Friday, November 16, 2012

CD Review: Elisa Brown's 'New World'

Elisa Brown
New World

Soprano singer, Elisa Brown, produces a diverse array of classically-inspired songs with various jazz, rock, folk, Celtic, and new age elements in a world beat stew.  The international vocal arrangements reflect Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Indian cultural subtexts with varied vocals from various international sources.  The varied instrumentation and classical music base is characteristic throughout.  Eleven songs reflect a world music presence that is encompassing, engaging, and full of rich sonic textures. “Invocation” opens with blissful trickles of crystalline and metallic sounds and Elisa’s spoken word lines.  Mid-song, a single vocal line is repeated, but in different languages, including French, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Hindi, Hebrew, and English.  There are very little instrumental additions.  The entire song is rather dreamy, inspirational, and thought-provoking, but the power of poetry is most evident. “Cullins of Rhum” begins with a scintillating, Scottish guitar line, weeping violin, and sweeping electronic accompaniment that creates a full sound throughout.  The melody is also Celtic-driven with soaring vocals indicative of a mature Orla Fallon.  There are even bird sounds to lighten the melody and mood mid-song.  The song is rather sweeping with giddy guitar work and sparkling vocals throughout.  Fans of Scottish, Celtic, or Euro-folk will find this track most fitting. “We Are So Much More” opens with a keyboard wash and a few guitar strums with narrated spoken words and an upbeat percussion set.  Elisa’s clear, soprano vocals create a beautiful Celtic Woman or Ronan Hardiman result, while the keyboard washes and dance beat suggests similarities with the instrumental efforts of Enigma.  The mix of Elisa’s clear vocals, narrated portions, and vibraphone sound effects create a magnificent result that is majestic, ear-pleasing, and memorable.  The chorus is symphonic, danceable, and rich with fluid and sonic textures. One of the last few choruses features the sound of a younger voice, which represents a wide vocal spectrum throughout the song.  This is one of the best contemporary world music tracks ever produced…bar none. “Theme for Music for Life NYC” features a jazzy, Latin-tinged percussion section, and an effervescent vocal line that is operatic in its delivery, but warm in its reception.  The sweeping violin and fiery acoustic guitar work showcase Elisa’s varied song textures and styles incorporating a more world beat sound.  The flamenco-type song is full of danceable flavors and Spanish lingo.  There is even a few electric guitar squeals near the end of the song for a slight rock presence.  Fans of Latin, Spanish, and world jazz will love this one. “Namaste Fever” is brimming with eerie violin, percussive drums, additional sound effects, and an almost continual chant of the song title throughout.  The violin picks up some speed and sound intensity, while the percussion delves into a more upbeat tempo with jingly tins, metal, and cymbals.  The sounds are interrupted with a little didgeridoo, B3, and trilling electronica.  The song contains a little Celtic ambiance with a traditionally Hindu phrase in Sanskrit.  This is ideal for the world fusion fan with a hankering for Celtically-inspired yoga dance. “Ave Maria: Mother of the Light” begins with a meandering, upbeat melody with Elisa’s operatic vocals leading the charge on the traditional song.  The Latin lyrics are sung throughout, but not for the last line.  The music is supercharged with heavenly light and bliss with sonic sounds of beauty from strings, percussion, and keyboards.  The cascade of vocal melodies and arrangements produces an orchestral and operatic affect that is very enthralling. Overall, Elisa Brown’s new work, New World, is a marked achievement in the world music, new age, and world beat genres.  Elisa’s ability to change from operatic to pop vocal patterns creates a versatile recording.  The eleven songs represent a wide range of vocal and instrumental styles that should appeal to a diverse listening audience.  The help of Grammy Award-winning producer, Barry Goldstein, adds another dimension to the album that only increases its desirability.  Ultimately, the music is what will keep listeners coming back for more.  The new world has arrived and Elisa Brown is leading the musical revolution. ~ Matthew Forss     

CD Review: The Mickey Finns' 'Prayers and Idle Chatter'

The Mickey Finns
Prayers and Idle Chatter
Mankeltray Music

The Celtically-inspired gospel, punk, bluegrass, and folk collective, The Mickey Finns, creates an inspirational, upbeat, and refreshing album of excellent music. The opener, "Return of The Prodigal Son," is an energetic gospel-bluegrass tune with Celtic fiddle and guitar work. The seasoned vocals make the song shine with Celtic pride. "Tanks and Barbed Wire" is a slower tune with fiddle, percussion, and guitar. "The Jester" is a playful tune with lively strings, percussion, guitar, and plucked instruments. The vocals are good and the melody is upbeat and classy. The Celtic-bluegrass connection is not that far away here. "Be Minor" is an upbeat instrumental track with bass, fiddle, percussion, and jiggy guitar. The music is contemporary, but not electronic or dance-laden in that regard. However, a little toe-tapping is expected, along with some head-nodding. Anyone with an interest in contemporary Celtic music with an ear for bluegrass, gospel, punk, and folk idioms will love The Mickey Finns. I give it a 5 out of 5. ~ Matthew Forss 

Friday, November 9, 2012

CD Review: Sarazino's 'Everyday Salama'

Everyday Salama

Hailing from Algeria, Sarazino makes good use of international rhythms and song styles, readily traversing urban hip hop, Latin-beat, and Afro-beat worlds. The music is highly-contemporary and upbeat with help from a plethora of guest artists, including Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, Novalima, Andrea Ruilova, Luisa Maita, Isidro Garcia, Bacha Ortiz, Amparo Sanchez, Sabina Sciubba, Rootz Underground, and Niyo Pumpin. All of the tracks are outstanding without any faults. Fans of Latin and Afro-beat music will love Sarazino's sizzling new release with help from a few friends. Everyone is on top here. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mercedes Bahleda's ' Path To Bliss'

Mercedes Bahleda
Path To Bliss
White Swan

Based in New York, Mercedes Bahleda incorporates meditative mantras with Hindu, Sanskrit, and yoga-inspired overtones into remarkable kirtan songs. There are seven songs that run about a total length of one-hour. There are loads of heavenly vocals and instruments. For instance, the harmonium, tabla, djembe, violin, cello, guitar, tampura, kalimba, and piano make an appearance on several tracks. The upbeat tracks present the listener with soul-inspiring and soul-defining songs and harmonic textures that transport anyone who listens to the message into the outer realms of humanity. A skilled teacher of devotional music, yoga, and meditation, Mercedes is glad to perform blissful music and teach it to fellow listeners. This is an album that will be loved for all that it is...and more. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Silvana Kane's 'La Jardinera'

Silvana Kane
La Jardinera
Six Degrees

Born in Peru and based in Canada, the soft-spoken and brilliant Silvana Kane creates a beautiful medley of folksy, South American-tinged compositions that are cheery, poppy, and ballad-esque. The slow, meandering folk song, "Duerme Negrito," is a good song with minimal percussion and instrumentation that is led by Silvana's voice and a distorted guitar. The playful, "La Jardinera," is a sweet song with bird sounds and a light guitar melody. The soft songs are reminiscent of nearby Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The sweet voice of Silvana is matched by her good looks, which happen to resemble Jordana Brewster - an actress and another South American-native. However, Silvana is not acting here; her music is genuine all the way. Additionally, the ten songs are highly recommended for fans of Peruvian and Brazilian music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Karthala 72's 'Diable Du Feu!'

Karthala 72
Diable Du Feu!
Electric Cowbell

Karthala 72 is a mysterious group from the 1970s originating somewhere in Eastern Africa. The annals of history reveals a funky, psychedelic, and rock-driven type of music that is the ultimate in Afro-beat music. The instrumental tunes resonate loudly with African percussion, fuzzy guitar stylings, and electric beats that are raw and uncensored. The organic music is rich with melodies and eerie sounds that will get any pulse racing and feet moving. If Afro-beat greatness is not enough, then you are in for a treat with ten killer remixes. Anyone with an interest in funky, Afro-beat will love Karthala 72. This is mostly instrumental, too. Funkadelic, psychedelic, and dope-adelic all the way. Sizzling tunes with rootsy, almost futuristic electronic sounds. Amazing. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Leni Stern's 'Smoke No Fire'

Leni Stern
Smoke No Fire

New York's Leni Stern is a singer and instrumentalist with a passion for the n'goni. As a vocalist, n'goni player, guitarist, and percussionist, Leni creates evocative songs with a bluesy, African, and folk sensibility. The guest rap vocals on a track or two are particularly inviting. The folksy stylings of the n'goni, guitar, and vocals are amazing throughout. Leni is fluent in English and Bambara. The ten songs are perfect for anyone interested in North African fusion, blues, and folk music. There is something for everyone on here. The music is never dull or univiting. The sounds awaken a deep, cultural presence in the instruments and the vocals. This is perfect for fans of Bassekou Kouyate and Boolumbal. A nice gift for anyone interested in North African music! ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, November 8, 2012

CD/LP Review: Various Artists' 'Diablos Del Ritmo' 2-CD/2-LP Set

Various Artists
Diablos Del Ritmo
Analog Africa

Analog Africa's latest release, Diablos Del Ritmo, is a 2-CD or 2-LP set of historic African-tinged Colombian music. Part 1 contains mainly afro-beat, funk, terapia, and palenque music, while Part 2 contains more specific, traditional styles, including porro, gaita, puya, cumbiamba, mapale, and chande. The music is taken from 1960-1985. This is a historic set of songs with numerous artists contributing, including Wganda Kenya, Grupo Abharca, Abelardo Carbono, Andres Landero, Cumbia Soledena, Conjunto Son San, and many others. The music is highly danceable, trance-inducing, and psychedelic. The Latin and African funk sounds are memorable, addictive, and a pleasure to experience with each listen. The thirty-two tracks come alive with a deep cultural significance regarding Colombian music as a whole. The CD and LP set comes with a 60-page booklet with 40 old photographs and 24 interviews. Anyone with a sincere interest in Colombian, Afro-Caribbean, and Latin music should check out this compilation. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Empresarios' 'El Sonido Magico'

El Sonido Magico
Fort Knox

Washington, DC's Empresarios know how to rock the world with tropical beats, electronic horns, languid melodies, and dance-floor dubs better than any group out there. The blazing horns, sparkling keys, airy flutes, urban beats, and thick percussion signal a great recording from each repeated listen. The gritty beats and in-your-face-lyrics are Spanish and fiery to the touch. There are thirteen upbeat tracks to feast on. There are salsa, dub, cumbia, house, trance, reggae, rock, electronica, and urban music styles represented here. Fans of contemporary Latin downtempo and Latin-beat music will love Empresarios' latest recording. I'm impressed with Empresarios. You will be, too. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Domenico's 'Cine Prive'

Cine Prive
Plug Research

Domenico's Brazilian and Italian heritage shine through on the contemporary and easy listening release, Cine Prive (Private Cinema). The sonic textures are rhythmic, nostalgic, bossa nova-inspired, and electronic without any worries of where the music can go. The music is littered with friendly little nuances that are blurby, dance-ready, trippy, and avant-garde to the hilt. The minimalist percussion and instrumentation is not a deterrent, as the vocals set the stage for engaging tracks and happy melodies that possess inner and outer beauty. The almost absurdist embellishments are relatively cohesive and pleasant throughout. This is one of the most exciting albums from Brazil I have ever come across. Own it today. Your ears will thank you. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Zekuhl's 'I Bolo'

I Bolo
Bolbo Art

Cameroonian-raised and Canadian-born, Zekuhl is a singer, guitarist, and prominent nkuu (wood drum) player that plays a Bolbo-Jazz style of music. The music incorporates several indigenous rhythms and genres, including assiko, bolbo, bikutsi, ndin, mangambeu, makossa, mbale, and mpeya. Based on local traditions and fused with jazz, Zekuhl creates a wonderful pop music of Afrobeat and soukous concoctions. Though entirely fresh and unique, Zekuhl is good enough to draw fans from Afro-pop and world fusion. Fans of African music, Cameroonian jazz, and afro-beat will love the danceable beats and rhythms of Zekuhl. Vocals in Basaa, English, and French. Twelve tracks in all. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Seda Bagcan's 'Sunrise'

Seda Bagcan
Spirit Voyage

Turkish-born and German-based, Seda Bagcan creates moving Central Asian-tinged tunes reflecting a yogic presence and Sanskrit vocals. Yoga music lovers will appreciate the wistful and airy melodies, but the piano and some Central Asian percussion and strings take over. This is not your typical kirtan music, but then again, what is typical nowadays? At any rate, the music is mantra based and highly reflective. The soul-stirring voice of Seda is heavenly and blissful. The new album contains eight songs that are a mix of yogic, tantra-based music and Central Asian or Middle-Eastern-tinged elements. The result is a very good album that is easy to listen to for any relaxing or meditative occasion. Seda Bagcan is a talented songstress that knows how to focus on music with a purpose. Sunrise is good from sun-up to sun-down. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Simon Spire's 'Uncomfortable'

Simon Spire

Born in New Zealand and based in New York City, Simon Spire is a great pop singer and guitarist with a knack for creating moving, upbeat, and catchy songs that are memorable and anything but uncomfortable. The clear vocals and good riffs are nothing to shake a stick at. "Today" is an upbeat pop-rock tune with full guitar sounds, harmony-laden vocals, and sparkling electronic additions that make the music shine with contemporary qualities. "The Blue Pill" contains a little piano accompaniment and a rousing vocal performance with limited percussion and instrumentation. "Liberate Your Love" contains an upbeat, dance melody with guitars, drums, and bass. Overall, the vocals are somewhere between Michael Stipe (REM) and Fountains Of Wayne. Check it out today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kardemimmit's 'Autio Huvila'

Autio Huvila

The kantele, a plucked zither indigenous to Finland, is the primary instrument in Kardemimmit's repertoire, but they also include harmonicas, double bass, guitar, and bouzouki. The group is comprised of four young ladies from Finland. They are excellent vocalists and professional kantele players in Finland and beyond. The music is traditional folk music that is vocally similar to another Finnish folk group, Varttina. However, Kardemimmit does not utilize as many instruments as Varttina. The sweet vocals are a perfect match for the scintillating kantele strings. The harp-like tonal qualities are very relaxing and engaging. The liner notes include Finnish lyrics only, but song summaries are in English. This is a great album for folk music fans with an interest in Scandinavia. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: JuJu's 'In Trance'

In Trance
Real World

JuJu is the collaboration of England's Justin Adams and Gambia's Juldeh Camara. Justin is a guitarist that also plays the bendir. Juldeh is the lead vocalist, ritti player, and talking drum aficionado. The duo are backed by Billy Fuller on bass, backing vocals, Dave Smith on drums and assorted percussion, and Martyn Barker on drums and cajon. The seven-track release is a mix of jazz, rock, African fusion, and blues. There is also an element of psy-trance - hence the title. However, there is much similarity to various North African guitar groups and the late-Ali Farka Toure. The ambulating beats are spacious and raw. The intense guitar riffs, crazy sounds of organic noise, and African vocals make In Trance a suitable recording for North African guitar band fans and world fusion with a good dose of blues, rock, and 'other'. Think of an amped up Master Musicians of Jajouka. It is very en-trancing! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: International String Trio's 'Movie Night'

International String Trio
Movie Night

A star-studded cast of musicians present us with an array of instrumental tunes from familiar films, but the music is created with a classy repertoire of guitar, bass, and violin. Ben Powell on violin, Slava Tolstoy on guitar, and Ippei Ichimaru on bass, round out the international group of musicians on the new album. Stemming from Russia, Japan, and England, the musicians grace the songs with an international flair and cultural display of cinematic performances. The music is not exactly note for note on each filmic tune, but the basic melodies are still there. You will here music from Forrest Gump, Latcho Drom, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singin' In The Rain, Chocolat, Schindler's List, Anastasia, Eyes Wide Shut, Laura, Doctor Zhivago, and Ken Burns' The Civil War. The music is very classical, jazzy, and tango-driven. The fusion-style is relatively pronounced throughout, but the classical undertones are paramount. Fans of filmic scores, instrumental tunes, and classical music will love the International String Trio. ~ Matthew Forss