Friday, January 31, 2014

CD Review: Mental Monky Ballet's 'Breaking The Law'

Mental Monky Ballet
Breaking The Law
Applehead Records

Swedish alt-rock group, Mental Monky Ballet, bridges the vocal and instrumental gap between Blondie and Garbage--and they do it with success all around. "Into The Open" is a swishy, rock-infused medley with reverberating guitars and vibrant female vocals. "Club 27" is a lush, alt-dance tune with classic vocals and a power pop presence that contains a little edge and a setup akin to something by The Killers. "Get Around This" begins with a spacious, atmospheric and progressive intro with delicate vocals and gingerly-played guitars, until the chorus brings in other vocals and a more textured pop sound. "You're More Trouble Than You're Worth" opens with an alternative and progressive rock arrangement that harbors Garbage and Blondie tendencies, but everything comes out okay. The new seven-track EP, Breaking The Law, is a sure hit for fans of the abovementioned musicians and Swedish alt-pop music with English vocals. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, January 30, 2014

CD Review: Carrington MacDuffie's 'Only An Angel'

Carrington MacDuffie
Only An Angel
Pointy Head Records

New York-native, Carrington MacDuffie, brings a sense of Americana folk with bluesy, poetic, and lyrical tunes with intimate sensibilities and playful vocal calisthenics. The folksy tunes possess a slight alt-rock and country connotation, but the primary sound is largely folksy blues. The ballad-esque, "Hot Sun Of The Summer," is a groovy tune with sparkling instrumentation and alt-folk arrangements with a voice akin to Shawn Colvin and Lucinda Williams. "Red Eye" opens with a plaintive acoustic guitar melody and smoky vocal line. There are country and folk strings with swishy percussion. "Stand Below Heaven" is an alt-folk, roots-inspired tune with guitar, drums, and reverberating B3 sounds. Carrington gets serious on "My Favorite Place In Texas" with galloping drums, metallic drones, and heartfelt vocals spacious and delicate. The country-esque tune is quite poetic and very enjoyable. In fact, the entire EP is enjoyable and worth a listen or two. ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, January 27, 2014

CD Review: diNMachine's 'Dance To Reason'

Dance To Reason

The electronic trip-hop concoctions of New York's diNMachine are industrial, innovative, instrumental, and ingenious. The gritty sounds are edgy and punchy with some degree of jazz and new age elements. The experimental and avant-garde sounds are mostly instrumental with a few voices added for greater musical affect. The frenzied sounds of "Lpse" are upbeat and experimental. There are elements of chiptune or videogame-type musical backing that is very electronic and trippy. The blurby sounds of "Fifth Bass" incorporate a bit of swishy percussion and cascading, electronic melodies that soar into a unique echelon of aural existence. In fact, the entire album excels with performance, composition, and creativity. Think of Lamb, Action Figure Party, and Gino Foti partying it up and you get Dance To Reason. Check out a video here: ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, January 26, 2014

CD Review: Ezza's 'Abadaya'

Ma Case Production

Tuareg blues guitar music hits the music airwaves once again, but this time it is not Tinariwen, Tidawt, or Toumast. Instead, the North African guitar rockers are Ezza, originally from Niger, but now based in France. The seven track release is loaded with rockin' hooks and licks deep from within the Saharan desert. However, the musical influences may extend beyond the region, but the end result is something of pure magnificence. The fluid guitar calisthenics are very engaging, along with the lead vocals. Fans of North African blues guitar music will like this upbeat recording. Anyone with a passion for African guitar music should check it out, though. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nakany Kante's 'Saramaya'

Nakany Kante
Slow Walk Music

Hailing from the border of Guinea and Mali, in a town called Siguiri, Nakany Kante brings together a mix of Wassoulou, soukous, m'balax, reggae, and afro-pop. The result is a twelve-track release with upbeat percussion, lush vocals, and rippling guitars. Nakany is joined by other musicians on dundun, congas, kora, djeli n'goni, bass, electric guitar, balafon, and other instruments. The rich textural layers are poignant and unforgettable. Nakany's voice meanders along with a youthful exuberance and a melodic overtone. I wish I could pick a favorite track from this album, but all the tracks are favorites. Anyone with an interest or obsession with West African popular music will find Nakany Kante's latest work very enthralling. Highly recommended. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bubamara Brass Band's 'Balkanteka'

Bubamara Brass Band
Sketis Music

A Balkan music group from Russia? Absolutely. In fact, Bubamara Brass Band wastes no time throwing out the punchy brass melodies and rhythms with an earnest fervor. The upbeat, almost Middle Eastern-tinged percussion tracks combine a bit of gypsy music with bellydance. At any rate, the music will get your body moving. Bubamara even employs the musical talent of famed-Balkan maestro, Marko Markovic. The dozen tracks represent a structured, yet zany whirlwind of brassy tunes with a heady fever of a pace. Balkanteka is a moving album with danceable consequences that are anything but boring. The vocals are very good, too. Anyone with an interest in contemporary Balkan music--no matter where it's from--will love Bubamara Brass Band. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tiecoro Sissoko's 'Keme Borama'

Tiecoro Sissoko
Keme Borama
Kanaga System Krush

Hailing from Mali, Tiecoro Sissoko is a talented vocalist and guitarist in the Djeli tradition of West Africa. Tiecoro is joined by Madouba Camara on kora and Adama Tounkara on djeli n'goni. The rather acoustic offering is rich with scintillating strings and cascading vocal harmonies emanating from the spirit of Malian griot traditions. The relatively acoustic feel is very melancholic, relaxing, and meditative. There is a mix of instrumental and vocal music throughout. Unfortunately, Tiecoro died in 2012, but thankfully, his music will live on every time the album is played. The combination of kora, guitar, and djeli n'goni makes the music come alive and dance around in the listener's soul for a truly engaging and momentous result. Fans of Malian guitar music will appreciate it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Baraka's 'Tribute To Nargis'

Tribute To Nargis
Sketis Music

Baraka is an ethno-jazz group spearheaded by band leader and arranger, Dmitry Evsikov and his daughter, Devika. Tribute To Nargis explores Central Asian music traditions of the late-Pamir singer, Nargis Bandishoeva, who hailed from Tajikistan. Devika brings the folk songs and ballads to life with smooth vocals and stellar instrumental backing that is very relaxing, jazzy, and lounge-ready. There are a few hit songs from fellow Tajiki singer and composer, Oleg Fesov. Notably, "Lalaik", "Dar In Shab Mastun," and "Khudat Medoni." The rippling keyboards, bubbly bass, fluid song lines, and light percussion with some seasoned rock elements round out the album. Anyone with an even passive interest in the traditional music of Central Asia will appreciate Baraka. Celebrate Nargis' life whenever you play this album. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Offiong Bassey's Nigerian/American Self-Titled Release

Offiong Bassey
Offiong Bassey
Moonlit Media Group

Nigerian-American, Offiong Bassey, presents us with a soulful, R&B, jazz, and funk-imbued compilation of heady, rhythm-driven songs on her self-titled release. The soft vocals are matched by the effervescent electronica, jazzy percussion, and Afro-Cuban connections throughout. The soulful melodies and lyrical displays are enriched by her native Efik and Nigerian Pidgin English vocals amidst a background of traditional Ekombi dance styles. The soulful and percussion-heavy, "Legitimate Child," awakens the spirit with a vibrant, yet smooth bass line and swishy percussion sounds. "Edidem" is a scintillating melody with traditional instrumentation and vocal styles all held together by a little acoustic guitar and a few additional instruments. "Mistaking Chivalry For Chauvinism" is an uppity tune with some poetic vocals and punchy keyboard sounds in a tame sort of urban composition that is not quite rap or hip hop. Offiong knows how to combine jazz, R&B, funk, psych, and African rhythms for an enjoyable listening experience. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Brazilian Johnsons' 'Howdy Duty'

The Brazilian Johnsons
Howdy Duty

The alternative rock/pop stylings of New York-based, The Brazilian Johnsons, draw upon mixed influences stemming from old school rock, 70's psychedelica, and roots-infused blues. The band is comprised of lead singer and guitarist, Michel Nasrallah, bassist and vocalist, Apoena Frota, drummer, Bruno Esrubilsky, pianist, keyboardist, organist, and vocalist, Joao Nogueira, and additional guitar and vocal accompaniment by Andre Vasconcelos. The opener, "S.O.S", is a gritty, bluesy, and rock-infused anthem with piping hot piano lines, grungy guitars, and college rock sensibilities. "Stranger In A Strange Place" contains a bit of smooth bass, sparkling keyboard arrangements, and radio-esque vocals with some rock vocals and roots-inflected moments. The quieter moments are akin to a bluesy, ballad-esque form of Stroke 9. "Need A Miracle" contains vocals akin to Stroke 9, but the instrumental arrangements are more reflective of bluesy 70's rock. The reverberating B3 sounds resemble a little Wallflowers action. The laid-back, folk-rock tune, "We'll Never Know", is a pop ballad with great lyrics and great vocals. As a whole, The Brazilian Johnsons excel with every note and tune. Think of balladeer Stroke 9 combined with the rock-infused concoctions of Every Damn Day amidst a light psychedelic influence of Zero 7. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, January 24, 2014

CD Review: Shanren's 'Left Foot Dance Of The Yi'

Left Foot Dance Of The Yi
Riverboat Records

Hailing from Yunnan, China, Shanren are a folk-rock group that mixes traditional instruments with very catchy and enthralling melodies and rhythms throughout the entire album. Each track reveals something new and exciting. For example, "Yi Wa," contains a very catchy flute melody, while "The Crab" possesses a light, reggae backbeat. "La Suo Mi" is a triumphant marching-type song and melody. "Bi Li Tong" is a happy song with great lutes, drums, and Chinese musical effects. "Happy New Year" is a poignant tune with a little rock effects and traditional instruments. The opening track is mostly ambient voices as an introduction, rather than a full-fledged song. Still, Shanren is going to be the top new group in my player for the rest of the year. Enjoy Left Foot Dance Of The Yi today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Gina Chavez' 'up.rooted'

Gina Chavez

Texas-based, Gina Chavez, brings together a classy, folk-riddled, alt-pop concoction of Latin-esque jazz tones and playful cumbia, reggaeton, and jam band music on her latest release, up.rooted. The punchy guitar sounds, clear voice, and Latin-influences are something interesting, enchanting, and memorable. When the Spanish vocals take over, there is an element of a more refined Shakira that pops up. At other times, there is a vintage pop element that is catchy, sensual, and sweet in the vein of UK's Katie Melua. This is not your typical conga and bongo Latin music, since Gina knows innovation and follows her heart for musical direction. This is a great world music compilation with lively strings, percussion, horns, guitars, bass, B3, moogs, and more. This is new world music for a new world. Overall, the reverberations resound with a Latin fire that never ceases to amaze. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nistha Raj's 'Exit 1'

Nistha Raj
Exit 1

A distinguished performer of Hindustani Classical and Western Classical violin in the Washington, DC-area, by way of Texas, Nistha Raj connects with her Indian roots, but includes a twist: vocal beatboxing, upright bass, piano, and drums. The edgy, innovative, and clearly awe-inspiring tunes are Indian fusion at its best. There is a jazzy feel with the bass, piano, and violin, but the Indian connection is channeled through raga cycles, tabla, and somewhat rustic, earthy tone of the violin. The somber, "Ek Pyar Ka Nagma Hai," is an instrumental ballad with organic violin, pensive piano, and light drum accompaniment. In contrast, "The River," embodies the innovative Indian instrumental spirit with punctual violin melodies, rhythmic percussion, and luscious drones. There are upbeat and plaintive moments throughout. However, the South Asian instrumental arrangements are creative and fresh. Nistha knocks this one into another dimension and it definitely 'beats' the competition. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Alma Afrobeat Ensemble's 'Life No Get Dublicate'

Alma Afrobeat Ensemble
Life No Get Dublicate
Slow Walk Music

Following the previous release, Toubab Soul (Amphora Records, 2010), Alma Afrobeat Ensemble continue in their multicultural and cross-genre creative work of music that combines heady rhythms with contemporary vocals and mixed percussion, urban, and guitar styles. Nothing is simplified here, as the music is complex and deeply-rooted in the musics of Africa, Europe, and Latin America. The six-track release contains pulsating sounds of jazz, funk, Latin, and world fusion. The rippling guitars and fuzzy percussion awaken the spirit amidst the smooth bass lines and punchy brass. Based in Barcelona, Spain, the group members hail from other parts of the world, including Norway, Senegal, USA, Uruguay, Argentina, and Ghana. For a true world music listening experience, put Life No Get Dublicate on and hit repeat over and over again. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, January 12, 2014

CD Review: Rafi eL's 'Ay De Mi'

Rafi eL
Ay De Mi
Dutty Artz

The L.A.-based singer, songwriter and musician, Rafi eL, possesses roots in Jewish and Argentinian cultures, which shines through on his new, adventurous release, Ay De Mi. The music is slightly electronic, urban, and spacious enough to let the melodies permeate the souls of the listeners. The somewhat synth-infused concoctions represent a refreshing style of music never before heard in the music world today. The eleven tunes contain sparkling, reverberating, and electronic-tinged melodies and rhythms that bridge South American and American influences. The light rhythms fuse a bit of Enigma, Jack Johnson, and Xavier Rudd in an imagined urban vacuum with cumbia as a foundation. Everyone will love this one. Rafi eL succeeds on Ay De Mi with a healthy dose of folkloric and electronic compositions that seem to bring back ancient melodies and spirits for today's generations. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, January 10, 2014

CD Review: Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia's 'Devils' Tale'

Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia
Devil's Tale
Asphalt-Tango Records

The Balkan tunes of Fanfare Ciocarlia merge with Canada's eminent guitarist, banjo player, and electric bass aficionado, Adrian Raso. The instrumental tunes are mysterious with a saucy saunter and bellowing character that is anything but dull. The jazzy beats are quite pronounced and almost arranged in a Klezmer style. The punchy brass and uppity melodies are energetic and full of life. The musical style seems to mix old charm with new creative ideas that are refreshing and lively. Anyone with an interest in Balkan jazz, Romani music, and big brass sounds should check out Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia. The Devil's Tale will grab you and never let you go. It's totally addictive. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Badi Assad's 'Between Love And Luck'

Badi Assad
Between Love And Luck

Brazil's Badi Assad brings us yet another fine recording of uppity, pop-infused, Brazilian-concoctions of stupendous proportions. The music is playful, vibrant, and varied. The edgy pop, rock, and alternative stylings incorporate the basic Brazilian sounds we come to love, but there is more to the music than meets the ear. Badi's subtle vocals are more diverse than Ceu's and a bit more mature, too. The refined tunes are varied enough to thwart boredom and staleness. In fact, it is almost impossible to create a bad album from Brazil. There is so much music to work with and Badi succeeds admirably. Between Love And Luck is a fourteen-track release that is not to be missed. Fans of Brazilian music should check this one out. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: John Adorney's 'The Wonder Well'

John Adorney feat. Daya
The Wonder Well

The California-based acoustic and new age musician, John Adorney, brings together European soundscapes the are aurally-satisfying and very groovy. The electronic presence combines Enya with Ronan Hardiman. Mostly instrumental, The Wonder Well contains verses of delicate, engaging, and unforgettable beats, piano melodies, and sparkling atmospherics. Whether it is new age, electronic, instrumental, acoustic, neo-classical, or alternative pop, John Adorney knows how to create magical pieces of music delight. Daya's vocals on a few tracks only accentuate the instrumental capabilities of the music. The angelic washes, meditative rhythms, and awe-inspiring tunes are very well executed throughout. It seems every song is catchy and graceful with a moving delivery and a fanciful interplay between instruments that never gets old. Fans of Enya, Ronan Hardiman, and Vangelis will like its new age appeal and old world charm. ~ Matthew Forss