Thursday, November 19, 2015

CD Review: Raya Brass Band's 'Raya'

Raya Brass Band

The New York-based sextet, Raya Brass Band, brings to life the music of Eastern Europe and Balkan regions on their latest release, Raya. The sax, trumpet, accordion, keyboards, tupan, snare drum, and assorted percussion are all the Raya Brass Band needs to produce great, instrumental music. The horns, tuba, and percussion are quite varied and innovative, but nothing too far from historical traditions. The nine-track album features a rousing mix of sounds emanating from a variety of instruments that work harmoniously together to create an engaging and upbeat result. Though, the album is under forty-minutes in length, there is plenty of music to cheer about. The punchy, jazz-laden tune, "Sugar and Salt," adds a swirling mix of heady horns and great percussion for a slightly Gypsy/neo-classical approach that would be equally-at home on the classic Seven Brides For Seven Brothers film soundtrack. Overall, the music is diverse enough to capture the ears of listeners everywhere. Fans of brass bands, Gypsy music, instrumental tunes, world jazz, and fusion will find Raya very raya-mazing! ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CD Review: Argentina's Gabriel Palatchi Releases 'Trivolution'

Gabriel Palatchi

Argentinian pianist and synth player, Gabriel Palatchi, is joined by Kerry Galloway on electric bass and Jose Maria Gonzalez on drums and percussion. Trivolution is a work of three band members that are not alone, as a few additional performers are added to the mix. The down-tempo, psych-driven grooves are jazz-infused and South American-tinged. The synths create a fluid, smooth jazz feel at times. On "Sefarad Roots," the music takes a Klezmer turn with a Gypsy-esque beat and melody. In fact, 'sefarad' suggests a Ladino presence with Old Spain. The funky sounds of "What Da Funk" contain a few vocals by David Gall. "Vive" is the only other track with vocals. Some of the songs are ripe with Latin brass and heavy percussion, while not straying too far from their South American jazz roots. The punchy and varied beats are a must-hear for fans of world jazz, South American music, and psych-funk concoctions. Trivolution is an excellent album. Join in the fun! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, October 16, 2015

CD Review: Aziz Sahmaoui & University Of Gnawa's 'Mazal'

Aziz Sahmaoui & University Of Gnawa
World Village

Morocco's Aziz Sahmaoui and his West African University Of Gnawa bring together sounds of the Sahara with sounds of the Western Coast of Africa on the latest release, Mazal. Aziz is a master on the n'goni, but plays the mandole and offers vocals. The Arabic vocals are expertly delivered in a pleasant manner that is never boring. Aziz is joined with other instruments, including the bass, flamenco guitar, sax, flute, tar, violin, daw daw, rhodes, kora, and percussion. The melodies are very intricate, ear-friendly, and entrancing in a very good way. The opener, "Inchallah," is a rousing tune with great instrumentation and vocals. "Mazal" is another good song that contains undulating rhythms of an Arabic and almost Middle Eastern nature that still retain a North or West African presence. "Jilala" is an upbeat dance tune with a contemporary edge of pure African spirit. Fans of North African music will love Aziz's playing style and all of the tracks on the album. Liner notes are in English, French, and Cyrillic Arabic. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

CD Review: Tom Teasley's 'Dreams Of India'

Tom Teasley
Dreams Of India
T & T Music

The DC-area percussion king, Tom Teasley, pounds out beat after beat of incredible instrumental mastery incorporating world percussion and some contemporary electronic embellishments on his latest release, Dreams Of India. The pulsating tracks showcase diverse percussive stylings produced by instruments such as doumbek, alto melodica, tabla, konnakol, bamboo flute, wavedrum, cajon, udu, hang, glockenspiel, cymbal, shakers, kalimba, riq, snare, kanjira, bodhran, and a few others. The mix of wind instruments and percussion instruments provides a great balance between light, dreamy sounds and heavier percussive beats. Still, the music is never over-produced and the sounds are a mix of fusion, new age, and jazz. Yes, there are South Asian influences, but there is also an experimental vein bringing in North American styles to a point. Tom's vocal scat is another percussive instrument that is utilized on a few tracks. Overall, there are cinematic moments, dreamy qualities, and entrancing tunes that are both nostalgic and contemporary. Dreams Of India is the best dream anyone can have! ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CD Review: Terakaft's 'Alone'

Outhere Records

One of Mali's greatest Tuareg blues guitar groups, Terakaft, brings us another gem from the desert. This is the fifth album from Terakaft and it keeps getting better. The soulful and bluesy guitar rhythms are punctuated by hand-claps, ambulating percussion, scintillating guitar strums, and bubbly bass-lines. The music is quite peaceful at times, while the guitar and rock-like arrangements make an appearance on a few of the tracks. The songs are sung in Tamasheq with liner notes in Tamasheq, English, and French. There are nine tunes here with loads of great grooves imbibing the Saharan spirit through mesmerizing guitar chords. The electric guitar sounds are not to be missed. As a total package, Alone is one of the best Tuareg releases of the year. If you seek Tuareg guitar rock and Tamasheq-soaked songs, then Terakaft should be high up on your list. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tamy's 'Caieira'

Zip Records

Bossa nova styles have graced the airwaves and stages around the world for decades, yet it continues to be a source of inspiration and creativity for artists of today. Tamy lives and breathes bossa nova and mixes it with subtle jazz, neo-classical, pop, and folk styles on her debut release. Fourteen tracks showcase Tamy's beautiful voice and instrumental arrangements. There are laid-back creations full of bossa nova flavor, such as "Serena," "Eu To Com Voce," "Te Esperei," "Caieira," "Me Diz," and a few others. The Portuguese-laced song lyrics are steeped in Brazilian traditions. The assorted percussion, light guitar work, delicate vocals, and breezy melodies take on a rather light-hearted release. However, there are some nods to African musical styles on "Mae Africa," as well as more upbeat pop and rock sounds on "Dava Pra Ver." Overall, there is something for everyone here. Fans of Brazilian music with a contemporary edge will find Tamy in their playlist quite often. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, October 2, 2015

CD Review: Atlas Jungle's 'From The Dirt'

Atlas Jungle
From The Dirt

The Guilford, Connecticut tribal, funk, new age, psychedelic rock group, Atlas Jungle, releases an innovative five-track EP that includes both vocal and instrumental gems. The spacey, funky, and psych-laden, "Space Being," contains some atmospheric washes, electronic pulses, and smooth grooves for one heck of a ride. "The Cave" contains heady rock beats, light vocals, and gritty guitar work matched with electronic pulsations for a space-meets-South journey. "Goa Nights" opens with a little slap bass that heads right into a groovy, sultry, and funk-laden concoction with glittery electronica adornments and excellent percussion arrangements. There are even sitar-like sounds near the end of the song, which makes sense, since Goa is actually a state in Western India. The end of the song contains airy, yet punchy, flute renderings that could have been produced by a didgeridoo. "Pythagoras" is another great psych and funk journey with a slight Southern rock vein. The jaunty mix is has a world flair with sounds similar to an Australian origin. Some parts of the song are a more amped-up type of background music similar in style to a YouTube video demonstrating the Australian-made OzTent. "Snow Cat" is a vocal tune with buzz-laden sounds, heady rhythms, and a meandering beat that brings in rock, psych, and funk in equal proportions. If you haven't been convinced yet; you will. From The Dirt is definitely a highly organic experience. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, September 24, 2015

CD Review: Kimie Miner's New Self-Titled Release

Kimie Miner
Kimie Miner

Hawaii's Kimie Miner is a singer-songwriter of Hawaiian and Portuguese descent. The rousing tunes on her self-titled release are in English; except for "Kumulau." The melodies retain a slight R&B presence and lounge jazz sensibility that is refreshing, urban, and pop-focused. There are some danceable tunes with vocals not too unlike Nelly Furtado. A bouncy piano rhythm makes an appearance (along with Caleb Keolanui) on "Love's In The Melody." "Trouble" is a nod to South American alternative pop and electronica with a sassy reggae edge. While, "Make It To Morning," "Fallin' Again," "Lullabies," and "Shine" resemble the harmonic structures of The Beu Sisters' early work. Kimie's album contains equal parts of dance, electronica, guitar pop, reggae, and alternative genres for a great musical journey. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

CD Review: Ozere's 'Anyplace'

Finding Anyplace

The Canadian folk-roots-group, Ozere, tackles beautiful melodies, breezy rhythms, and rootsy vocals with engaging instrumentals mixed in for added pleasure on their latest release, Finding Anyplace. This is mostly an original effort with only two songs attributed to other artists, such as "Wayfaring Stranger" and "MacArthur Road." The instrumental gem on the album, "Anyplace," weaves a tapestry of sonic sounds ranging from Celtic to Nordic and even the Middle East in a seamless fashion. However, the vocals are great on "Keeper" and "Someday Soon." Ozere does not fit into a specific genre very well, but anyone with a passion for folk, roots, neo-classical, new age, and world fusion will find love at first note with this one. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mara Measor's 'Naked Prayers'

Mara Measor
Naked Prayers

Chinese-American songstress, writer, and actor, Mara Measor, brings us a lively mix of personal songs with quaint instrumentation, sweet vocals, and spiritual undertones. Naked Prayers is a nine-track album under forty-minutes in length that contains several uplifting songs. In fact, all of the songs are really good with varying aural textures, melodies, and light rhythms bordering on new age-pop or alternative pop. Mara's sweet vocals resemble the Canadian group, Dala, as well as the U.K.'s Katie Melua, with similar instrumental set-ups akin to the former. The final number, "Love Will Find You," seems like a throwback to the funky, jazz standards of the 1970's. The calming and essentially word-less song, "Ooh," is a spiritual wonder with only Mara's voice leading the song and a distant thud of a drum. "You Saw Me" is a pensive, piano-driven song with guitars and percussion that are truly beautiful. All in all, Mara succeeds in creating a gorgeous album with memorable melodies, sweet vocals, and an underlying message of "good" without sacrificing anything. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, September 18, 2015

CD Review: Francesca Blanchard's 'Deux Visions'

Francesca Blanchard
Deux Visions
Vis-A-Vis Records

Deux Visions is translated as "two visions." In this case, the double references pertain to a French upbringing and current residence in Vermont. The songs are pop, folk, and rock oriented with both English and French lyrics. The melodies are pure heaven, as anyone with a familiarity with Carla Bruni, Francois Hardy, and Souad Massi. The tender vocal sound is intimate, poignant, and emotive. The light, contemplative ballad, "The Sea," is a fitting ending to a wonderful album, but the pop-rock brilliance of "Empty House,"  "Save A Different Way," and "Rame" showcase Francesca's innate ability to convey musical emotion with great melodies and rhythms in the same vein as the above-mentioned artists. Nevertheless, Francesca makes her mark in a very good way. Anyone with an interest in French pop and rock will love Deux Visions...and probably everything she releases in the future. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Zedashe's 'Our Earth And Water'

Our Earth And Water
Living Roots Music

Georgia (the country) is well-known for it's polyphonic vocal traditions. Zedashe continues the country's past with lively vocal tunes with some containing instruments. The twenty-six tunes represent a wide-breadth of music with accompanying panduri, chonguri, doli, diplipito, chiboni, garmoni, lute, bagpipe, clay drum, hand drum, and accordion. There are both male and vocal singers. The back of the CD case contains the track list with a few words about each song's origin, translation, and owner's rights. There are no in-depth liner notes and the song titles are in both Cyrillic and Roman Georgian. Some of the light instrumental accompaniment is indicative of other Central Asian and Caucasus music. Still, anyone interested in folk music from the region will love the instrumental accompaniment, as well the intriguing and somewhat meditative vocal style. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, August 21, 2015

CD Review: Vahagni's 'Imagined Frequencies'

Imagined Frequencies

Armenian-born and LA-based, Vahagni is a talented guitarist and composer with an intuitive ability to cross genres and borders with his unique musical style. Vahagni weaves through flamenco, world jazz, classical, folk, and Afro-Spanish worlds via guitars and a range of strings, percussion, and sequencing. The flamenco-induced, "Sketches of Dali," is especially intriguing and upbeat. The Afro-Spanish-influenced, "Hov arek sarer jan," contains soft vocals from Buika for an otherwise Armenian song. The serene melodies are akin to Baaba Maal or other Senegalese performers. Vahagni brings in piano, bass, drums, percussion, blul, duduk, violin, cello, and a few other instruments for an adventurous palette of sound. The dreamy and somewhat pensive, "Pendulum," is ideal for relaxing or dreaming. Over forty-minutes and eleven tracks represent a wide range of music from Vahagni that is highly-praised for good reason. Fans of Matthew Montfort and Lawson Rawlins will enjoy Vahagni. Experience Vahagni's Imagined Frequencies for yourself (and for a friend). ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, August 20, 2015

CD Review: TriBeCaStan's 'Goddess Polka Dottess'

Goddess Polka Dottess

The fifth studio recording from TriBeCaStan is yet another excellent release of truly groovy world music. The group brings in bluegrass, funk, folk, dance, middle eastern, south Asian, jazz, psych, rock, blues, pop, and other elements in magical medley of sounds. Mostly instrumental, Goddess Polka Dottess, is a whimsical title for a relatively straight-forward release, but it is not without it's ups and downs. Importantly, there is nothing bad about this album. In fact, it contains a rousing mix of melodies and rhythms that keeps one on their toes. The bouncy, Balkan-esque waltz, "Zoli's Strut," is an amazing medley of pure dance pleasure. The South Asian-inspired, "Majestic Ganesh," is one of the few vocal tracks on the album. The repertoire brings in a plethora of instruments covering a range of strings, horns, and percussion instruments for a genuine world music blend. The group is spearheaded by John Kruth and Jeff Greene and they provide some production and songwriting credits here. Overall, Goddess Polka Dottess is a great instrumental and vocal (where applicable) album of world music fusion. Try them out today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Randy Armstrong & Volker Nahrmann's 'Beyond Borders'

Randy Armstrong & Volker Nahrmann
Beyond Borders
UMP Records

Beyond Borders is beyond the ordinary when it comes to the musical explorations of Randy Armstrong and Volker Nahrmann. Upon listening to the first track, "Ciao Bella," one can easily discover the nod to groovy, South American and Brazilian brilliance with sweeping vocals, breezy percussion, and smooth rhythms punctuated with bass, guitars, and other instruments. The percussive sounds heat up on "Fear Not Fear" in a sort of instrumental jazz vein. "Shanti Om" is dedicated to Ravi Shankar and George Harrison, so you know it is going to be a good one. In fact, it contains trance-inducing sitar amidst a plethora of instrumentation that flows from one chord to another, while truly exemplifying the genre of world music. Eleven tracks are included for your listening pleasure. Travel the world through the sounds on Beyond Borders. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Dead Rock West's 'It's Everly Time!'

Dead Rock West
It's Everly Time
Angel Flight Recording Co.

The Everly Brothers, once popular in the 1950's and 60's, are resurrected here with the work of Frank Drennen and Cindy Wasserman in Dead Rock West's latest homage to The Brothers with the Grammy-winning producer, Mark Linett, on It's Everly Time. There are fifteen songs by The Everly Brothers remade by Drennen and Wasserman, but the overall sound is highly-reminiscent of the original recordings, which are due to the use of vintage amps and microphones. In addition, the same vocal keys were used to further replicate the original music. "Cathy's Clown" is ripe with great vocals, jangly guitars and percussion, and a rhythm right out of the 1950's and 60's. The swaying ballad, "June Is As Cold As December," contains Drennen and Wasserman's heart-felt vocals backed by a great guitar and percussion base. "Leave My Girl Alone" is a rather upbeat melody that is a bit of a departure from the other songs, but it is still classic Everly Brothers. "[Why Am I] Chained To A Memory" is a slower ballad with twinkling piano keys, light percussion, and guitar-work. The vocals are tender and clear throughout. A classic ode to the now-extinct phone booths, "It Only Costs A Dime," is an upbeat pop ode with light rock effects and of course, great vocals to boot. "[You Got] The Power Of Love" is a bluesy, rock song that sheds the pop-centric qualities of other songs, but the vocals are still clear and rockabilly-like. Fans of The Everly Brothers, song from the 1950's and 60's, and even Fountains of Wayne's work on the That Thing You Do! soundtrack will love it. Highly-lauded! 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jacob Davich's Self-Titled EP

Jacob Davich
Jacob Davich

A former actor turned musician, Jacob Davich releases a candid five-song EP. Jacob's folksy sing-songwriter guitar and vocals resemble the work of Jim Croce, James Taylor, and David Gray. "Don't Run Don't Hide" is a great roots-driven, folk-centric, and pop-infused medley of throbbing B3, jangly guitars, and swishy percussion. "Call My Name" is a slower, down-tempo ballad with folk and alt-country stylings. "Hold On" is another ballad with introspective lyrics and a jazzy or bluesy musical influence with piano backing and guitar accompaniment. "How You Gonna Tell Me" is a great folk-rock song with a hint of roots-driven qualities from American folk music of the 1960's and 70's. The Dylan cover, "I Shall Be Released," is a bluesy, almost gospel-driven medley of sound reflecting the music of the time that is equally-relevant today. All in all, there are four original tunes and one cover. If you are fans of the above-mentioned artists, you will definitely love Jacob Davich's new EP. Everyone else should pick it up. It's that good. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

CD Review: Bixiga 70's 'III'

Bixiga 70

III is the third album in Bixiga 70's repertoire and it serves as a perfect reference point for exploring cumbia, ethno-jazz, electronica, funk, carimbo, samba, and psychedelic creations. The instrumental effort from the Brazilian-based group, incorporates lively and punchy sax, trumpet, flute, trombone, as well as drums, keyboards, guitars, and percussion. The heady beats and swirling rhythms are trance-inducing, but always rewarding. The punchy beat culminates in a very catchy tune with an unusual title: "100% 13." At any rate, it is one of the stand-out tracks on this release. Yet, all of the tracks are noteworthy. Buy it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Edmonton Folk Music Festival 2015

I attended the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, which happened this year from August 6-9. It was quite an exciting event for me. For starters, this was the first year I actually attended on all four days.

You can read my full report at However, here are some of the personal highlights for me.

I really wanted to see The Duhks, from Winnipeg, first up on the main stage on the Thursday evening. The group combines folk, country, and bluegrass with a contemporary flair.

The Duhks - EFMF 2015

The highlight of my Friday was seeing Oysterband. From various parts of the UK, these men in black first blew me away at the 2009 Folk Fest and have been one of my favourite bands ever since. Socially conscious folk that is extremely melodic and deep.

Oysterband - EFMF 2015

Saturday was my long day at Gallagher Park. It was a huge treat to see Tinariwen from Mali present their wall of sound to Edmonton for the first time.

Tinariwen - EFMF 2015

Richard Thompson, singer/songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire, was on the main stage later in the evening.

Richard Thompson - EFMF 2015

Also, I wanted to see the hill in the darkness in person for the first time. I have seen many photos of the hill and grounds in the dark, but I could finally take a few of my own.

Edmonton Folk Music Festival - Hill and Scenery

Despite my late night on Saturday, I made it to the park bright and early on Sunday morning to see Hanggai from China in concert. Layers of sound with traditional and contemporary instruments, throat-singing, and the ability to get everyone on their feet dancing.

Hanggai - EFMF 2015

Also, as an Inside World Music exclusive: Frazey Ford, a singer/songwriter who was a founding member of the Be Good Tanyas, allowed us media types to film her first three songs in their entirety. She was on the main stage on the Friday evening to replace Sinead O'Connor, who cancelled her entire summer tour due to health issues. The Folk Fest made a great decision in picking Ford, whose lilting vocals soared over the hill.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

CD Review: Zoya's 'The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room'

The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room
Zoya Mohan Music

With a birthplace in India and a current home base in California, Zoya brings diverse vocals and eclectic instrumentation from around the contemporary world on her latest venture into quaint and quirky pop music on The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room.  The ten-track release possesses a hint of South Asian influences with neo-classical strings, varied percussion, and wind instrumentation, while the other half of the influences stem from European or North American folk, roots, and pop.

“What’s Done Is Done” opens with a soft, keyboard medley, swishy percussion, and a flute before Zoya’s slightly husky vocals commence in a sort of jazz standard arrangement.  A few cymbals crash and a snare drum add to the percussive effects.  The drums, flute, cymbals, keyboards, and strings add to the full sound.  Though, the track is only two-minutes long.  Still, the song is impressive and Zoya’s voice is enticing.

“Swim” opens with an atmospheric wash and jazzy sax with scintillating, vibraphone sounds and Zoya’s jazzy, slightly R&B vocals in a down-tempo vein.  The sounds are jazzy, urban, dreamy, and intriguing with influences mainly stemming from an edgy jazz or trip-hop foundation. Zoya’s back-up vocalists are equally amazing by filling in the melodies and rhythms.  The jaunty song brings out smooth and sultry jazz influences indicative of a Colombian or Brazilian origin. Importantly, Zoya’s eclectic arrangements make the song stand out no matter what genre it may fit in.

“Hold On” begins with a few guitar strums, a sweeping vibraphone melody, breathy flute or clarinet, and Zoya’s achingly-beautiful vocals.  The flute sounds are rather vibrant throughout, while the acoustic guitar rhythm sets the base for the vibraphone sounds with are very dreamy. Zoya’s vocals are not too unlike that of Zero 7.  The four-and-a-half-minute composition contains jazzy improvisation the last minute of the song.

“She Was” begins with a jaunty, acoustic guitar medley that is very organic and earthy, while a rustling percussive sound and string slide begins the vocal portion of the song.  Zoya’s vocals are rather theatrical amidst the diverse guitar stylings, various percussion, and slightly Middle Eastern and flamenco-tinged arrangements.  The jazzy, back-up vocals are a perfect backdrop to Zoya’s vocals, as the song matures into an instrumental frenzy before four-minutes into the song. The song ends with a lighter mix of vocals, airy sounds, and clicking percussion.   

“The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room” begins with a raw, acoustic guitar melody with sounds of kids playing early on in the song.  Zoya’s vocals are rather airy and poetic.  A variety of string and horn sounds lend a jazzy substance to the mix.  The five-minute song is poignant, delicate, and intricate in a more structured manner than anything composed by Regina Spektor. At any rate, the title track is full of edgy percussion, Middle Eastern-like instrumental arrangements, and a theatrical vein that is rather chaotic (in a good way) by the end of the song.

Zoya’s new album provides listeners with a sassy and sensual voice that seemingly changes contemporary pop and world music for the better.  The down-tempo, jazz-laden, and R&B-esque vocalizations are poetic and theatrical.  The instrumental arrangements are rather short, but diverse.  For example, there are various wind instrument sounds, vibraphone additions, and sporadic strings that are performed in non-traditional manners, which showcase Zoya’s creative edge throughout.  This is not a pop, rock, classical, new age, urban, or artsy album.  Zoya’s new work is rather indescribable, but it incorporates the vocal similarities of Katie Melua and Zero 7 with the instrumental aptitude of an eclectic or alternative songstress yearning for something more.

Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 5 Stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CD Review: Kuku's 'Ballads and Blasphemy'

Ballads and Blasphemy
Buda Musique

Steeped in Yoruban traditions and Western arrangements, Kuku creates an engaging and thought-provoking mix of Afro-pop gold and roots music. The famous Tony Allen lends his talents on "Waya" and "Owo." The album revolves around Kuku's own agnosticism when it comes to religion, which is relatively pronounced here. Still, the melodies and rhythms are great and never boring. The sparkling guitar tones and heady percussion suggest West African influences with a little Afro-Latin action, too. Nevertheless, the album shines on all cylinders--even if you cannot understand the lyrics or song origins. "La Derniere Fois" is rather bluesy with languid vocals and steady percussion. Some of the songs are in English, but Kuku breaks language barriers here. This is another high-quality release from Buda Musique! ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, July 25, 2015

CD Review: Patricia Vonne's 'Viva Bandolera'

Patricia Vonne
Viva Bandolera
Bandolera Records

Patricia Vonne's emotive Latin folk and rock music takes on new heights with soaring vocals, multi-instrumental repertoires, and a pop-edge cement the deal with Viva Bandolera. Patricia's vocals are a blend of Lila Downs and Shakira throughout. The song structures are more varied than Shakira, but rooted in the Tejano, Latin-American rock and folk of Mexico's Lila Downs. Seventeen tracks in all. Patricia brings more than basic Tex-Mex fanfare here. In fact, there are swirling melodies and rhythms with passionate and evocative vocals representing a deep, Latin-American connection, as well as American pop and rock constructions. The Spanish songs are back by great instrumentation and arrangements that do not disappoint. Get it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CD Review: Honeybird's 'Out Comes Woman'

Out Comes Woman
Duckhead Green Music

Honeybird incorporates a variety of world, jazz, urban, classical, and pop elements on Out Comes Woman. The fourteen tracks are uniquely-named and equally-enthralling from a musical perspective. Some of the titles include, "TMBLGBT," "Ex-Spearmint," and "Bi Dead Chickens." Some of the vocals are arranged in a scat jazz setting, while others are set in a theatrical or artsy context with whimsical instrumentation and short or fast beats. This is not a power pop album or rock album, for that matter. Instead, it is filled with poignant melodies, diverse vocals, and varied instrumentation arranged in delicate ways. The vocals are often reduced in more of a spoken word or poetic delivery--especially on "Wanted In Wanted Out." At any rate, Honeybird creates some sweet tunes for anyone looking for something different. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Donna De Lory's 'Universal Light'

Donna De Lory
Universal Light

The contemporary kirtan and dance princess, Donna De Lory, brings life to songs inspired from the heavens above on Universal Light. This album contains a dozen songs with remixes from some of the hottest DJ's and maestros around, including Carmen Rizzo, Atom Smith, Drumspyder, Willie Lewis, David Starfire, Freq Nasty, and Dub Kirtan Allstars. "Gayatri Mantra," "The Offering," "Praying For Love," "Jai Mata Kali," "Om Namah Shivayah," and "Luciana" are more dance-centered tracks. There is a trip-hop-infused version of the Christian classic, "Amazing Grace," while "Om Tare Tuttare," "Amma," and "By Your Grace" are more down-tempo and kirtan-influenced with lighter melodies and rhythms. Donna's vocals are bright, clear, and most of all--universal! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Gao Hong and Friends' 'Pipa Potluck'

Gao Hong and Friends
Pipa Potluck

Pipa, a Chinese plucked lute, is the central component of the new album, Pipa Potluck, by Gao Hong and several guest musicians. This is where Asian folk meets American roots, bluegrass, and classical music. The instrumental album begins with a rousing bluegrass number, "Cluck Old Hen," which features the banjo of Alison Brown, the fiddle by Matt Combs, and bass by Garry West. "Friendship" is more of a contemplative Arabic concoction with oud, percussion, and of course, the pipa. The pipa and guitar complement each other quite nicely on the excellent "Golden Season." Likewise, the slack key guitar by George Kahumoku, Jr. and the pipa create another friendly and enjoyable medley on "Mosquito Song." The bluegrass and folk stylings come back on "Sally Johnson." The serene "Lutes Around The World" finishes the album with poignant strings and delightful melodies. Fans of strings, lutes, Chinese folk, neo-classical, new age, bluegrass, Arabic, folk, Americana, and world music in general will love to sample Pipa Potluck. Remember to leave room on your plate for additional listens! ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CD Review: Daby Toure's 'Amonafi'

Daby Toure 

Daby Toure comes from Mauritania--a Saharan country in North Africa. However, his music is trans-African and even trans-global in nature. It is filled with catchy Afro-pop hooks from the get-go. He achieved worldwide fame with Stereo Spirit and Diam--and now Amonafi continues to celebrate his unique voicings and guitar styles. Many of the songs build upon earlier song styles on previous albums, but Daby creates all new music that is slightly different overall. There are a few very characteristic Daby Toure songs here, including "Oma," "Emma," "Little Song," "If You," "Debho," and "Soninko." Amonafi, which means, 'once upon a time,' in the Wolof language, is a great analogy to what Daby does best: tell stories in an infectious, musical pattern with diverse vocal ranges and scintillating guitar-work. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Vishten's 'Terre Rouge'

Terre Rouge
Les Editions Du Corfus

The folksy trio, Vishten, hails from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and thrill audiences everywhere with their unique blend of Francophone folk, fiddle tunes, ballads, and roots music. Some of the more instrumental tunes are quite suitable for dancing and foot-stomping, while the vocal tunes incorporate a little pop and roots for a truly French-Canadian or European-infused musical ride. Besides vocals, whistles, mandolins, piano, bodhran, jaw harp, guitar, accordion, and bass synth instruments fill in the repertoire. The rousing melodies are ideal for relaxing, dancing, and meditating upon the wondrous skills of Vishten. Fans of Heidi Talbot, Karine Polwart, Varttina, and fellow-countrywomen--Natalie MacMaster and April Verch--will find happiness in the tunes on Terre Rouge. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Dolomites' 'Japan Years Volumes I, II, & III'

The Dolomites
Japan Years Volumes I, II, & III [3-CD]
Alien Arts Alliance

The Dolomites, led by Stevhen Koji Baianu, create stirring melodies and rhythms caught between the past and the future by incorporating a mix of influences from Japanese enka to gypsy, Balkan-inspired tunes, and Latin-American cumbia. Confused yet? Need not be. The group, which consists of nearly 70 members from different areas of the globe, celebrates the best of their work in a three-volume EP set comprised of certain years, such as 2006-2009, 2007-2010, and 2006-2010. Each album contains five tracks for approximately twenty-minutes an album. There is a mix of music on each album, but all of it draws upon electronica, cumbia, folk, roots, Balkan, Gypsy, neo-classical, enka, horn-powered ballads, and quirky, percussive renderings throughout. Stevhen's vocals are ruddy and charismatic with similarities to darker Russian folk groups or even ErsatzMusika from Germany. Moreover, the album art should clue you in that this is going to be an interesting ride. For instance, the Jamiroquai or Batman-influenced silhouette artwork on the back of the albums should alert everyone that this is a unique production. Though, some of the vocals are a little rough, out of tune, or drunk-like in nature, but that does not make it a terrible listen. In fact, anyone seeking unique, world music with numerous geographic influences will find The Dolomites solid as a rock (pun intended). ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Expanders' 'Hustling Culture'

The Expanders
Hustling Culture
Easy Star Records

Hailing from California with a sound from Jamaica, The Expanders expand their horizons (and ours!) with their new reggae-infused, Hustling Culture. The roots-influenced, rock and reggae beats grace all the tracks on this urban and contemporary-inspired release. The deep bass beats and syncopation are iconic in reggae music from Jamaica and contemporary reggae music from around the world. A dozen tunes of reggae bliss blast from the album with soothing beats, diverse percussion, and great vocals that do not miss a step. The upbeat and catchy ballad, "Piece Of Love," is a reggae anthem worthy of global praise and multiple listens. The laid-back, syncopated beats of "People Business" showcases a lighter side of reggae. Overall, The Expanders are very talented and do not have trouble creating beautiful songs that will stand the test of time. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Afro-Caribbean Party'

Various Artists
Afro-Caribbean Party

Putumayo releases another gem of a recording and this time they celebrate the music of Afro-Caribbean lands for their aptly-titled, Afro-Caribbean Party. The new album contains a cast of ten different musicians hailing from Martinique, Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba. You will hear the Cape Verde and New Orleans jazz-inspired medley of Kali, rolling reggae melodies by Clinton Fearon, jazzy ska by Ska Cubano and Wesli, Afro-Latin dance by Michel Blaise, Latin jazz from Asere, Mandingo reggae with Famara, island rhythms from Jan Sebon and Kazak International, Afro-Latin jazz and folk with a classic tone by Chispa Labori, and mostly instrumental Bahamian folk music from Fred Ferguson & Grafitti. The diverse musical line-up showcases a good overview of typical Afro-Caribbean examples, but it is in no way complete or covers strictly traditional music from the above-mentioned regions. Still, it is a vibrant and dance-worthy album that runs a little short (38:42), but it makes up for it with repeated listens. Plus, a refreshing Caribbean punch recipe is included. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tina Malia's 'Bridge To Vallabha'

Tina Malia
Bridge To Vallabha

Tina Malia discovered the great mantras of South Indian devotional music just before working with Jai Uttal's Pagan Love Orchestra. Falling in love with Sanskrit mantras, Tina has released four previous albums covering different aspects of mantra music. The latest offering, Bridge To Vallabha, contains a host of vocalists, including Karnamrita Dasi, Peia, Donna DeLory, Heather Wertheimer, Jai-Jagdeesh, Sasha Rose, Al Torre, and a few others. In addition, Tina is not only a vocalist, but a skilled musician on various guitars, Rhodes, synths, vibraphone, charangon, and percussion. The rather symphonic, spacious, and awe-inspiring songs bring in cello, sarangi, lap steel, bass, tabla, piano, and shaker for a more textured result. The music is not as dance or urban-oriented as Wah! or Donna DeLory, but the end result is still impressive. There are mostly Sanskrit chants throughout, but a nod to Hebrew and Native American influences are present on two separate tracks. At any rate, Tina's vocals are atmospheric, light, and brilliant--all in the same breath. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Elida Almeida's 'Ora Doci Ora Marcos'

Elida Almeida
Ora Doci Ora Marcos

Elida Almeida's beautiful vocals electrify the music on Ora Doci Ora Marcos. The Cape Verde-native brings us thirteen songs of inner joy for a truly enjoyable journey into the traditional, yet contemporary, music from the islands. There are plenty of acoustic guitars, piano, percussion, bass, and ethnic grooves  that combine Portuguese folk with Afro-Latin rhythms and melodies. The soulful songs are very entertaining and diverse, but always memorable--in a good way. Elida's vocals are timeless and very moving. The vocals are especially outstanding on "Nhu Santiago," "Di Mi Ku Bo," "Mar Sagrado," "Djam Nkrel Pa Mi," and others. The upbeat music of "Txiku Branku" showcases Elida's creative vocals and dance-worthy, Cape Verde-beat elements. Fans of neo-classical, folk, Latin, Portuguese, Cape Verde, Afro-Latin, and island music will love Elida's latest effort. ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, July 13, 2015

CD Review: David Correa's 'New Moon'

David Correa
New Moon
BajaTSR Records

David Correa is a very talented Spanish guitar player from California with a knack for flamenco, rumba, and folk song structures over a fifty-minute medley of heavenly sounds in an instrumental arrangement. However, "Tierra Roja" is the only track with vocals, which are provided by David himself. The tunes are not just Spanish guitar tunes--they are complex creations of musical delight backed by a slew of instruments, including bass, palmas, drums, congas, bongo, cajon, darbuka, udu, timbale, violin, and other acoustic guitars. The Spanish guitar is the lead instrument on this album. The melodies ebb-and-flow with a calming influence throughout. The plaintive, yet up-beat musical tone is refreshing and relaxing. Fans of Matthew Montfort and Lawson Rollins will love David Correa's latest venture. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Shankar Tucker's 'Filament'

Shankar Tucker
Shrutibox Music

Shankar Tucker's new album, Filament, brings together neo-classical stylings, Hindustani classical music, and Western traditions in a contemporary context for both voice and instrument. Shankar is a clarinetist, but also adds vocals, guitarist, keyboardist, pianist, and percussionist to his list of talents. The wildly effervescent clarinet on "Chal Chal Sakhi" is especially intriguing, along with the vocals of Ankita Joshi. The heavily-laden cast of musicians on "Aa Re Chanda" brings out the classical, contemporary dance, and Indian music across form different forms: alaap, exposition, improvisation, and tillana. The vocals of Vijay Prakash on "Dil Hai Namazi" are very serene and ballad-like. The song is backed by Shankar's clarinet with tabla, cello, drums, keyboards, and guitar for a more modern arrangement. The more modern "Kashti" contains all the great tabla rhythms, percussion, and clarinet, but it adds the sweet vocals of Nikhita Gandhi for a truly remarkable result. Overall, Filament turns out to be the real-life thread that bridges the musical gap between the East and the West. ~ Matthew Forss    

CD Review: Toto La Momposina's 'Tambolero'

Toto La Momposina
Real World

Colombia's Toto La Momposina has done for Colombia what Cesaria Evora did for the Cape Verdes--bring vibrant, traditional music to the indigenous peoples, as well as people and cultures beyond their respective country's borders. Spanning nearly sixty-years in the musical realm, Toto La Momposina brings together the ethnic influences of African, Indian, and Spanish roots for a re-imagined hour of music originally released in 1993 as La Candela Viva. My first taste of Toto La Momposina's music began in 2000 with Pacanto (World Village). The same musical styles are present, but Tambolero is more rhythmic, dynamic, and percussion-friendly. There are dance-worthy tunes throughout. The fusion of traditional South American and Latin American instrumentation and melodies makes this one stand-out from 'typical' Latin or Spanish releases. A dozen tracks grace the album with tons of traditional elements and vocal gems. There are airy flutes on "Curura" and rapid hand-claps on "Gallinacito." Other attributes include heavy percussion, poignant ballads, and mesmerizing and complex melodies--which are also quite timeless. Fans of tropical, folk, traditional Spanish, Latin, South American, and Colombian music will be fascinated by the colorful tunes of Toto La Momposina's Tambolero. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

CD Review: Jeff Oster's 'next'

Jeff Oster
Retso Records

Jeff' Oster is a very accomplished and revered trumpet and flugelhorn player. On next, which is purposefully-lower-cased, Jeff presents us with twelve unique gifts--gifts of music where each track is new and delightfully-inviting. The instrumental album contains a few spoken word lines, but that is it. The music is very relaxing, jazz-centered, and new age brilliant. In some cases, the percussive beat incorporates horns, guitars, piano, and other instruments. The title track, "Next," is a great introduction to the album with a rousing beat, swishy percussion, a jazzy vein, and sultry horn punctuated with crystal, clear keyboard tones. "Night Train To Sofia" begins with a sultry beat, atmospheric washes, horn accompaniment, and background voices that fill the instrumental track with Bulgarian-inspired choral vocals. "Half A Cookie" opens with atmospheric sounds, jazzy horns, light percussion, and a steady, new age beat with bright piano infusions and spacious soundscapes. "Heroes" is a triumphant horn tune with upbeat percussion in true Oster-fashion. All in all, Jeff brings in a talented group of musicians, producers, and talents, including Nile Rodgers, Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Tony Levin, Michael Manring, Will Ackerman, Todd Boston, Shambhu, Carl Weingarten, Philip Aaberg, Catherine Marie Charlton, Ricky Kej, Bob Ludwig, Tom Eaton, and everyone at the great Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, USA. Fans of new age, jazz, instrumental, lounge, and atmospheric music will love it. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Song Reviews: Alpine Camp's ''Regrets of A Cosmic Mountaineer" and "Seven Miles"

The Alpine Camp
Songs: "Regrets of A Cosmic Mountaineer" and "Seven Miles"

The Alpine Camp is a musical duo that comprises the work of Chris Bell and Charles Etienne. Chris is the primary guitarist and vocalist, while Charles is a pianist and vocalist. The duo brings in Jeff Stella on bass, Shad Wilhelm on drums, Bob Hamilton on banjo, and Jamison Hollister on lap steel. "Regrets of a Cosmic Mountaineer" opens with whining lap steel, uppity piano  melodies, rootsy percussion, and old-time folk elements wrapped around a catchy chorus with fast vocals and banjo stylings caught amid a roots and rock vein. The sub-three-minute track ends with a repetitive vocal line and guitar arrangement in a folksy context without any issues. "Seven Miles"  opens with a contemplative banjo tune with down-tempo drums and percussion amid jazz-standard and blues vocals in a classic R&B set-up. This seems to be executed in a very classic manner with a big nod to Americana tunes coming out in the 1960's and 70's. Though, as a completely original song, it stands alone with a complex categorization somewhere between folk, roots, rock, jazz, blues, and pop standard styles. The diverse stylings are still commendable and enjoyable throughout the above-mentioned tracks. 5 stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

CD Review: Desert Dwellers' 'The Great Mystery'

Desert Dwellers
The Great Mystery
Black Swan Sounds

Amani Friend and Treavor Moontribe are Desert Dwellers that bring out the best in world rhythms, dance, electronica, chill, and down-tempo. The California duo amass an onslaught of atmospheric blurbs, washes, and arrangements that combine with world rhythms, voices, and styles that create a stellar musical result. There are some dance-worthy tunes here, but a lot of world percussion in parts keeps everything rather chilled. The upbeat, electronic sounds and beats creates a moving thriller or suspense film result that could be used on a film. Also, the music is relaxed enough in some places that allows it to work just as well in a down-tempo or lounge format ideal for relaxing, studying, or related activities. The ten tracks provide a diverse selection of tunes, sounds, and emotions that will satisfy everyone's inner psyche. The Great Mystery is not so mysterious, but it challenges the mind, body, and spirit with delectable sounds that nourish the soul. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Taraf de Haidouks' 'Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts'

Taraf de Haidouks
Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts
Crammed Discs

The iconic, Gypsy music band from Romania, Taraf de Haidouks, releases yet another glorious album of European and Turkish-infused tunes with a bit of Romanian pizzazz and Balkan candor. The fourteen, dizzying tunes feature the best in Gypsy strings, wind instruments, percussion, and other indelible musical attributes that are top-notch. There are instrumental portions, but this is not an instrumental album. The vocals are very straight-forward, earthy, and neo-classical. The jaunty rhythms are what you would expect from a group of this caliber. Every song is like a mini-party that is full of high energy and nostalgic embellishments. The track titles are translated in English and Romanian on the album. The liner notes contain English and French translations of song meanings. Overall, fans of Gypsy music should already know about Taraf de Haidouks, but if not, this would be an excellent introduction to the band. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Chico Trujillo's 'Reina De Todas Las Fiestas'

Chico Trujillo
Reina De Todas Las Fiestas
Barbes Records

Chilean cumbia, pop, and rock maestros, Chico Trujillo, bring out the inner dance in all of us when the percussion, guitars, horns, and vocals come out on their latest release, Reina De Todas Las Fiestas, which roughly translates to 'Queen Of All Feasts.' Well, feast your ears on these guys. There are some great South American rhythms here, such as the uppity "Alturas" with pan flute type sounds and steady percussion and a great beat. "Chatito" is another great tune with bouncy bass, heavy percussion, and a playful melody with loads of horn sounds and keyboard sounds. There are nine tracks, which span the gamut from Latin jazz, cumbia, pop, rock, Latin beat, South American pop, and neo-soul wanderings. Chico Trujillo brings out the best in cumbia beats. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: SLV's 'This Kind'

This Kind

SLV is Sandra Lilia Velasquez and the lead singer for the Latin band, Pistolera. SLV incorporates the work of Jordan Scannella from the electronic music group, Tortured Soul, as well as Nick Zammuto from an another electronic band. Is the music Latin, electronic, pop, or rock? Well, This Kind is special, because it includes musical styles that are rather undefinable. The influence is pop, while electronica leanings fill in the rest of the sound. "Limits" and "Situation" are an excellent example of pop/rock deliciousness with catchy melodies and great vocals. However, there are even reggae-type rhythms, new age orchestrations, and South American contemporary elements--notably from Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. Importantly, this is not a traditional album, but an album with modern elements with light ethnic ties. Still, SLV shines with great rhythms, sounds, and melodies that are rather fluid and emotive. Think of Katie Melua meets Ceu. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tipsy Oxcart's 'Upside Down'

Tipsy Oxcart
Upside Down

Balkan music from Brooklyn? Yes, indeed. The instrumental ensemble creates dance-friendly tunes with lively percussion, trumpets, baritone/alto/tenor sax, trombone, accordion, violin, electric bass, and drums. Though, some of the songs are more contemplative and serene, a majority of the tracks are upbeat, edgy, and full of high-energy. "Homecoming" contains a Balkan-beat that is reminiscent of South American cumbia, but in a Balkan form. The frenzied "Tutti Frutti" is a rousing track with blaring horns, bubbly bass, and punchy drum beats throughout. There are eleven tracks in all. With track titles as diverse as "Fax Mission," "Honey Dripper," "Tipska," "Bone Dance," and others, Upside Down will astonish you with their uncanny rhythms and contemporary sounds in pure, Balkan music form. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CD Review: Ola Fresca's 'Elixir'

Ola Fresca
Pipiki Records

Cuban-American singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer, Jose Conde, spices things up with a heady mix of Latin sounds and rhythms with his band, Ola Fresca. Steeped in a rich history of Cuban son, rumba, timba, salsa, Puerto Rican influences, and related styles, Elixir attempts to convey a tropical message of percussion-heavy, musical tunes. The nine energetic tracks are marked by great vocals, heavy percussion, sweeping piano, and traditional instrumentation for a truly magical experience. The Latin horns are equally enthralling and cement Ola Fresca's musical presence in Latin, Caribbean, and tropical genres. This is ideal for tropical, beach parties, lounging, weddings, or other special occasions. It is even suitable for lazy, unproductive days when you can't (or won't) do any chores! Available as a download, CD, or LP. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Adham Shaikh's 'Basswalla'

Adham Shaikh
Black Swan Records

Adham Shaikh's dedication to ambient and electronic music forms began nearly twenty-five years. Basswalla is an interpretation of earlier songs, but new tracks appear, too. The instrumental gems are punctuated by sporadic vocals throughout. However, the instrumental prowess of Adham's music is at the forefront. There are urban elements, South Asian fusion, electronic wizardry, and trance-driven honey that flows from creative places within Adham's soul for all to enjoy. There are some atmospheric moments, as well as percussion-driven displays of superior musicianship in places. Most of the tracks are fairly long: many songs over five minutes, which are great for a worthwhile and value-packed album. The various songs are permeated with South Asian percussion, wind instruments, and electronic blurbs that are wrapped around a delicious, urban beat that stands alone. Every track is great. Buy it today! ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

CD Review: Novalima's 'Planetario'

Wonderwheel Recordings

Afro-Peruvian musical connections have been Novalima's mainstay. Planetario is no exception, as the group continues to perform and preserve Afro-Peruvian and Afro-Colombian stylings, while maintaining a unique identity. The cumbia beat of "Beto Kele" represents a very earthy and infectious track with great percussion and vocals. The entrancing and addictive "Memekume" is more contemporary, but full of trippy elements and sporadic percussion. Novalima brings in artists as far away as the UK, Colombia, and Spain for a globetrotting, musical result that is anything but boring. If edgy, modern, and world-infused musical concoctions are what you seek, then Novalima's Planetario is a must-have. ~ Matthew Forss