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 Winter, 2009-2010. 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: Winter, 2009-2010 | Review Archives

Tinashe Chidanyika "Sounds Of The African Mbira" (Arc Music, 2009)
(Produced by Barry Van Zyl)

Eerie, weird, unusual, evocative and traditional music played on the Zimbabwean mbira, or thumb piano. Although mbiras have been used on uptempo popular music in recent years, here the music is languid and haunting, and the structure is so different from what we have been trained to hear that there is a sensation of being adrift or aloft, over a cavernous precipice; the easily recognized supports of modern music are largely absent, and listeners have to give themselves over to unfamiliar, cyclical rhythms and chants. It's an entirely pleasant experience, buoyed by gentle, finely textured sounds and a mysteriously comforting vibe. I'm reminded of Francis Bebey's "Akwaaba" album, although this is less stark and a bit warmer -- definitely worth checking out, although it might take a while to get onto the right wavelength.

Nahini Doumbia "Percussion And Songs From Mali" (Arc Music, 2009)
So much attention is given in world music releases to guitar-based and kora music from Mali, it's nice to hear a record that concentrates more on percussion for once. Drummer Nahini Doumbia and his band Les Espoirs Du Mali showcase plenty of dazzling percussion, along with some nice balafon (marimba) playing, and hearty vocals. A nice bit of something slightly different, though still deeply rooted in traditional Malian culture.

Cesaria Evora "Nha Sentimento" (Lusafrica, 2009)
Another utterly gorgeous album from Cesaria Evora, the queen of the Cape Verde singers... I have to confess that in recent years my attention had wandered away from Ms. Evora's work; after she hit a certain level of global fame, her records started sounding a bit too predictable and ornate. I'm not sure what the difference is here -- less heavy orchestration, a return to simpler, more acoustic instrumentation, or maybe just a simple reconnection with the magic and her muse. At any rate, this is a lovely record -- mysterious, evocative, alluring, pleasantly open-ended in a way that make you wish for more -- every bit as satisfying as her previous masterpiece, 1999's Cafe Atlantico. Highly recommended!

Golden Bough "Celtic Love Songs" (ARC Music, 2009)
(Produced by Paul Espinoza & Golden Bough)

Somewhat syrupy renditions of sentimental old ballads... I like the songs, actually -- a nice repertoire! -- although the performances from this long-lived California-based trio are a little cloying, if truth be told. Good musicianship, though, and great old tunes, not all of which are, strictly speaking, romantic love songs. Despite his last name, the group's male singer, Paul Espinoza, has a lovely, lilt-y, brogue-y voice, in the classic Irish style. The female vocals, from Margie Butler and Kathy Sierra (often singing in harmony) are a bit too trilling and precious (despite occasional glimmers of a more rugged, Maddy Prior-like keening). Overall this is a fine album, and listeners with a higher tolerance than I for sugary-sounding folk music will find a lot to enjoy here.

The House Devils "Irish Folk -- Adieu To Old Ireland" (ARC Music, 2009)
Robust, hearty Irish folk music in the style of classic trad bands such as Planxty, the Bothy Band and even cheerful old-timers like the Clancy Brothers. A nice, strong album with good material -- this Manchester-based UK band is tapped directly into the deep wellspring of high-energy live performances that make the Celtic tradition so compelling and vital... Definitely worth checking out!

Insingizi "Voices Of Southern Africa, v.2" (Arc Music, 2009)
(Produced by Hubert Weninger)

Exquisite a capella vocals from a Zimbabwean trio singing in the same style as South Africa's fabled Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It's amazing that there are only three voices making such as rich, expansive sound; even the finest doo-wop trios would have been hard pressed to create such rich harmonies. If you like Ladysmith or other Mbube vocals, you'll want to check these guys out, too. With lyrics in Ndebele, with a peppering of religious words such as "hallelujah." Lovely stuff.

King Selewa "Calypso: Back To Me Home" (ARC Music, 2009)
(Produced by Palmito)

A white calypso enthusiast -- born in Africa, now living in France -- King Selewa has absorbed numerous styles of music, notably Jamaican reggae, African popular and traditional music and -- especially -- Trinidadian calypso. This disc has a nice, earnest feel, a bit goofy at times, but that's in keeping with the original vibe of vintage calypso. I bet these guys'd be pretty fun to see live!

Tom Lellis & The Metropole Orchestra "Skylark" (Adventure Music, 2009)
Sinatra-esque vocalist Tom Lellis, backed by the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, inserts a couple of Brazilian composers -- Toninho Horta and Tom Jobim -- into an album of orchestral pop/jazz ballads, alongside North American jazz composers such as Hoagy Carmichael, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, as well as trio of his own original tunes. It's not really my kinda vocals music, but it's very solid for the style: if you liked the Sinatra-Jobim sessions, you might want to check this out.

Os Mutantes "Haih Or Amortecedor" (Anti, 2009)

Otto "Certa Manha Acordei De Sonhos Intranquilos" (Nublu, 2009)

Monica Salmaso "Noites De Gala, Samba Na Rua -- Ao Vivo" (Biscoito Fino, 2009)

The Unthanks "Here's The Tender Coming" (EMI, 2009)

Vayo "Tango" (Pantaleon, 2009)
(Produced by Vayo Raimondo)

Self-produced DIY tango, with predictable flourishes of both sentiment and power...Vayo's previous album was nominated for a Latin Grammy; this one may also appeal to tango fans with a taste for something traditional yet original and contemporary. I'm not much of a tango devotee myself, but this seems worth checking out if you're into the style.

Caetano Veloso & Roberto Carlos "...E A Musica De Tom Jobim" (Sony-Brazil, 2008)
Looking on the surface, the pairing of Caetano Veloso and Roberto Carlos, who are respectively Brazil's unofficial poet laureate/oddball rockstar and that nation's equivalent of Julio Iglesias, would seem to be a bit odd. But, although it might not seem like it, the two were kindred spirits during the cultural upheavals of the 1960s -- although unapologetically commercial, Roberto Carlos used his position as the host of the "Jovem Guarda" TV show to open the floodgates of rock'n'roll, introducing Brazilian viewers to dozens of energetic, youthful rockers, and among them was a young Caetano Veloso. As Veloso noted in his autobiography, it was Carlos who gave him a national forum to perform in when the nation's highly-politicized intelligensia -- who despised the vapid, teen-oriented jovem guarda scene -- had closed ranks against him. Following his teen idol days, Roberto Carlos transformed into a louche pop crooner, while Veloso and his friends created some of the most adventurous, expansive music the world had ever heard. But Veloso also embraced his role as a crooner, although admittedly with a much different perspective than Carlos, and decades later the two find common ground in the work of bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim. This duets album comes on the fiftieth anniversary of Jobim's breakthrough triumphs of the late 1950s, the dawn of the bossa nova era, and it is a fine songbook concert, with Carlos and Veloso trading solos and harmonizing beautifully. It's a muted effort, stately and safe, but it's also classy and elegant, just as bossa nova was when it first conquered the world. Although this set may be a bit sedate, it's certainly worth checking out -- it might even become a cherished favorite, given time.

Caetano Veloso & Roberto Carlos "...E A Musica De Tom Jobim" (Sony-Brazil, 2008) (DVD)
The video version of the album reviewed above... Two grand old men of Brazilian popular music, enjoying the music as well as each other's creative energies. For Carlos, this is one of his most vital works in decades.

Caetano Veloso "Zii & Zie" (Sony, 2009)

Various Artists "ALAN LOMAX IN HAITI" (Birdman, 2009)
(Produced by Alan Lomax)

This 10-CD box set is a stunning historical resource, drawing on extensive recording sessions conducted in the 1930s by fabled ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax on behalf of the United States Library of Congress. Lomax recorded hundreds of hours of music, ranging from antique European ballads and dance music to early meringue recordings, Afro-Haitian percussion and extended recordings of authentic voodoo ceremonies. Some of the styles represented here have disappeared entirely -- not just from the popular Haitian repertoire, but from the island itself; many recordings feature artists who were well known regionally but may come as revelations to many listeners. It is a a remarkable cultural resource, documenting a richly cross-pollinated New World island culture, a snapshot of a time and society that were almost entirely lost, and would have been had it not been for Lomax's tenacious urge to document and present the folklore he found across the globe. Recommended!

Various Artists "BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO AFRICAN FUNK" (Nascente, 2009)
(Various producers)

A groovy 3-CD set, digging into the groove-laden African funk scene, with special attention paid to the 1970s... A great starting point for deeper explorations, or maybe just the right amount of this vintage material for those of us with less shelf space to fill. Pretty tasty, either way.

Various Artists "GHANA FUNK FROM THE '70s" (Hippo, 2009)
(Various producers)

Rarities from the West African pop scene of the 1970s... Lush, electrified guitar music was common then; a heavier beat and a deeper groove also led to a fusion with American-style funk and soul. This is a collection that includes a bunch of lesser-known artists performing in the heyday of that scene. I haven't heard it yet, but imagine it would be pretty cool for anyone into that vintage of African pop. (Avalable through Dusty Groove mailorder

Various Artists "GOZALO, v.3" (Vampisoul, 2009)
(Various producers)

Another swinging set of rare, 1960s-era Latin dance and soul from various little-known or underappreciated artists. The boogaloo scene incorporated classic salsa with teenybopper rock and soul; not all the tracks on here have such an overt influence, but whether it's straight latin dance material or rock-tinged crossovers, all the tracks on here are a treat. Some of the best artists, such as Coco Lagos, Alfredo Linares and Silvestre Montez, deserve wider recognition (and maybe collections of their own, if there's enough material of similar calibre out there to be found... This s**t's hot! Another great entry in this fine collection -- if you liked the first two albums, you'll dig this one, too.

Various Artists "PUTUMAYO PRESENTS: ESPANA" (Putumayo, 2009)
(Various producers)

Mellow, eclectic modern pop is the focus of this collection of contemporary Spanish artists. Oh, sure, there are plenty of global influences here -- Cuban son, cumbia, reggae and the inevitable tinge of Spanish flamenco, as well as hip-hop, electronica and dreamy indie-rock. It's a fine document of a new scene that's bubbling up, packed with fine artists that most Americans won't have heard of... (The only musician on here that I knew of beforehand is DePedro, who I really like; it's nice to have more artists to add to the list of folks I want to check out some day...) In keeping with their recent triumphs of taste, this is yet another strong offering from Putumayo... Definitely checking out!

Various Artists "PUTUMAYO PRESENTS: JAZZ AROUND THE WORLD" (Putumayo, 2009)
(Various producers)

A nice, sweet set that sticks to a mellow, torch-song vibe, but streches the style across the globe. Standout tracks include some sweet Maori crooning by New Zealand's Kataraina Pipi, the Kora Jazz Trio's West African update on the Cuban song "Chan Chan" (perhaps best known from the version by the Buena Vista Social Club) a sultry, world-wise torch song from indie Texan Heather Rigdon ("Young And Naive," the only English-language song on this collection...) and a couple of French-language entries, "J'Aime Mon Lit" by Kad and a version of "La Mer," by Canada's Chantal Chamberland (who normally sings in English.) The whole album's pretty nice -- it covers a wide geographical swath, but it holds together well, and it's really quite pleasant to listen to. Recommended!

New To Me...

Ira! "Mudanca De Comportamento" (Warner, 1985)
(Produced by Pena Schmidt & Liminha)

The debut album from one of Brazil's best rock bands of the early 1980s... Fun, tightly crafted punk-mod rock, very much in the style of the Jam, with a little hint of the Clash in there as well. Although these guys weren't overtly playing ska here, there's the same sort of edginess and excitement. A nice record; especially cool in comparison to the more sluggish BRock bands such as Barao Vermelho, et al, which were also finding an audience at the time. Definitely worth checking out.

Moacyr Luz "Samba Da Cidade" (Lua Music, 2005)
(Produced by Moacyr Luz)

A lovely acoustic samba album, with delicate cavaquinho (by Mauro Diniz) and ornate guitar throughout... Most of the songs are Luz originals, with many co-written with Aldir Blanc, as well as some written along with samba luminaries such as Wilson Das Neves, Martinho Da Vila, Luiz Carlos Da Vida, and Paulo Cesar Pinheiro. The music sounds mostly the same from track to track, but it's all quite lovely. Gentle, lulling, and definitely recommended.

Franck Monnet "Malidor" (tot Ou tard, 2006)
Top-notch French indie rock, with a strong mix of anthemic pop-punkish tunes and softer, more reflective acoustic songs. Consistently engaging and fun... one of the better French rock records I've heard in a while!

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