Thursday, August 25, 2011

CD Review: World Jazz from the Matt Geraghty Project


Omnilingual Records

Acoustic and electric bassman, Matt Geraghty, entices listener's ears to come closer and never look back. The smooth jazz idiom and world jazz components are quite clear. Matt's incorporation of a slew of instruments including the sarangi, trumpet, drums, piano, accordion, guitar, cumbus, oud, rhodes, and others, make Departures sound like a world-class journey through Latin America, Europe, South Asia, and everywhere else for that matter. The Polish language lyrics by Anna Maria Jopek add a touch of nostalgic splendor best-suited for a high-end, lounge club. Thankfully, Departures is only a download or CD-away from stirring the mind and soul of anyone who listens to the music. The Matt Geraghty Project features scattered vocals, Weather Channel Local Forecast-type melodies (this is a plus here), and a global mix of influences that are not too overt. Departures is perfect for those airport delays or the comfort of one's sunlit patio. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Oscar Penas' 'From Now On'

From Now On

Oscar Penas' latest work is a Spanish/Jazz excursion that is full of smooth rhythms, cool grooves, and improvisational goodness. As a guitarist and composer, Oscar strikes a perfect balance between Spanish and jazz music. A bit of flamenco-type rhythms, Latin sensibilities, and smooth jazz leanings make From Now On a classy little gem. Oscar is joined by Dan Blake on saxophones, Moto Fukushima on electric bass, Richie Barshay on drums, Gil Goldstein on accordion and piano, and Franco Pinna on bombo leguero (Argentinian drum). Smooth jazz characterizations aside, Oscar also employs a Brazilian presence with "Choro N. 1" and "Choro N. 2". The entire album is instrumental. The soothing sounds of Oscar's guitar and additional work by assorted musicians makes From Now On an exciting musical journey for everyone. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Anyango's 'Nyatiti Diva'

Nyatiti Diva

Jowi Music

Anyango's first release features numerous songs in the Kenyan language of Dholuo. Interestingly, Anyango is Japanese and one of a small handful of female musicians in the world playing the Kenyan eight-stringed lyre called a nyatiti. Traditionally, the instrument has been reserved entirely for males. Thankfully, Anyango picked up the instrument, because her voice shines with the tinny, harp-like sounds of the nyatiti and the heavenly melodies it creates. The African musical experience of vocal choirs, acoustic accompaniment, and instrumental charm is certainly evident throughout the album, though it is not a drum-beating album. Anyango proves she is the best at the nyatiti by her extensive study of the instrument and devotion to great music. Anyone with an interest in African music will find Nyatiti Diva most compelling. However, the music is largely traditional. If you are seeking a slick, electric production of rock or dance music then you will be sorely disappointed. It's too bad this release was not at least nominated for a Grammy Award. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

CD Review: Sura Susso's 'Sila Kang'

Sila Kang

Kuli Marow Music

Gambian-native and U.K.-based, Sura Susso, comes from a long line of musical talent with a specialization in the kora. Sura lends his voice, djembe, calabash, udu drum, sewruba, dun-dun, tama, congas, shakers, and darbuka throughout the album. A few additional musicians add a touch of flute, bass, guitar, horns, and additional backing and lead vocals on a handful of tracks. The instrumental, "Africa", is a happy kora tune with a spritely rhythm and no additional instrumentation. The harp-like and piano-like qualities of the kora shine through on "Massaneh Cessay" and "Medina". Lyrics are not provided in the liner notes. Fans of West African kora music will find Sura Susso most satisfying. Though, anyone interested in African music should find Sila Kang equally intriguing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Anyango's 'Horizon'


Jowi Music

The seemingly unlikely connection between the music of Kenya and Japan is explored by one of only two female nyatiti performers in world music: Suzanna Owiyo (Kenya) and Anyango (Japan). Though, Suzanna is not featured on this album. The nyatiti is a five or eight-stringed, plucked lyre used in traditional music. The ancient instrument of Biblical proportions is a stand-out on Anyango's second release, Horizon. The album contains mostly traditional Luo songs in the Dholuo language indigenous to Kenya. The opener, "Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika," is a vocal song without any instrumentation. Instead, the song is more like a gospel or partiotic anthem with a joyous choral team. The nyatiti rears its head on the remaining songs with Kenyan melodies and folksy instrumentation. The nyatiti strings keep a good beat that is very danceable and always refreshing. Anyango's intensive study of the nyatiti makes Horizon shine beyond borders. For the best (and probably only) Kenyan-Japanese musical experience, try Anyango today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bidaia's 'Agur Shiva'

Agur Shiva


The Basque regions of Spain and France are relatively underrepresented in today's global music family. Thankfully, Bidaia, which means "voyage", is out to change all that. The group is essentially Caroline Phillips and Mixel Ducau with a few additional musicians. Mixel is from the Basque region, while Caroline is a US-based singer/songwriter of Persian and Greek origin. Both musicians lend vocals on a few tracks, while others are completely instrumental. Caroline plays the ahotsa, zarrabetea, and hurdy gurdy. Mixel plays the ahotsa, guitar, albokak, bamboo clarinet, and hornpipes. The hurdy gurdy is a nice accompaniment that adds a little Scandinavian charisma to the French and Spanish-tinged songs. Almost half of the songs are purely instrumental. The vocal songs are sung in the Basque language. The driving folk rhythms are a bit Scottish, Irish, and Andalusian in tone without any direct comparisons to the aforementioned genres. Nevertheless, Agur Shiva is a lively album with folksy rhythms, traditional instrumentation, and a plethora of Basque charm to go around. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, August 19, 2011

CD Review: Ny Malagasy Orkestra's 'Masoala'



The land of Madagascar has given us a host of musicians over the years, including Tarika, D'Gary, Tombo Daniel, Samy Izy, Jaojoby, Justin Vali, Njava, Rajery, Razia Said, Rossy, and others. The Ny Malagasy Orkestra consists of nearly a dozen musicians, including Justin Vali, Chrysanthe Velomijoro, Maurice Razanakoto, Manindry, Fafa Rakotoson, among others. The highlights of Masoala, which means "great virgin forest", is the unique instrumentation consisting of the valiha (tubular zither), langoraona (snare drum), jejo voatavo, and more familiar tools such as guitar, violin, and accordion. Vocals are scattered throughout the recording. The music is generally very relaxing and entertaining at the same time. The unmistakable valiha shines on every track. The sweet melodies are matched by the tender instrument playing. Not one weak track resides on Masoala. Let the Ny Malagasy Orkestra entertain your soul into oblivion. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nappy Riddem's 'One World Sovereignty'

Nappy Riddem
One World Sovereignty
Fort Knox

The funky, hip-hop, and soul infections of Nappy Riddem cover many genres and styles of American, South American, and Caribbean music. The brainchild behind Nappy Riddem is the duo of Rex Riddem and Mustafa Akbar. Based in Washington, D.C., Nappy Riddem creates dance tracks, funky loops, sizzling percussion, and alternative-pop lyrics with a societal awareness that graces each track. The funk-driven "Shango" contains more of an urban, African beat with a bit of soul thrown in. "DTA (Dreadlock Transit Authority)" is a reggae-infused track with funky beats and a groovy bass line. "Suspicious Love" is a jazzy, groove-ladened track with the smoothness of a French downtempo score or a Zero 7 track. At any rate, Nappy Riddem is a formidable force in the world of global funk and groove. One World Sovereignty reflects Nappy Riddem's global appeal. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bio Ritmo's 'La Verdad'

La Verdad

The East Coast of the U.S. is home to a salsa explosion of sorts. The acclaimed Bio Ritmo presents us with La Verdad (Truth), an album that is teeming with hot rhythms, hot horns, and hot vocals. The music in question is largely funk-salsa with a dose of South American and American urbanisms. The nine long tracks are lively, rhythmic, and salsa-focused compositions of intense beauty. Crafty labels aside, Bio Ritmo exudes a Latin beat spirit and Puerto Rican charisma that holds firm and doesn't let go. The ten-member band helps bring back the salsa from years gone by with a host of horns, singers, pianists, percussionists, and songwriters with a futuristic sound developed from the great salsa classics. Maintaining originality is Bio Ritmo's specialty. Plus, the addition of unconventional instruments, such as Farfisa organ, synths, kalimba, and cuica, makes La Verdad stand out from the crowd with its global leanings. Tortilla chips are best served with salsa and a side of Bio Ritmo. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Karl Seglem's 'Ossicles'


As the founder of Norway's independent music label NORCD, Karl Seglem knows a thing or two about good music. Karl composed all eleven tracks and played the tenor sax, goat horns, and antilope horn on several tracks. An ossicle is a small bone of the inner ear, which is an appropriately-titled album, because the sounds end up traveling through the inner ear. Ossicles penetrates the thickest skull with a largely instrumental ensemble of Hardanger fiddle, horns, ngoni, mbira, guitars, drums, and assorted percussion. The music is a bit experimental, yet extremely relaxing and infectious without all of the fancy-shmancy electronic additives of trance, dub, dance, and avant-garde music. Karl's latest effort does not specifically signify a particular cultural style, genre, or country. Instead, Ossicles is a lavish journey into the world of instrumental groove with worldly elements culled from jazz, classical, folk, roots, and ethnic sources. Ossicles is good enough for the mind, body, and spirit. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Dub Colossus' 'Addis Through The Looking Glass'

Addis Through The Looking Glass

Ethiopian dub 'n' jazz is showcased on Dub Colossus' most recent effort, Addis Through The Looking Glass. The inclusion of Ethiopian singers, Sintayehu 'Mimi' Zenebe, Teremage Woretaw, and Tsedenia Gebremarkos, sets the stage for a brilliant work on several tracks. The opening, title-track starts the mood with a jazzy, funky, and classic instrumental tone with minimal dub and electronica. Fourteen tracks of traditional and contemporary arrangements and instrumentation provide the listener with a high-quality and memorable recording experience. The more traditional "Yeh Shimbraw Tir Tir" is a perfect track for experiencing roots music, while the reggae-dubbed "Satta Massagana" displays the far-reaching and diverse characteristics of Ethiopian jazz. The more orchestral "Feqer Aydelem Wey" is a rousing track oozing with Ethiopian jazz and nostalgia. All in all, Dub Colossus presents a solid release that rivals anything they've done before. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: RotFront's 'VisaFree'


Berlin-based, Gypsy/Klezmer-band RotFront, brings us a punk-driven, humorous, and carefree set of songs in various languages. The primary pulse behind RotFront's beats are inherently brassy and brashy with a good dose of colorful language, upbeat rhythms, and melodies influenced by Cape Verde, Central America, and the Balkans. The hilarious "Gay, Gypsy & Jew" is a vocal ode to the Gay-Gypsy-Jew populations. The nostalgic disco track, "Revolution Disco," is a danceable track with blaring horns, punchy rhythms, and English lyrics. The riotous, lyric-ladened "Cosmos," is something the American group Smash Mouth might have created; but didn't. The Gypsy-inspired, punk-rock is quite accessible to Balkan and European youth with a few older adults chiming-in for good measure. VisaFree is 'free' from defect in all regards. Buy it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, August 12, 2011

CD Review: Amina Alaoui's 'Arco Iris'

Amina Alaoui

Arco Iris

Andalusian singer, Amina Alaoui, was born in Morocco and currently based in France. Amina's Gharnati music traditions meld with a bit of fado, Ladino, and flamenco thrown in encapsulate the general tone of the album. Amina's all-star cast of musicians reflect another aspect of global music, as her band represents Brazil and Tunisia, too. The relatively sparse instrumentation adds to the meditative, mournful, and calming effect. Amina plays the daf, while her son, works on percussion. Eduardo Mirand on mandolin, Saifallah Ben Abderrazak on violin, Sofiane Negra on oud, and Jose Luis Monton on flamenco guitar round out the band's repertoire. Fans of Portuguese, Spanish, Ladino, fado, Andalusian, and North African music with a special interest in the folk and classical music traditions will find Arco Iris extremely pleasing. Amina's vocals are not as pop-oriented as Algeria's Djur, or as operatic as the fadista Mariza. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Beoga's 'How To Tune A Fish'

How To Tune A Fish

Beoga, which is Gaelic for 'lively,' entrances listeners with some energetic folk fiddling and Celtic jigs on button accordion, mandolin, guitar, bouzouki, bass, bodhran, piano, and percussion. The country swagger of 'Home Cookin' nudges at the heart-strings of America's Southland. A slew of classic songs and melodies conjure up images of vaudeville, Irish pubs, and large concert halls filled with fans dancing to the sounds of Beoga. As a follow-up to Mischief (Compass, 2008), How To Tune A Fish is more about a new wave of traditional music with a nod to modernism without the fancy dance beats, electric guitars, and atmospheric effects. Niamh's vocals are a little more rustic than the former-Celtic Woman repertoire. However, Niamh lights up the tracks with her uplifting voice. If something smells a little fishy, it is probably Beoga's How To Tune A Fish playing nearby! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists - 'Yoga Lounge'

Various Artists

Yoga Lounge

Ready for a magic yoga mat ride of danceable energy? Then direct your ears to White Swan Records' Yoga Lounge. This new compilation features a collection of twelve tracks and remixes of Deva Premal, Karsh Kale, Zeb, Adham Shaikh, Jai Uttal, Vishal Vaid, DJ Alsultany, Midival Punditz, Huun Huur Tu, and others. All tracks are compiled by DJ Alsultany. There are some more meditative moments on the album, but the majority of the music is more contemporary with modern arrangements and a mix of traditional instruments, too. A mix of dance, techno, electronica, and pop elements define Yoga Lounge. Of course, various ethnic components related to South Asia are present. The soundscapes are somewhat reminiscent of a suspense film soundtrack or score. At any rate, Yoga Lounge is cool enough for everyone. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ben Leinbach Presents...'Sangha'

Various Artists


Ben Leinbach presents us with a collection of soulful, yet peaceful hour of music from some of the top names in the contemporary yoga scene. The rather calming 'Om Asatoma' is signature Deva Premal and Miten. A condensed version of a Hindu hymn of praise to the goddess Durga is sung by Jaya Lakshmi, with additional effects on sarod and electric guitar. The entire production is rather laid-back and thought-provoking. Additional musicians include Jai Uttal, Snatam Kaur, Prajna Vieira, Donna De Lory, and David Newman. The mostly Sanskrit-laced lyrics and fluttering vocals create an entrancing listening experience that should please the seasoned yoga participant or Hindu mystic. Fans of Krishna Das will be disappointed he is not found on this compilation. Nevertheless, there is plenty of music to go around. Do your soul a favor and buy Ben Leinbach's Sangha today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Algeria's Beihdja Rahal 'In The Mood For The Nouba'

In The Mood For The Nouba [2 CD]

The 2-CD set by Algeria's Beihdja Rahal is an excellent example of Arab-Andalusian musical poetry. Steeped in tradition, nouba music consists of vocal and instrumental segments with melodic lines in specific modes. In this case, there are twelve different modes, which can be compared structurally to the more common muqam. Beihdja incorporates a traditional repertoire of oud, kwitra, qanun, tar, violin, and darbuka. The first CD contains ten songs for the nouba M'danba. Beihdja's soaring vocals rise up and over the background instrumentation at times, but that does not mean the instruments do not shine. In fact, there are numerous instrumental pieces with spritely melodies and Central Asian-like musicalities. The second CD continues in the nouba traditions with the Mazmum mode. There are twelve separate songs included. Overall, Beihdja is as powerful and enigmatic as Om Kulthum or Ofra Haza, with a slightly more traditional foundation. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kouyate-Neerman's 'Skyscrapers & Deities'

Skyscrapers & Deities
No Format Records

Kouyate-Neerman is the shortened version of the names Lansine Kouyate and David Neerman. Lansine is a Paris-based and Malian-born balafon extraordinaire, while David is a French musician with piano and percussion training. David plays the vibraphone throughout the album, with additional noise effects and distortions for a truly, avant-garde musical experience that is more urban than traditional. The mostly instrumental music stems from the double bass, balafon, vibraphone, kora, and drums. The only vocals on the album occur on 'Haiti' by Anthony Joseph. Famed kora maestro, Ballake Sissoko, adds his personal touches throughout with crystalline results. Skyscrapers & Deities surfs a fine line between traditionalism and modernism, whilst covering new age, jazz, downtempo, trance, and experimental genres in the process. Kouyate-Neerman is a solid duo with something to offer for everyone. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mamani Keita's 'Gagner L'Argent Francais'

Gagner L'Argent Francais

For someone with a name like Keita, you know good music cannot be too far behind. Mamani Keita is no exception. The contemporary edge of Mamani's music comes from the French composer and arranger, Nicolas Repac. Of course, Mamani's Malian upbringing provides a North African appeal with limited traditional instrumentation, however. Nevertheless, the kora, some percussion, and Bambara vocals directly place the music in a Malian context. The French presence is evidenced by the Afro-pop sensibilities of guitar-pop music with more of a creative feel somewhat removed from the typical pop-hit structures. However, Gagner L'Argent Francais, which means "To Earn French Money", is a hit in its own right. The music is a little more structed than fellow countrywoman, Rokia Traore, with the added guitar work similar to fellow countryman, Daby Toure. Mamani's beautiful vocals create a wonderful palette of musical color throughout the verses. Mamani strikes it rich here with a more adventurous and energetic rock edge than Tinariwen and Oumou Sangare combined. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nation Beat's 'Growing Stone'

Growing Stone

The Brooklyn-based Nation Beat is a party-driven musical experience with roots in Americana and South Americana...Brazil, to be exact. The folksy rhythms are infused with the essence of Louisiana zydeco, jazz, funky, country, blues, Appalachian music, and the hot sounds of Brazil's maracatu drumming, forro, and funk. The lively rhythms are equally matched with joyous vocals and lyrics. The funk-driven 'Hook and Sling' is a rousing number with very good percussion. The country song, 'Whispering Moon', is a perfect medley for slow-dancing on Saturday nights. The Brazilian influences are not incongruent with the Americana sounds of country, jazz, and blues. At any rate, Growing Stone is an energetic album with tons of musical creativity, extended rock instrumentals, and several styles to go around. This is the first album I can recall hearing Appalachian music right alongside Brazilian music. Fans of both types of music should find Growing Stone growing on them quite nicely. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, August 11, 2011

CD Review: Addis Acoustic Project's 'Tewesta'

Tewesta (Remembrance)

The jazzy sounds of Ethiopia's Golden Era of music during the 1950's and 60's are reimagined by the Addis Acoustic Project on Tewesta. The album's title is Amharic for 'remembrance'. As a nod to nostalgia, Tewesta is a mostly instrumental work of fifteen different songs by the Addis Ababa-based group. The album is directed by guitarist and arranger Girum Mezmur. The instrumental repertoire consists of the guitar, accordion, double bass, mandolin, clarinet, darbouka, bongos, oud, and massinko. The mandolin provides a more Celtic sound; especially on 'Selam Yihoun Lehoulachin'. However, the rest of the album is uniquely Ethiopian with some Latin and Klezmer-type rhythms and sounds. An exceptionally jazzy song is 'Enigenagnalen,' which precedes a slow and soulful ballad called 'Kewedet Tegegnech.' Mezmur is 'mezmur'izing [sic] on all accords. A thirty-page liner booklet includes history/music information in English and French. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Taj Weekes & Adowa's 'A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen'

Taj Weekes & Adowa

A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen

The soul-stirring, conscientious lyrics, and reggae-swagger of St. Lucia's Taj Weekes and his Adowa Band bring to life an amazing set of songs with a bit of roots-rock, folk, and loads of island tempos. The album is largely contemporary and representative of the Lesser Antilles. Though, in this case, less(er) is more. The English lyrics and folksy guitar, bass, B-3, keyboards, drums, and assorted instruments of piano, harmonica, sax, flute, and strings create a very pleasant atmosphere to be enjoyed on the beach as much as in the privacy of one's own office. The classic beats and breezy vocals are not to be missed. Every track is catchy and infused with the intoxicating essence of island love. English lyrics are provided in the liner notes. As a bonus, the liner notes fold out into a poster of Taj. Fans of Australian folk, Caribbean folk, and good music will not be disappointed with Taj's third release. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Guarco's 'Fiebre' Heats It Up

Fiebre (Fever)


Guarco's Afro-Uruguayan-infused concoctions are musical gems of South American delight. The rock-centric 'Rey De La Selva' opens the set with a rousing chorus and catchy melody. 'Que Paso' melts into a 'Hotel California'-like instrumental ending, even though there is no clear connection to the Eagles' hit song. Guarco ventures into the world of trip-hop and Latin downtempo on 'Creeds In The Sky,' which is wholly instrumental. The dub-step, trance and funk of 'Esta Heavy Man' is also a bit jazzy; but ultra-cool. Perhaps the most creative and in-your-face lyrics are found on 'Immigration Papers'. The Weezer-like ballad, 'Never Stray Away From Home,' adds a little alternative flavor to the already spiced-up album of infectious, catchy, and groovy licks. Fiebre is littered with good sounds, English and Spanish lyrics, and numerous musical influences, including candombe, rock, dance, and others. You will find yourself happily suffering from 'Guarco Fever.' ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Natch'l Blues - EFMF 2011

Natch'l Blues is Canada's longest-running blues radio program, on CKUA since 1969. It is also the name of a Saturday afternoon session at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival featuring a powerful combination of artists.

Janiva Magness hosted the stage and performed her sultry, modern blues to an enthusiastic response. She was accompanied by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, who also did a few numbers on their own.

Duke Robillard to the stage, and the entire group of musicians at that point played off of each other perfectly.

Then, came the biggest thrill yet: John Mayall, legendary British blues musician, performed a couple of songs with Joe Louis Walker. At 77, Mayall can still rock the house.

Natch'l Blues was one of the most exciting sessions of the weekend, with accomplished musicians strutting their stuff - naturally! ~Paula E. Kirman

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kila - EFMF 2011

Kila - EFMF 2011 by raise my voice
Kila - EFMF 2011, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Kila is a band that has been making waves in Ireland for years with its mix of traditional Irish music with world fusion. Featured on the Saturday afternoon main stage at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I did not know what to expect as the band was completely new to me, and to others with whom I spoke.

From the hypnotizing beat of the bodhran to the melodies of the pipes, Kila performed a very unique set. There was a lot of energy in the music. All of these guys are accomplished musicians in their own rights, as well as several of the being published authors and poets.

I have a strong feeling that it is in their live performances where Kila really shines. They are very visual and the music lends itself very well to a festival atmosphere. ~Paula E. Kirman

Mighty Popo - EFMF 2011

When The Mighty Popo tells the audience to get up and dance, they listen. The African rhythms of this vocalist/guitarist/songwriter are absolutely infections, as proven during a Saturday side stage concert. Now based in eastern Canada, Mighty Popo has Rwandan/Burundi roots and won a Juno in 2005 for "Best World Music Album of the Year." Energetic and lively, The Mighty Popo lives up to his name. ~Paula E. Kirman

Lyle Lovett - EFMF 2011

Lyle Lovett by raise my voice
Lyle Lovett, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Some performers need no introduction. Lyle Lovett is one of them. He performed with his full band, including a horn section, on the Sunday evening main stage, and also solo as part of a session full of Texas singer/songwriters on Sunday afternoon called "Influences." That session definitely had the largest audience I had seen all weekend for a session stage. His voice is calm, his delivery smooth, and he had the audience drawn in every note of the way. What else can be said about a consummate performer? ~Paula E. Kirman

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings - EFMF 2011

I still listen to the album Strays, the debut from a then-unknown eastern Canadian rock band called Junkhouse. The lead singer was Tom Wilson, a large, shaggy man with a voice that can go so deep, it almost sounds like a low-tuned bass guitar.

Life post-Junkhouse has been busy for Wilson. Amongst other musical projects, he has been one-third of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, considered a supergroup of Canadian singer/songwriters and guitarists. Besides Wilson, the trio includes Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings were the Sunday afternoon main stage act at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Their very energetic blend of rock, roots, and blues was exciting - and loud. The group played a number of original songs, as well as covers from blues and rock legends. Their excellent musicianship both instrumentally and vocally, as well as their command of the stage, made Blackie and the Rodeo Kings one of the highlights of the weekend. ~Paula E. Kirman

Tim Robbins - EFMF 2011

Tim Robbins by raise my voice
Tim Robbins, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

When I heard that Tim Robbins was now a touring musician, I had that same cynical thought I would get every time I heard about a famous actor embarking on a music career. A good actor does not a good musician make. Now, Tim Robbins is not just a good actor - he is an excellent one. As a musician, he is surprisingly solid. He has a musky voice that is also melodic in an untrained sort of way. He certainly got the crowd moving with Pete Seeger's "Well May The World Go," and he kept the momentum up with his solo concert and sessions. I was honestly (and pleasantly) surprised by his musical prowess and I apologize for any cynical thoughts I may have had before. Robbins (and his Rogues Gallery band, featuring his brother on guitar) gained a lot of musical cred during the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. ~Paula E. Kirman

Guy Clark - EFMF 2011

Guy Clark - EFMF 2011 by raise my voice
Guy Clark - EFMF 2011, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

Guy Clark is another performer I discovered by watching American Music Shop (see my previous post about Nanci Griffith). He is also from Texas and a singer/songwriter known for releasing albums of his own work, as well as writing songs covered by other artists. Clark is also a luthier who makes many of his own instruments.

Performing on Saturday afternoon at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Clark was accompanied by long-time musical friend Vernon Thompson. His voice was rough from smoking and dust - he explained that he had just performed in a cattle field - but there was also a delicateness to his touch.

World weary, but obviously loving what he does, Clark is a living legend of country/folk songwriters. ~Paula E. Kirman

Nanci Griffith - EFMF 2011

When I was a student in university, I used to watch a program on a cable station called American Music Shop. It was on that show that I discovered Nanci Griffith. A singer/songwriter from Texas, her voice was sweet and her words profound.

Griffith writes about life, love, and social issues. Her delivery is sincere, with a dash of humour. Her Sunday afternoon concert at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival had an audience of dedicated fans and those new to her work. She introduced all of her songs thoroughly, creating a very intimate atmosphere despite the large crowd, as everyone got to know a little bit about the woman behind the songs: her late mother, her love of the soap All My Children, her passion for human rights. Despite having a cold ("That's what I get for going to Calgary," she joked) her voice was as crisp as the cool breeze circulating between the stages.

I recognized many of her songs within the first few bars (as did others, judging by the applause) and listening to them live brought me back to those more carefree days while gaining a deeper appreciation for Griffith's vast talent.

Seeing Nanci Griffith live was like meeting an old friend after many years - things have changed, yet that familiar bond is still there. ~Paula E. Kirman

James Keelaghan - EFMF 2011

James Keelaghan has a voice that draws you in and then will not let go until he has finished the story in his song. Keelaghan is originally form Calgary but now lives in Eastern Canada. Although not a household name, he has been touring and releasing albums for years. His lyrics often deal with different aspects of history, both Canadian and beyond (such as "Cold Missouri Waters" which is about the Mann Gulch fire in 1949).

Keelaghan performed to enthusiastic audiences throughout the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, giving a full concert on the Friday evening and hosting several workshops during the weekend. This was my first time seeing him live, although I have been a fan for years. His voice sounds as absolutely crisp and perfect live as it does in his recordings.

Someone on Twitter commented that Keelaghan should be considered a national treasure. I could not agree more. ~Paula E. Kirman

Monday, August 8, 2011

Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2011

I attended the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past weekend. The hills were alive with the sound of music once again, and thousands of people were there to take part. I will be blogging about some of the specific shows and artists over the next few days - stay tuned! ~Paula E. Kirman

Friday, August 5, 2011

CD Review: Joel Rubin and Uri Caine's 'Azoy Tsu Tsveyt'

Azoy Tsu Tsveyt

The classic klezmer music is seemingly reinvented by musical contemporaries, Joel Rubin and Uri Caine. Joel's lively, though pensive, clarinet playing is poignant and laid-back. Uri's rhodes and organ-playing makes the music sound folksy, rootsy, and most of all, dreamy. There are no additional instruments used on the recording. Even vocals are absent. The alternative and almost avant-garde rhodes work matches the sounds of Russian folk and smooth jazz. The clarinet propels the music forward without totally disregarding it's historical significance in Jewish and classical music along the way. Joel and Uri manage to succeed in producing a very good recording of klezmer music that is never dull or uninspiring. Fans of klezmer, Yiddish, Jewish, big band, clarinet, instrumental, avant-garde, and jazz music will find much to love about Azoy Tsu Tsveyt. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Watcha Clan's 'Radio Babel'

Radio Babel

Radio Babel is the new sound for the world's languages. Steeped in a cultural brew, Watcha Clan produces Arabic, Middle Eastern, Balkan, and North African tribe-tronica with more of an emphasis on vocals and diverse instruments than the electronic base. The cultural influences mainly stem from Morocco, Israel, Spain, Algeria, Turkey, France, and the Balkans. Furthermore, the vocals are primarily in English, Arabic, Hebrew, Yiddish, French, and Spanish. Everything from dance, trip-hop, folk, Klezmer, jazz, progressive, rock, and classic ballads with a heavy dose of instrumentation are present. The word 'babel' means 'jumble' in Hebrew. Thankfully, Radio Babel is anything but a jumble of incoherent noise. In fact, Watcha Clan produces a fine album that treads nicely between contemporary and traditional mediums with all of the catchy grooves and tunes one expects from a recording of this high-quality. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: RumbAmazigha


The Spanish collective of musicians form a handy mix of Amazigh, Berber, Tamasheq, and Catalonia rhythms with fiery percussion and moving vocals. The music is produced with some percussion, violin, banjo, guitar, and bass in such a way that is extremely easy to listen to. At times, the music is more Spanish-tinged. However, the North African elements rise to the occasion, even though the lyrics are in Spanish. The breezy melodies reflect an almost Cape Verde feel, especially on 'RumbAmazigha' and 'Cultures'. On 'Africa', the banjo replaces the typical, North African n'goni lute. There are hints of Algeria's Amazigh Kateb throughout. The lively percussion, banjo plucking, and Spanish elements make RumbAmazigha a unique album of ear-friendly (and dance-friendly) tunes. Lyrics are not provided in the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jose Conde's Self-Titled Release

Jose Conde

Pipiki Records

Brooklyn-based Latin pioneer, Jose Conde, shares his world of music in a personal and refined context amid a backbone of smooth, Latin grooves and pop/rock. Whether it is tango, rumba, salsa, or funk, Jose knows how to convey his musical creativities with a fine result. There are three bonus tracks in English, Portuguese, and Tsonga (a South African language). The Latin American, South American, and even Afro-Latin rhythms showcase Jose's far-reaching musicalities. Jose seems right at home creating more contemporary dance sounds with a small dose of trippy jams, as well as the more characteristic and familiar Latin sensibility. However, Jose still sounds different than other similarly grouped artists, because he seems to simply create music without regard to what genre it might be. Essentially, Jose Conde is an album about Jose Conde. It is one of the best albums of the year. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, August 4, 2011

CD Review: Rumba Vella's 'Els Ignorant'

Rumba Vella

Els Ignorants

The Barcelona-based group, Rumba Vella, largely produce Catalonia music with a rumba edge, Latin American vibe, and a nostalgic, French feel. The twelve musical tracks go way back to the 1960's and 70's, while others were first popularized by Panama's Ruben Blades and Puerto Rico's Ray Barretto. The highly-danceable music is accomplished with guitars, bass, percussion, and violin in a slightly syncopated song structure. The rumba, flamenco, and tropical sounds are inspired by Spain's musical history. The musicians know how to produce good vocal tracks with better-than-average lyrics and lively, dance tracks with a range of percussive sounds that span Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. However, the relatively short running time of forty-minutes is a less-than-desirable quality. Still, Rumba Vella is a 'danse de vigueur' to be reckoned with. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sondorgo's 'Tamburising: Lost Music Of The Balkans'

Tamburising: Lost Music Of The Balkans

The tambura, a mandolin-like instrument, is the primary sound on the latest Hungarian/Balkan release from Sondorgo. The sometimes frenzied playing techniques of the tambura evokes Greek music ensembles of Rebetika or Laiko. The vocals become quite majestic on 'Oj Jesenske'. However, the real charm of Tamburising... is the earthy, folksy, and gritty appeal from the instrumentation. The tambura is performed in a few different sizes and is joined by the accordion, flute, kaval, clarinet, sax, darbuka, tapan, and trumpet. The band is comprised of four brothers, which are sons of Kalman Eredics, a veteran Slavic musician in Hungary. The Hungarian form of tambura music is slightly different than other regional tambura bands. For instance, the music takes on a more danceable and upbeat tone than similar counterparts. Overall, the fifteen tracks are relatively short with thirty-percent of the tracks running under two-minutes in length. However, the toe-tapping and foot-stomping rhythms play in one's head long after the music commences with very pleasurable results. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Muntu Valdo's 'The One & The Many'

The One & The Many

The soft and sweet voice of Muntu Valdo matches his tender guitar playing and heavenly harmonica sounds. The Cameroonian is a U.K. resident that has quickly gained popularity and success. Muntu sings in a Cameroonian language throughout the album; except for English on parts of 'No Mercy'. Luckily, English translations are contained in the liner notes. Muntu's guitar playing is slightly more tropical than Mauritania's Daby Toure or Guinea-Bissau's Bidinte. Nevertheless, Muntu's achingly beautiful voice sets the tone for the album without veering off into uncharted territory or meaningless melodies. The ten tracks reflect a nice range of melodies, rhythms, and tones with definite hints to Cameroon. Moreover, the U.K. presence is relatively subdued. Still, The One & The Many is a magnificent recording that deserves considerable airplay on a global scale. For fans of African folk, contemporary folk, and Cameroonian guitar, Muntu Valdo is a required listen. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Oojami's 'Time Is Now'

Time Is Now


Oojami is the group headed by Necmi Cavli, a Turkish DJ based in the U.K. Time Is Now is primarily a pulsating, dance-club set of tracks inspired by Turkish and Middle Eastern rhythms and instrumentation. However, the drums and bass steal the show for the most part. A few guest vocalists, such as Marilyn Gentle, Elysha West, Aktar Ahmed, Arujunan Manuelpillai, and Blair Mackichan add their talents to some of the tracks. Overall, a relatively urban, contemporary sound rules the album. Though, a few instruments suggest Turkish melodies from a more classical vein. Still, Oojami's strengths relate to the dance-club tracks, which have been featured in a few films, too. The groovy, dance tracks are perfect for drifting away to a musical place of awe and adventure. The vocals are in English, though lyrics are not provided in the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists - 'Audio Refuge Compilation'

Various Artists

Audio Refuge Compilation

San Francisco-based, Stronghold Sound, releases their latest production of funky, African, and Arabic folk, reggae, dub, hip-hop and cumbia music. The compilation features sixteen tracks and several different musicians from Guinea, Morocco, and Trinidad. The contemporary musical arrangements and killer vocals represent a good variety of styles, sounds, and talents on every track. Some of the musicians include Bongo, Yassir Chadly, Beat Fola, Bondi Blaster, Snakkr, Iggy Mon, Tami, among others. Numerous styles, including gnawa, soul, dub, trance, psychedelica, dance, and folk music round out the list of the most prevalent influences. The diverse rhythms and languages provide a truly global experience on many of the tracks. If you are seeking contemporary Afro-beat music with some pop and folk leanings, then the Audio Refuge Compilation is a must-have. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: CSC Funk Band's 'Things Are Getting Too Casual'

Things Are Getting Too Casual

The Brooklyn-based CSC Funk Band is a large group consisting of 10+ members that produce edgy, funk and dance music with borrowings from rock, punk, jazz, and psychedelica. The eclectic mix of instrumentation adds to the funk and world beats. For instance, the sax, moog, trombones, guitars, trumpets, bass, oboe, and drums, at times, sound like progressive rock and funk. At any rate, the songs are more progressive, fast-paced, and rock-driven than comparable Afro-funk bands, such as Antibalas, The Funk Ark, and others. The steamy, infectious, and rhythmic songs steeped in Afro-funk traditions and American dance grooves make the CSC Funk Band an important player in the global funk music scene. Things Are Getting Too Casual is sure to shake things up. In fact, anyone's feet would be moving within earshot of Brooklyn's-own, CSC Funk Band. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Funk Ark - From The Rooftops

From The Rooftops

The Washington, D.C.-based funk group creates groove-ladened, tracks inspired by the Latin and African dance scenes of the 1960's and 70's. The mostly instrumental treats are funkier than ever. The brainchild behind The Funk Ark is songwriter and keyboardist, Will Rast. Vocalist Asheru and Sitali lend their vocals to 'Funky DC'. The majority of the tracks are rooted in Afrobeat and Latinbeat music with little rest from the danceable rhythms and melodies. In fact, the music is brimming with life and energy. Interestingly, Noah's Ark wouldn't be large enough to contain the immense amount of funky happenings. From The Rooftops is a top-notch recording of beat music with funky swagger and soul that is as unforgettable as it is unique. Fans of funk, Afrobeat, dance, and classic Latin and Afro sounds of the 1960's and 70's will find The Funk Ark an especially rewarding surprise. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Amira Kheir's 'View From Somewhere'

View From Somewhere

Contro Cultura Music

The cross-cultural leanings of Sudanese-Italian born Amira Kheir, stem from her home base in the U.K. and inspirational melodies, rhythms, and styles that shaped the final product of View From Somewhere. With a multitude of styles, Amira primarily borrows her Sudanese ancestry with Arabic jazz and folk music. The instrumental repertoire of oud, kora, piano, djembe, shekere, accordion, darbuka, bongos, cajon, riqq, sax, guitar, and bass reflect a solid concoction of musical tools. The music reflects a spiritual component of the Sufi tradition, along with Sudanese jazz and soul in a similar style, though not as polished as fellow countrywoman, Seba. The liner notes contain English lyrics, even though most of Amira's vocals are in another language. Overall, Amira Kheir sings from the heart and soul with a backing of just the right amount of instrumentation. Fans of Seba, Yungchen Lhamo, and Sudanese music will find comfort and joy in the sounds of Amira Kheir. ~ Matthew Forss