New World Music Reviews

Welcome to my "New World Music" page, which highlights new(ish) African, Asian, Latin American and Celtic records, and "miscellaneous" records that I had the good fortune to check out in May-June, 2009. This page is added to as new records come in... If you want more to read more reviews, many others are archived nearby, and there are separate sections for various kinds of world music that you might like exploring as well.

Recommended Records: May-June, 2009 | Review Archives

Eva Ayllon "Kimba Fa" (Times Square, 2009)
(Produced by Juan Morillo, Javier Neciosup & Allan Phillips)

A nice new set from one of Peru's reigning divas of popular and folkloric song... This album opens up with a pair of sinuous, robust, salsa-flavored dance tunes, replete with Afro-Peruvian percussion. Then comes my personal favorite off the album, "El Surco," a multi-layered acoustic song; the rest of the record drifts into jazzier, poppier territory, akin to the sleek sounds of Cuba's Irakere. Ayllon's impassioned, aging-yet-energetic vocals are buoyed by strong, sympathetic arrangements; longtime fans will be delighted while newcomers may find this an entryway into modern Peruvian music.

Blick Bassy "Leman" (Four Quarters, 2009)
(Produced by Jean-Louis Solans & Jean Lamoot)

A super-mellow acoustic-pop debut from this wispy Cameroonian crooner. The style is descended from crossover-y superstars such as Salif Keita and Youssou N'Dour, although Bassy seems content to linger amid less adventurous arrangements, crafting quiet, lulling tunes full of gentle rhythms and demure sprinklings of African instruments such as the kora and calabash. The style suits his voice, which is calm almost to the point of retiring. It's a pretty-sounding record that many will find rich as well as relaxing -- a little too soft and pop for my tastes, but like so many albums, the more I listen, the more I like. Definitely worth checking out.

Francoiz Breut "A L'Aveuglette" (Le Pop Musik, 2008)
French nouvelle scene chanteuese Francoiz Breut shifts gears a bit for a more upbeat, more conventionally indie-rock outing... There's still some moody material, but on the whole this is a more playful and overtly guitar-oriented album. She still has that same Nico-esque whisper, just with a hint of a more lighthearted approach this time around. Co-composer/arranger Boris Gronemberger adds his touches, but this is unmistakably Breuterrific... If you're a fan, you'll want to check this out!

Eliyahu & The Quadim Ensemble "Eastern Wind" (Embarka, 2009)
(Produced by Eliyahu Sills)

A wide-ranging tour of various Middle-Eastern and Asian musical styles, spanning Armenian, Jewish, Turkish and Arabic traditions, much of it either religious material, or based on romantic poetry. Oudist Eliyahu Sills leads this expansive small ensemble from the San Francisco Bay Area, playing several different instruments as well as singing in an impassioned, almost cantorial voice. This performances are lively and heartfelt, a deep exploration into a rich musical heritage.

Instituto El Cimarron "Music From Argentina: Folk Music & Tangos" (Arc Music, 2009)
(Produced by Guy Tourville)

A vibrant, multi-textured set from Argentina exploring various folk styles as well as the ever-present tango. Some of the non-tango acoustic numbers are gorgeous, even revelatory, as they show us melodies and styles that were previously heard only on rather arid old records; here, they get a richer, more modern treatment, bringing the folk music of the zamba, the milonga and even a dash of the South American polka out of the dustbins and into the present. And, of course, there's a bunch of tango as well, but as with the folk songs, the tangos feel somehow fresher and more nuanced than the severe, standard-issue stuff we normally hear. Worth checking out!

Klezmer Juice "Klezmer Juice 2: Yiddish Lidele" (Arc Music, 2009)
(Produced by Gustavo Bulgach)

Modern Jewish klezmer music with some interesting crosscultural touches. The tango makes an appearance on several tunes, including "Librescu Tango," "Gedenk" and "Happy Nigun" (which is probably my favorite track on the album). Meanwhile, Dick Dale's surf classic, "Miserlu," is brought back to its Jewish roots while being given a new, Asian twist with the addition of a sitar to play counterpoint to the ecstatic melody, while that other wedding-band warhorse, "Hava Nagila," absorbs a dark, reverby electric guitar, half Eddie Cochran, half Tom Waits. Clarinetist Gustavo Bulgach leads throughout, exuding a soaring, emphatic presence... Like all klezmer albums, you kinda have to be in the right mood, but if you're into it, this certainly has a lot of innovative, original arrangements. Worth checking out.

Mariachi Real De San Diego "Mariachi Classics" (Mardi Gras Records, 2009)
(Produced by Mauricio Gonzales)

Founded in 1978, this California-based traditional band plays mariachi music with great affection and brio. To my untrained ear, these performances sound a little less tinny than what I hear on ranchera radio (but then again, I'm not hearing this on an AM station...) Part of the difference is that this is a smaller ensemble, a six-piece with only two trumpets, so the horns don't blare; the vocals, while robust, are also rich and relaxed, and don't go for the keening, searching quality of more emotive singers. This particular album is the result of some determined crate-digging in the record bins of Mexico City, looking for classic songs that have dropped out of the repertoire; I'm not that familiar with the canon, but these renditions certainly sound nice. Certainly worth checking out if you're into the style.

Babatunde Olatunji "Drums Of Passion (Legacy Edition)" (Sony-BMG Legacy, 2009)
Listened back to from the vantage point of a world exposed to several glorious decades of "world music," this stark set of percussion-based songs by Nigerian expatriate Babatunde Olatunji may seem a bit plain and untextured. Still, the fact that it's sold over five million copies since it first came out in 1960 shows that there was a hunger among the American record buying public for something new, and more importantly, something authentic. By the time Olatunji's album came out, the jazz world had already spent over a decade searching for one "new sound" or another to inject into the mix: mambo-inspired Latin riffs swept through the bebop scene in the late '40s, grandiose composers such as Stan Kenton and Duke Ellington had pawed through the cutures of Cuba, Spain, Asia and Brazil, looking for new melodies and modes to work with. But, as they say, there's nothing like the real thing. Olantuji's primally arranged drumming, with its brusque muscularity and vibrant call-and-response chants, certainly delivered the goods on that front. This album certainly marks a major landmark in the history of global musical culture... And fans of African drumming will certainly be dazzled to hear the brightly remastered version of the newly-expanded CD version. The new, 50th-anniversary edition also includes a second disc with the More Drums Of Passion album, each CD with several dazzling bonus tracks, including several that were previously unreleased in the USA, such as "African Waltz" and the luxurious, ten-minute long jam, "Hail The King." Definitely worth checking out!

Tito Puente "Dance Mania (Legacy Edition)" (Sony-BMG Legacy, 2009)
A deluxe 2-CD reissue of the best-known album from the legendary nuyoriquen bandleader Tito Puente... Originally released in 1958, Dance Mania was a sizzling set that helped solidify the popularity of the mambo craze, and made Tito Puente a household name. Fifty-plus years later and it still sounds great, as does the 1960 follow-up, Dance Mania, v.2, which is included here as well. Both original albums were short by today's standards -- about forty minutes long -- and Sony Legacy (bless their little hearts) takes the opportunity to stuff an extra twenty-one tracks on, including outtakes and alternates, as well as a bunch of other tunes from the same era. It's classic mambo and Latin Jazz -- dense musical ideas set to addictive rhythms, with Puente's jaw-dropping percussion throughout. All killer, no filler!

The Rail Band "Belle Epoque, v.1: Soundiata" (Stern's Africa, 2008)

The Rail Band "Belle Epoque, v.2: Mansa" (Stern's Africa, 2008)

The Rail Band "Belle Epoque, v.3: Dioba" (Stern's Africa, 2009)

Tahiti Here Group "Music From The South Pacific" (Arc Music, 2009)
(Produced by Guy Tourville)

An outstanding set of traditional music from Tahiti, from one of Polynesia's premier music and dance folklore troupes. The album alternates between rough-hewn percussion, in the uniquely brusque, no-nonsense Tahitian drumming style and vocal numbers that combine gruff vocals and sweet, strangely alluring harmonies. The songs will seem most accessible to listeners who have some exposure to Hawaiian music; the words sounds the same, the melodies and harmonies are familiar, and there's a ton of hot ukulele playing as well. (The uke work doesn't offer much in the way of melody or lead, but for rhythm playing, it's incredibly skillful and complex.) This record has a lot to offer: local dance groups in particular will find this to be a rich resource for both songs and innovative drumming tracks. Recommended!

Jacqueline Taieb "The Complete Masterworks Of The French Mademoiselle" (Anthology's, 2008)
Born in Tunisia, Jacqueline Taieb was a French ye-ye rock singer of the late 1960s whose sassy, rambling popadelic rap, "7 Heures Du Mat" ("7 a.m.") is a cult classic. This disc collects fifteen vintage tracks by this adventurous singer-songwriter, most of which seems to be of the same late-'Sixties vintage (although a couple of tracks sounds like later stuff from the '70s...) It's mostly music hall-tinged psych-rock, similar to that of Jacques Dutronc or Michel Polnarneff, with that distinctive slapdash feel that the French major labels afforded their teenybopper pop singles. Most of these tracks sound like they were recorded in a rush, with little or no time to re-do anything, which can be both a blessing or a liability; on the best tracks, Taieb's insouciant, puckish personality comes through and illuminates the arrangements. On a few songs, such as Bienvenue Au Pays," her voice sounds leaden and weak, but since so many other tracks are so much fun, I figure it had more to do with what was happening in the studio than with her innate talent. Taieb also adds hints of her Arabic culture to a few songs, notably on "Juste Un Peu D'Amour," which combines Saharan rhythms with Indian sitar riffs. Overall, this is a pretty fun, lively rock collection, and anyone who's delving into French ye-ye will be happy tracking this one down.

Various Artists "PUTUMAYO PRESENTS: ITALIA" (Putumayo, 2009)
A really sweet set of modern Italian pop, with a gentle adult pop-folk edge. Forget about those old Italian icons of accordions and mandolins, unless they're in a sexy tango or a country-flavored tune: this ain't your stereotypical "old country" Italian collection. This set opens with Simone Lo Porto's entrancing bossa-Americana flavored "Il Giralsoe," and moves into jazzy folk by the band Rossomalpelo and a tango ballad by Alessandro Pitoni... There's wide stylistic variety here, but a similar mellow tone and rich musicality throughout, with echos of Tom Waits, Bill Frissell, and any number of French acoustic music revivalists. I'm not readily tapped into the Italian musical scene (their 1970s and '80s pop music scared me off...) but this album was a pleasant surprise; the more I listen, the more I like it. No sign of Paolo Conte, but then again there's no Mina or disco, either. A nice selection of a rich, vibrant contemporary scene, definitely worth checking out.

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