanni, lend their talents on an infectious "Sangre Mandinga". The jazzy grooves of "Ankaben" is led by vocalist Soumaila Kanoute, as Madou's sparkling kora melodies nicely accompany Alex's piano. The serenity of "Voyage" is completely void of vocals and the focus is entirely on the instruments. Overall, the recording is not bogged down by excessive or aggressive vocals. This allows the musical instruments and melodies to really stand out. Mali Latino is a favorite for fans with any interest in Afro-Latin connections. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CD Review: Finnish Frigg


The Finnish group, Frigg, release their fifth album to date. Grannen is a fine example of Finnish strings with a light mix of guitar, mandolin, bagpipes, cittern, and double bass to keep it all interesting. Frigg is an ideal example of nordgrass, or a type of Scandinavian roots-folk music, with a soothing mix of instrumental fiddle and guitar tunes that mimic the bluegrass and Celtic musical traditions. Frigg has musical connections with Finland's JPP fiddling troupe, as well as Norway's former-Frigg member, Gjermund Larsen. "Maple Cake Farm" is a giddy tune as sweet as its name. The free-spirited "Bussen" is a slice of fiddle Heaven. Frigg has a way of conveying a musical message without words, but with strings and other fine folk instruments. The result is never dull. Grannen is another album for fans of instrumental Finnish folk music. Get Frigg'd, or leave unhappy! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nitza's 'Ageless' Music


The world beat and new age sounds of Nitza encompasses a plethora of similarly-related styles and influences. However, the primary influence is Mediterranean and Middle Eastern rock/pop with equal doses of contemporary and traditional instrumentation. As a singer, Nitza is equally adept at rock/pop and new age with the edginess, soul, and spunk of a budding musical auteur. The Greek-lyric song, "Se Thelo", is the only non-English song. The driving percussion of "Mesmerize" sounds like a pop/rock song from the Middle East. The varied instrumental repertoire include bansuri flute, shakuhachi, keyboards, oud, violin, bass, darbuka, bouzouki, cumbus, saz, guitar, and assorted percussion represent a global journey with a modern beat. "Lost" is a symphonic, Enigma-type track with Nitza's heart-felt vocals. As a whole, Nitza's vocals take on the embodiment of the late-Ofra Haza and Gwen Stefani. "Too Close To The Sun" is one of the better tracks based solely on a mix of melody and vocals. Nitza's music is a perfect mix of global beats and vocal melodies that border on global fusion and new age. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Contemporary Kirtan Music with Lokah

The Ivy Ceiling
Ma Bhakti Yoga LLC

The growing trend of contemporary rock/pop kirtan music performances is not only steadily increasing among members of yoga centers and Tantric communities, but it is also reaching a broader audience. Miami-based Lokah is group that makes kirtan (Indian devotional/chant music) shimmer with electronic arrangements, a contemporary rock/pop beat, and soaring male and female vocals. The "Introduction by Russell Simmons" is a short prelude to the album with a spoken word segment about worldly happiness and yoga. "Ma Durga" includes Sting on some vocals. The overall beat of the song resembles a yoga rock anthem. The Sanskrit lyrics are included on every track, except the English-narrative, "Introduction by Russell Simmons". The contemporary feel of the album tosses and turns with sounds led by keyboards, mandolin, organ, strings, percussion, and bass. The lush sounds and vocals resemble some of the popular music from the Middle East or North Africa. However, The Ivy Ceiling is a great album steeped in a veil of Eastern mysticism with Western arrangements. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, November 21, 2010

CD Review: Denmark's Helene Blum

Liden Sol

Denmark's shining star, Helene Blum, is a singer and fiddler. Helene is joined by the Harald Haugaard Ensemble with a perfect instrumental repertoire of octave mandolin, fiddle, guitar, cello, Jew's harp, double bass, flugelhorn, and percussion. As a follow-up to her acclaimed En Gang Og Altid (Pile House Records, 2008), Liden Sol, or 'Little Sun', offers another fine set of contemporary folk songs from the Scandinavian North. Her voice is the only instrument on "Fryd Dig, Du Kristi Brud". While a majority of the songs on Liden Sol are based on historic compositions, "Decembernat" and "Julevise 1862" are the only songs with music attributed to Helene. The traditional "Julefest" is an attractive set of historic jigs carried by the fiddle, guitar, and octave mandolin. "Ouverture" is a glorious, yet brooding song quite in-line with a track from Emma Hardelin's-Garmarna days. All in all, Liden Sol is a bright spot at the top of Denmark's musical echelon. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Catriona McKay & Chris Stout

White Nights

Catriona McKay, a Scottish harpist, and Chris Stout, a Shetland fiddler, explore the world of music using only strings. The longing sounds of "Missing You" accentuate the fiddle's somber side, while the harp sounds offer hope and happiness. The giddy title track, "White Nights", is a folkish jaunt of creative pleasure for the mind and body. The sparkling "Eira" is a Welsh waltz for the celebration of friendship. Notably, the addition of vocalizations or other musical instruments are nonexistent on White Nights. The calming "A Home Under Every Tree" was written as a peaceful, hymn-style tune for a Norwegian silent film. On "Roddy Sinclair", Chris plays with much enthusiasm. With a running time over forty-five minutes in length, White Nights is loaded with enough care, charm, and charisma to please any fan of the harp or fiddle, as well as folk, Celtic, Scottish, Welsh, and Canadian music. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, November 19, 2010

CD Review: Alma Afrobeat Ensemble - 'Toubab Soul'

Toubab Soul

The Barcelona-based Alma Afrobeat Ensemble is an eclectic mix of band members and musical styles. Some members are from Norway, Senegal, USA, Ghana, Uruguay, and Argentina. Toubab Soul is a truly afro-beat recording with multilingual vocals, groovy-jazz dance, and highly percussive beats. Of course, there is an element of 1970's West African grooves. The rap opener, "Taskmaster", gets things started with an inherent African hip-hop beat without foraying too far into urbanism. "Mali" is an ode to the country of the same name. The guitar, sax, kalimba, and djembe drum provide a Latin influence to the instrumental track. The funky "New School", smooth-groove "Kudja", world-jazzy "Own World" and "Muziqawi Silt", and the reggae-tinged "S. Africa" provide a solid cross-section of tunes that are well-structured and musically-engaging. The Alma Afrobeat Ensemble makes the music of Africa shine all in one place. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Dancas Ocultas


A performer at this year's WOMEX festival of all things world music, Dancas Ocultas brings to life a 'hidden' talent on Tarab. The Portuguese band, which name means "Hidden Dance", is nothing that should be hidden. The music is entirely instrumental and only includes four accordions without additional musical instruments. The sounds glow with vibrant waves of energy bursting out of the bellows of the accordion beast. Sometimes eery, meditative, and adventurous, Tarab delights in the unmistakable sounds on the accordion. Fans of accordion greats Maria Kalaniemi, the late-Boris Karlov, and Daniel Thonon will love the delicately produced sounds of Tarab. The solemnitude of accordion music is as reflective as it is brooding. Tarab wins big-time! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Majorstuen - A Norwegian Quintet

Majorstuen Fiddlers Company

The Norwegian fiddle and cello quintet features the classic fiddling styles of Norway. Two of fiddlers, Synnove S. Bjorset and Gjermund Larsen, perform in other string groups. Thirteen tracks of fiddling with some cello sounds compelte the instrumental repertoire of Skir. The jaunty and non-vocal tunes are ideal for a country or folk music festival, night of dancing, or historical research of classical fiddler performers, including Hilmar Alexandersen. The meanings of the songs are provided in Norwegian and English. Some of the music is taken from folk tales, tributes, dialects, lullabies, poems, and waltzes. Most importantly, the wholly instrumental album is passionately soothing. In fact, the music does not need words to be enjoyable. The holiday season would be quite empty without some merry tunes. Seek out Majorstuen's Skir today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Akale Wube Reinvents Ethiopia's Golden Era

Akale Wube

After borrowing the name of the group from a song by saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya, the France-based quintet Akale Wube reinvents the golden age of Ethiopia's musical legends. Inspired by the Ethiopiques Series from Buda Musique, Akale Wube puts a modernized spin on songs by Alemayehu Eshete, Mulatu Astatqe, Tsehaytu Beraki, Shewalul Menguistu, and Teshome Sissay. The opening track "Ayalqem Tedengo [Intro]" includes a short flute solo before diving into a four-minute instrumental groove on the next track with the same name. One of the few tracks composed by the group, "Jawa Jawa" is a psychedelic-funk journey that sounds amazingly reminiscent of any song from the US/Cambodia group, Dengue Fever. The reggae-groove of "Kokob/Metche Dershe", funky-groove of "Nestanet", psych-chill of "Nebyat", to the sunnier "Bazay", and the fusion of "Ragale" display only a small fraction of the music produced in the 1970's throughout the horn of Africa. Akale Wube's efforts are well-received and they do the music justice without reverting to super-dubbed dance beats. Vocals are absent throughout. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Aynur's 'Rewend'


A Turkish/Kurdish album, Rewend (Nomad), wanders off into places of musical exhuberance. As a female singer, Aynur performs a scintillating set of songs with all the lively percussion of Turkish/Kurdish folk groups. The title track, "Rewend", borders on the sounds of Scandinavian folk, or the Finnish group Varttina. The beautiful peacefulness of the harp with Aynur's voice is showcased on "Xewn". The Central Asian-North African-tinged "Kocere" is another reason why Aynur's music is nomadic, by consciously or unconsciously incorporating the rhythms of the Orient with Andalusia. The larger musical theme encompasses the similar sounds of modern traditional styles from emanating out of the Caucasus (especially Azerbaijan), Persia, Mediterranean, and the Middle East. The songs are not particularly modernized, because of the ney flute, udu, kemanche fiddle, zirna, daf, tembur, harp, and tabla. Still, Rewend is an epic recording for those interested in Kurdish folk music, Central Asian, and North African music. The songs and titles are translated into English throughout the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Quebec's Mauvais Sort

Droit Devant
To describe Mauvais Sort as spellbinding would not be very far from the truth. In fact, the translation of their name can be described as "to put a spell on someone". Canada's folk-funk-ska group is a riotous journey through the Balkans, Scandinavia, and the North American continent. All of the vocal songs are sung in French, with accompanying liner notes in French, too. The horns, guitars, bass, strings, and punchy percussion make Droit Devant (Straight Ahead) a fun listen. The edgy "Ne vous estimez pas tant" is similar to something Canada's Glengarry Bhoys would produce. The military-esque "La mort du colonel", the anthemic classical-standard "Il me faut un mari", Andalusian-inspired "Cabane a Zouk", and the groovy "Le Pere Bacchus" cement Mauvais Sort's uncanny ability to produce music with different elements and sounds without sacrificing quality. Droit Devant does not deviate too far away from Canada's fiddling traditions, but it is still a contemporary effort. A happy mix of foot-stomping, head-bobbing music to thrill the soul. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Putumayo's Yoga

Various Artists

The folks at Putumayo continue to release superb albums. Yoga is no different. As the title suggests, the music is quite relaxing and meditative. Though, it is more lively than other yoga music. A variety of artists from around the world contribute to the compilation. The project coordinator, Sean Johnson, among others, provides a track with the Wild Lotus Band on "Om Hari Om/Sharanam Ganesha". In addition, the Lucknow Project's Chilean singer, Sangeeta Levine, offers her vocals on the opening track, "Ghungate Ke". The husband-wife duo, Shantala, sing a melancholic "Purnamadah". Yoga-pop's star, Wah!, sings an edgy pop song about the Indian epic Ramayana on "Bolo Ram". The groovy "Cerulean" by composer and instrumentalist Ben Leinbach and Geoffrey Gordon on tabla are joined by Jai Uttal on dotar. The track is remarkably modern, but it still retains an element of tradition. Other artists such as Karnamrita Dasi, U.K.'s Niraj Chag, Amounsulu, Gaura Vani, Susheela Raman, Krishna Das, Ablaye Cissoko, Yogini, Volker Goetze, and Jean-Philippe Rykiel round out the list. This is a nice collection of mostly modern vocal yoga music for yoga or other occasions. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, November 18, 2010

CD Review: SRI Kirtan Rocks The Bhakti

Live Your Love
Mantralogy/Ishwari Music

SRI Kirtan is the work of harmonium player and vocalist, Sruti Ram, and vocalist/guitar player, Ishwari. Backed by a choir and rapper from Brooklyn on some of the tracks, SRI Kirtan is built upon Hindu devotional bhavas with Sanskrit and English lyrics for a contemporary audience. Each track rings with musical bliss from the catchy, yogic rap on "Govinda" to the heavenly-devotional "Sri Ram", upbeat "Madhura", and the folksy "Jai Jagadambe". The musical repertoire is never boring and it encompasses a variety of instruments, including bass, tabla, majiras, djembe drum, keyboard, cello, bansuri flute, dilruba, sitar, violin, and others. Live Your Love is an album of contemporary music for fans of Mayapuris, Wah!, and other groups inspired by Hindu Tantrism and yogic chants. SRI Kirtan is sure to please anyone seeking music with a higher consciousness. Simply put, SRI Kirtan rocks the bhakti! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Norwegian Hardanger Fiddling


Three Norwegian women perform solos (Soli) on Hardanger (Hardingfele in Norwegian) fiddles. Synnove S. Bjorset, Ase Teigland, and Anne Hytta play mostly historic tunes exclusively on the Hardanger fiddle. The Hardanger fiddle is indigenous to Norway and it is typically tuned slightly higher than the traditional violin. The women play a relatively equal amount of songs without grossly overshadowing each other's innate string talent. There are seventeen tracks in all. Importantly, the entire album does not contain vocals or other instruments and sounds. It is formulated around the Hardanger fiddling traditions of Norway without reliance on other musical accompaniment. The somber and seemingly spritely sounds of the fiddle showcase the immense diversity of classical Norwegian tunes. This is an instrumental gem for fans of the Hardanger fiddle, Norwegian or Scandinavian music, and folk music. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, November 12, 2010

CD Review: Gjermund Larsen Trio from Norway


Norway's lively trio on fiddle, piano, accordion, percussion, and contrabass comes alive with rich, folk traditions for the modern generation. However, the songs are relatively simple, but steeped in fiddling tradition. Fiddler Gjermund Larsen leads the folk trio into the hills and valleys of Norway's majestic landscape. Aurum is completely devoid of vocalizations and electronic arrangements or beats. The sullen and spritely musical modes are never dull or uninspiring. Gjermund's trio accentuates the best folk music Norway has to offer. As a purveyor of folk music, Gjermund's magnificent and learned musicianship outshines others trying to emulate him. If you are interested in Scandinavian folk music, instrumental music, or a lover of the fiddle, then Aurum should be right at the top of your music wish list. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Morocco's Hassan Erraji

Awal Mara

Multi-instrumentalist and blind musician, Hassan Erraji, is a Moroccan native with musical ties to the Atlas Mountains. Hassan plays the oud, qanun, violin, darbouka, keyboard, nay flute, and also sings on each track. Awal Mara, which means, "love at first sight", features background vocals by Hassan's daughter, Yasmin Erraji. The traditional instrumentation mixed with drums and bass creates a modern musical environment without delving into the outer reaches of electronica or dance music. However, every song has a high degree of danceability. The most striking musical similarity to Hassan's music is from the bellydance and ensemble music of Egypt, or even the music of the Arabian Peninsula. The Gnawan trance music native to Morocco is not featured here, however there are hints of it throughout. Awal Mara induces a state of intrigue with the country-esque "Mounyati" and the instrumental "Douka Dance". Think of it like 'Love At First Sound', too! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sigrid Moldestad's 'Sandkorn'


Sigrid, which is an old Norse word for 'victory', wows audiences with her vocals and Hardinger Fiddle playing. Norwegian by birth and residence, Sigrid recently received the Folk Musician of the Year Award (2010). Sandkorn, which means, 'grains of sand', is littered with little gems. The instrumental "Uncle J", sincere "Ein Sael Kyss", darker "Gata", the vocal duo with Kim Andre Rysstad on "Maneskinslandet", and the lively "Frostroyk" highlight her talent. Some of the songs are inspired by the poems of Robert Burns and Jakob Sande, while others are traditional and original tunes. The instrumental repertoire includes a variety of instruments, such as the pump organ, piano, viola, guitar, mandolin, bass, baritone guitar, sax, saz, and others. Sigrid's almost theatrical playing and singing awaken an ancient musical spirit that is fresh with talent. Norway's shores gleam with the music of Sigrid Moldestad. The Norwegian lyrics are provided in the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Rondi Charleston's Jazz Is Timely

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

Rondi Charleston's latest release of jazz music is one for the ages. Centered mainly on time-related matters, Who Knows Where The Time Goes includes a few songs written by Rondi. Notably, "Your Spirit Lingers", "Dance of Time", "Land of Galilee", and "Song For The Ages" were written and sung by Rondi. The slower percussion and languid vocals make some of the songs last forever, but don't worry, that is a good thing. Two Brazilian tunes pop up, including Antonio Jobim's "Wave" and Milton Nascimento's "Everything That You Were Meant To Be". The Brazilian elements of bossa-nova and jazzy percussion lighten the album's slower moments. The last track, "Freedom Is A Voice", was attributed to Bobby McFerrin, but this version includes a chorus of girls singing in the Zulu language. The majority of the album is sung in English with some Portuguese and Zulu. Find the time to enjoy Rondi's timeless music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Wah! - The Goddess of Yoga-Pop!


Wah! is the legal first name of the band's leading vocalist, bassist, and harmonium player. The music of Maa is inspired by Hindu Tantrism with Sanskrit and English vocals, modern beats, and Tantric imagery, including the Sri Yantra on the album's cover. A frequent performer at Yoga festivals across the country, Wah! performs anything but sleepy, spaced-out rhythms and chants. This is yoga pop at it's best. Wah!'s voice is somewhere between Sade and Sarah McLachlan. Wah!'s music ranges from the opening rap of "Shakti" and "Pahimam", the R&B-like grooves of "Shanti", "Gang Ma", and "Love Holding Love", New Age-soul of "Jagatambe", the bluesy-pop of "Stay In The Love", to the softer "Om Sri Matre". The music borders on dance, downtempo, and roots-pop. If you are looking for music with inner and outer beauty, then listen to the goddess of Yoga pop. Your soul will thank you kindly. The liner notes include Sanskrit and English lyrics with song descriptions. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, November 11, 2010

CD Review: Fay Hield's 'Looking Glass'

Looking Glass

U.K.-native, Fay Hield, dazzles audiences with her folk-based songs. A purely folk-endeavor, Fay incorporates a few instruments familiar to the folk genre, including the fiddle, concertina, viola, nyckelharpa, and guitar. The songs seem to be inspired by Scottish, Gaelic, or Celtic roots. Fay sings in English, even though her voice takes on an almost Gaelic-vocal signature. The folk music is similar in sound to Scotland's Karine Polwart and Julie Fowlis. The sweet melodies, contemplative fiddling, and poetic lyrics steeped in English history and fables mark a solid effort for English folk music. Looking Glass is devoid of modern arrangements or electronic wizardry. In short, Fay sings from the heart and so do the instruments. Looking Glass contains giddy tunes, vocal masterpieces, and an equal amount of charismatic charm. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Swamy Haridhos & Party

Swamy Haridhos & Party
Classical Bhajans
Country & Eastern

Recorded in 1968 in Bombay, Swamy Haridhos & Party performs devotional music in the classical bhajan traditions. A bhajan is simply any type of Indian devotional song, which may include kirtan, mantra, raga, tala, and dhrupad forms. Classical Bhajans features twenty-one songs with Swamy on vocals, M. Bhagvatar on harmonium, P.S. Devarajan on mridangam, K. Shivakumar on violin, and K.V. Ramani on tabla. Notably, the recording was produced by the founder of the Country & Eastern label, Bengt Berger. Swamy sings in the Dakshina Bharatha Sampradaya Bhajan tradition, which is indigenous to Southern India. The ecstatic vocals and musical compositions vary in length from under one-minute ("Mandare Mule") to nearly nine minutes ("Gurumurthi Pada Mule"). The basis for the music relies upon ancestral links of religious and devotional themes and deities. The seemingly frenzied rhythms and call-and-response vocals interspersed with the accordion-like drone of the harmonium and punchy tabla and mridangam remind one of Sufi ensembles. Unfortunately, Swamy Haridhos died in the Ganges River on a trip to the Himalayas in 1994. Fortunately, Swamy's music will live on for future generations. For fans of Indian folk, religious, and devotional music, Swamy Haridhos and his ensemble are a worthy addition to any collection. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, November 7, 2010

CD Review: Nagore Sessions of South India

Various Artists
Nagore Sessions

The Sufi-inspired chants of Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen, and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer from the Nagore Dargah, or shrine, in Tamil Nadu (South India) are backed with traditional instrumentation and modern beats. As a whole, the music is more traditional than electronic. At any rate, there is a nice balance of vocals and instrumentation without distracting the flow of the album. The chants, sung in Tamil, are borrowed from traditional Indian texts. The simplicity of the singing is easily accessible for fans of Indian music, Bollywood, and Kollywood (South India) music. The traditional frame drum, strings, tabla, sitar, harmonium, and others, reflect the history of the songs. The music takes on a Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Indian sound similar in tone to Pakistan's Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali. The symphonic beats, Sufi singing, and traditional sounds make Nagore Sessions a must-have for any music fan! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kaya Project's Globe-tronica

Desert Phase Remixes

Inspired by deserts around the world, the global clientele behind the Kaya Project come from the UK, US, New Zealand, and Australia. This is electronica at its best. The use of world rhythms and techno, drum'n'bass, dub-folk, downtempo, dub-step, and globe-tronica with some female vocals and various instrument sampling make Desert Phase Remixes a noteworthy release of modern sounds. Of course, the Sahara Desert is a large tract of space that is the most inspirational desert location on this album. For instance, several of the songs feature Arabic instrument sampling and vocals. Though, South Asian club rhythms are equally present. As far as remixes go, the electronic grooves resemble background music for a modern spy film, fashion show, or college party. This is not music for the stoically-inclined. It is difficult to imagine anyone standing still for any amount of time on any track. Relying largely on an electronic foundation, Desert Phase Remixes features tracks by Opiuo, Interpulse, Bluetech, Tripswitch, Gaudi, Eat Static, 100th Monkey, Liquid Stranger, and others. If modern sounds inspire you, then Kaya Project is for you. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Angola's Soundtrack: The Sound of Luanda 1965-1976 - Released Dec. 7, 2010

Various Artists
Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda [1965-1976]

The largely under-represented music of Angola's past, and present for that matter, is popularized thanks to the folks at Analog Africa. Angola Soundtrack... is the anthem for Angola's Afro-Caribbean musical traditions of the 1960's and 70's. Interestingly, the rhythmic guitar music and percussion are unlike most traditional African songs. In this case, the Caribbean and Latin influences far outweigh any traditional African sounds. Still purely African, the music is lively and carnival-esque, with a dash of psychedelic guitars, merengue rhythms, and semba music. Over fifteen different musicians from the era are featured on the album and a special 2-LP gatefold sleeve edition. Crisp, clear sounds and Latin grooves cement Angolan music in the annals of African music history. An invaluable and historic recording. The liner notes are heavily detailed and describe the music and musicians over forty-pages. ~ Matthew Forss