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, 2012-2013. 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, 2012-2013 | Review Archives | World Music Index

Ana Alcaide "La Cantiga Del Fuego" (Arc Music, 2012)
(Produced by Ana Alcaide)

Here's a truly multicultural project that puts the "world" in world music: Spanish fiddler Ana Alcaide has become an Iberian champion of the incredibly complex, 16-string Swedish fiddle known as a nyckelharpa, integrating it into her own regional repertoire. On this album, she applies the nyckelharpa's rich, mournful tones to the music of Toledo, Spain's once-thriving Sephardic Jewish community, in an ongoing project she dubs "the Toledo Soundtrack." Devotees of either Spanish traditional music or Jewish klezmer will find this a rich and multi-layered album, with an evocative, ancient sound. Spooky stuff!

Arnaldo Antunes/Toumani Diabate/Edgard Scandurra "A Curva Da Cintura" (Mais Um Discos, 2012)

Rash Behari Data "Master Of The Indian Sitar" (ARC Music, 2012)
(Produced by Horst Tubbesing & David Knowles)

Calm, contemplative traditional Indian ragas from a master sitar player. This disc features two tracks that make full use of the digital format's ability to present Indian classical pieces in their full length. The opening track, "Raga Bilaskhani Todi," clocks in at 43:50, a morning raga so quiet and unhurried that the first half-minute is a near-silent fade-in to the opening alap movement; "Raga Mishra-Bhairavi" is a much shorter 15:19, but no less satisfying, with sympathetic, unobtrusive accompaniment by tabla player Sanju Sahai. A rich and well-produced modern recording that stands up well to repeated auditions.

Bonde Do Role "Tropicalbacanal" (Mad Decent, 2012)
On their debut album few years ago, this goofy, ecstatic Brazilian club band crafted a poppy, techno-y, gleefully brainless version of the baile funk/funk carioca dance style that made them a big hit in the clubs. This band's secret weapon is the piercingly tinny, half-innocent/half-mocking, adolescent tones of Marina Gasolina, who is, I believe, both the band's singer and the name of their first big single... They had kind of a Salt'n'Pepa/L'Trimm thing going on that was irritating, but irresistible. I like this followup full-length better, just because it seems better produced and because they seem like a more accomplished band, after several years making EPs and remixes and whatnot. It just feels like a better record, even though ironically it has more kind of music that actively annoy me (a greater overt emphasis on rap, and more English-language lyrics; also less Gasolina). Lots of guest stars on here, most notably Caetano Veloso, who really, really, wants to make the scene with the kids today. Although there's a lot of stuff on here I'd say I don't need to listen to more than once, there are also several very fun songs... Overall, this definitely worth checking out.

Custodio Castelo "InVentus: Guitarra Portuguesa" (Arc Music, 2012)
Another excellent selection of modern-day Portuguese fados by guitarist Custodio Castelo, whose innovative arrangements and high level of technical panache have made him a worthy heir to the late Carlos Paredes. Castelo is one of the most popular guitarists on the contemporary Portuguese scene, having performed with Cristina Branco, Carlos de Carmo, Misia, and even the legendary Amalia Rodrigues. As a solo artist, his creative depth is powerfully clear: the songs on this album are all dazzling (although on occasion he goes a little overboard and gets a little too jangly or ornate... Some listeners, particularly traditionalists, may find these moments jarring or distracting.) Fans of the style or newcomers who are curious will all want to check this out -- this is a modern fado artist who's taking chances and helping broaden the genre. (Plus, wait 'til you see the artwork: what a cool-looking instrument!)

Ceumar "Sons Do Brasil: Dindinha" (ARC Music, 2012)
(Produced by Zeca Baleiro)

A nice sampling of the work of Brazilian singer Ceumar Coelho, a gal from Minas Gerais with a beautiful voice and a wide stylistic range. She was "discovered" by MPB-rock star Zeca Baleiro, who produced this album and wrote several of the songs, and performs on several tracks, along with other musicians such as Dante Ozzetti, Swami Jr., and a slew of folks who aren't on my radar. This is very pretty-sounding material, touching on folk-pop, bossa, forro and soft samba, all very mellow and lulling, and mostly acoustic-based... This gathers album tracks and some live stuff as well... Fans of Marisa Monte, Nazare Pereira or Bebel Gilberto might enjoy this as well. Definitely worth a spin!

Cubana All Stars "A Dream Come True" (Viva Combo, 2012)

Fay Hield "Looking Glass" (Topic, 2010)
Fans of Nic Jones and the craggier, traddier end of the English folk field should like this set of rough-hewn recordings by folksinger Fay Hield, formerly of the group The Witches of Elswick... Hield also has kind of a June Tabor thing going on, with a style that's a little loftier than I personally prefer, although I know there are a lot of you out there that will enjoy this a lot. Definitely worth investigating.

Fay Hield "Orfeo" (Topic, 2012)
Here Hield takes on a grander slightly larger sound, more like June Tabor or Maddy Prior... and if you like the work of them grand dames, you'll want to check out this album. Some nice choral a capella on here as well...

Francis Hime & Olivia Hime "Alma Musica: Ao Vivo" (Biscoito Fino, 2012)
New material from Brazilian MPB artists Francis and Olivia Hime, husband and wife who have been making sophisticated Brazilian pop for several decades, and who founded the Biscoito Fino label to showcase their work and the music of countless other artists in a variety of styles.

Jim & Bob/George Ku West "Genial Hawaiians" (Grass Skirt, 2012)
Rare, classic recordings of Hawaiian steel guitar music from the 1930s, with twelve tracks from Jim & Bob (all the music they recorded), and an additional twelve from George Ku And His Paradise Islanders, a group that featured guitarist Charlie Opunui. This is truly dazzling guitar music, and a must-have for fans of this era and this style. Jim Holstein and Bob Pauole were Hawaiian-born steel players who made their names on the mainland, as Chicago-based radio stars and vaudeville performers, they had a popular following throughout the late 1920s and early '30s, cutting a dozen tracks for the Bluebird label in December, 1933. All their tracks are collected here, and they are all doozies. Fans of "hot" style Hawaiian music will be wowed by these tracks: I had to stop the CD and listen to Pauole's stunning super-picking on "Sweet Georgia Brown" several times before I was able to move on... That's a lot of notes to play in two minutes! Jim & Bob also had a sentimental side, and their versions of sappy songs such as "Coffee In The Morning" and "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day" are equally satisfying. The second half of the CD is more relaxed and mellow, but just as sweet... Collectors who already have a bunch of vintage Hawaiian guitar music will want to get this, too, as many of these tracks are on CD for the first time. Highly recommended! (For more information, check out the Grass Skirt website... )

Francis Lemarque "1949-1959" (Fremeaux, 2011)
French popular music changed a lot after World War Two -- like American pop, it shed its rougher, jazzier edges in favor of a swank, more sophisticated sound, and while nods were made to the nostalgic themes and musette sounds of pre-war years, a more streamlined orchestral sound soon became the norm. One of the key players in this stylistic shift was songwriter Francis Lemarque, who was best known for his association with film star and pop crooner Yves Montand, for whom he wrote numerous new songs. Lemarque penned hits for many artists, including some older chanson stars but largely for the new generation of singers who took up the torch in the late '40s and early '50s. He also became a performer in his own right, and this deluxe 2-CD set collects dozens of tracks Lemarque recorded for the Fontana label in the decade between 1949-59. It features Lemarque singing in front of the orchestras of Michel Legrand, Emil Stern, and Rudi Revil (whose career was closely linked to his own...) as well as a number of tracks with Lemarque as bandleader. Some of the arrangements are dynamic and inventive, some feel staid or antiseptic, compared to the accordeon music and swing jazz of the prewar years. It's a fine document of French music transitioning into the modern postwar era, of sure interest to student of French pop.

Dom La Nena "Ela" (Six Degrees, 2013)
(Produced by Dom La Nena & Piers Faccini)

Alasdair Roberts "Wonder Working Stone" (Drag City, 2013)

Kate Rusby "20" (Island, 2013)

Dom Salvador "Don Salvador Trio" (Mr. Bongo, 1965/2013)
Throughout the 1960s, Sao Paulo pianist Dom Salvador (aka Salvador da Silva Filho) worked in a series of bossa-samba jazz combos, and professionally backed top-name artists such as Elis Regina, Jorge Ben and Edu Lobo. In the early '60s he jammed with Paul Winter when the West Coast jazzman made his fabled Brazilian pilgrimage, and later formed this outfit, which was a pretty swinging, compact jazz trio. Although some of the tracks here are similar to the fairly commonplace instrumental efforts of contemporary acts such as the Tamba Trio, et al, there's also a high proportion of more melodically rich, compelling material, including several romantically graceful themes. Almost all the songs were original compositions, showing Salvador clearly a cut above his Brazilian jazz brethren. In the Brazilian jazz pantheon, these early sessions definitely stand out.

Dom Salvador "Tristeza" (Mr. Bongo, 1966/2013)
Another fine example of Salvador's lyrical leanings, and his ability to stand above the crowd in Brazil's somewhat clattersome bossa-jazz scene. As on his earlier albums, Dom Salvador excels on slower, more romantic numbers, and several good ones are collected here, as well as some sleek Latin jazz numbers. Edison Machado fills in on drums, and his work is also pretty solid... much better than most of their contemporaries! Includes a few original tunes, as well as covers of early Joao Donato and Chico Buarque tunes.

Lucas Santtana "Deus Que Devasta Mas Tambem Cura" (Sony Brasil, 2012)

Xango Da Mangueira "Velho Batuqueiro" (Discobertas, 1975/2012)
(Produced by Waldormiro J. Oliveira)

A fab reissue. This is the pure, raw sound of 1970's roots samba, featuring samba school batuqueiro Xango Da Mangueira, a rugged, gravelly singer and prolific composer whose joyfulness and zest comes through on every track. Although clearly in line with the '70s "pagode" roots-samba revival, this album has a distinctive sound with a wilder feel than the more high-profile releases by then-ascendant samba stars such as Clara Nunes and Roberto Ribeiro. Chunky, bass-heavy percussion courses through the songs, evoking samba's West African musical heritage, and particularly the roda de samba style of the spiritually-oriented umbanda subculture... Similarly the instrumental accompaniment and the call-and-response backing chorus have a rough, informal feel, evoking a neighborhood block party more than another slick studio session: you can hear the street and the carnaval parades in these recordings, and the vibrant life force of the music. It's really great stuff -- fans of sambistas such as Cartola and Martinho da Vila will want to check this out as well.

Yamato Ensemble "Music Of The Floating World" (ARC Music, 2012)
(Produced by The Yamato Ensemble & Hibino Narihiko)

Richly layered traditional Japanese music from a folkloric trio that draws on a variety of styles, including poetry and classic musical themes dating back to the 17th Century... This album has five tracks on it, each between 12-15 minutes long, which gives them plenty of time to develop the mood and themes... Vocalists Satoh Kikuo and Sugiyama Yuko each play koto and shamisen, while shakuhachi flautist Richard Stagg punctuates their plangent melodies. Very authentic, and very rewarding.

Various Artists "I HAVE MY LIBERTY: GOSPEL SOUNDS FROM ACCRA, GHANA" (Dust To Digital, 2012)
Raw, ecstatic gospel music from the syncretic Christian churches of Accra, Ghana... These are modern recordings from 2008, but they aren't off of studio albums, but rather from unfiltered in-church field recordings, documenting the services of several congregations -- Christ Believer's Ministry, Divine Healer's Church, etc. -- and they're all pretty powerful. It's an intense mix of African percussion and American-style electrified gospel, with amplified guitars and bluesy/soul melodies. It's not accessible to all listeners, but for folks into a specific sound, and fans of classic, mid-20th Century African-American gospel in particular, this is a truly unique style. A big, joyful sound with a strong local flavor.

Various Artists "LES PRECURSEURS DE LA BOSSA NOVA: 1948-1957" (Fremeaux & Associes, 2008)
The history of Brazilian popular music is often seen to hinge on the release of a single song, Joao Gilberto's transcendent, revolutionary "Chega De Saudade," a gentle, intoxicating ditty written by Tom Jobim that made bossa nova the new national music of Brazil, back in 1958, when it came out as a single. However, like any other country, Brazil's cultural history is complex and multi-layered and obviously Gilberto and Jobim didn't just come out of nowhere. This magnificent 2-CD set -- compiled by the ever-fab French archival label, Fremeaux -- documents the many crosscurrents and interconnections that set the stage for bossa nova to explode in the late 1950s, first in Brazil and then across the globe. Both Jobim and Gilberto had long careers in the years before their ascent into the heavens: many of the rare tracks gathered here show their early work with other artists, including early versions of Jobim songs performed by the stars of the 1950's "radio singers" era, while other tracks feature Gilberto backing famous singers or, similarly, show Jobim acting as bandleader on various sessions. At some point, their paths collided, and Gilberto (for a while) became Jobim's voice, while Jobim was Gilberto's muse. Although "Chega De Saudade" is seen as the song that sparked a musical revolution, there are several other songs and albums that are considered "the first bossa nova record," chief among these is perhaps the 1957 album Cancao Do Amor Demais, where Joao Gilberto backed romantic singer Elizete Cardoso on a series of newly-minted bossa classics. (The results are mixed: while the album was Gilberto's first big break, Cardoso is a pretty old-fashioned, corny singer... I've never been that fond of the record; turns out Gilberto didn't like it that much, either...) Bossa nova was a distillation of many trends in Brazilian music -- classic samba-cancao, the romanticism of boleros, and the influence of cool, melodic jazz and American-style pop vocals taken up by singers such as Dick Farney and Johnny Alf. Also gathered here are fabled pre-bossa artists such as guitarist Garoto (one of Joao Gilberto's idols) and his group Trio Surdina, as well as the vocal group Os Cariocas and divas and crooners such as Sylvia Telles, Doris Monteiro, Lucio Alves and Tito Madi... Even in this golden era of digital reissues, the songs on this collection remain hard to find and expensive to own, so having them all together in such as compact, well-curated collection is a rare treat indeed. Highly recommended -- a great way to explore deeper into the history of Brazilian popular song.

Various Artists "QAT, COFFEE & QAMBUS: RAW 45s FROM YEMEN" (Parlortone, 2011)

New To Me...

Various Artists "DE BAHIA AUX SERTOES: 1939-1955" (Fremeaux & Associes, 2006)
This fab 2-CD set concentrates on one of the master musicians of the pre-bossa nova Brazilian samba cancao era, Bahian songwriter Dorival Caymmi, and on the pioneers of the Northeastern dance style called forro, Luiz Gonzaga and vocalist Jackson Do Pandeiro. Disc One focusses exclusively on Caymmi's work, cherry-picking his best recordings of the 1930s, '40s and '50s, along with a great pair of songs by the vocal group Anjos Do Inferno. Most of his tracks are the sort of stentorian, John Jacob Niles-ish folksongs he specialized in, balanced by some sizzling sambas performed with various small bands. (Many of his songs were also recorded by Carmen Miranda, and her absence is keenly felt here, although his originals are harder to come by, so I'm not really complaining... This is an excellent introduction to his work.) Disc Two is where this collection's editor, musician Teca Calazans, really shows her strengths, selecting gems from the forro tradition, in particular finding some of the melodically rich songs from Luiz Gonzaga's career (he can get monotonous, but these are all fun songs here) as well as rarities by less well-known artists such as Ze Do Norte, Manezinho Araujo, Coro Misto, and Vania Orico. I don't quite get the connection between the two discs -- a contrast between styles in Brazil's Northeastern coast and the interior -- but all the music is great. This is also a nice companion to Fremeaux's earlier archival collections of nordeste music... Definitely worth picking this one up!

Various Artists "SWING SURPRISE PARTIE: PARIS POSTWAR SWING BANDS - 1945-1957" (Fremeaux & Associes, 2011)
This 2-CD set of big band swing from postwar France concentrates on instrumental dance band recordings, with only a handful of vocal tunes, and those delivered either in English or Slim Gaillard/Cab Calloway-style scat singing. That takes a little bit of the fun out of it for me, since I always prefer to hear "foreign" artists singing in their own language, and prefer big band vocals to big band instrumentals. Still, it's fun to discover the breadth of French dance band music in the late '40s and early '50s, and there are a lot of artists here that go well beyond the scope of well-known bandleaders like Jacques Helian and Ray Ventura, who worked in the field before the war. Amid musicians such as Aime Barelli, Christian Bellest, Fernand Clare, Georgie Kay and Maurice Moufflard there are Count Basie and Benny Goodman imitators aplenty, with a number of hot soloists developing in their ranks. In later recordings, some bands took up the torch from erudite arrangers such as Kenton and Shaw (notably Noel Chiboust and his orchestra, as well as Jerry Mengo, who became a major force in '50s French pop, including some sessions with rockers like Eddy Mitchell...) Also included are bandleaders such as Eddie Barclay and Alix Combelle, who may be familiar to fans of French pop from this era. An intriguing companion to other French jazz collections such as LES ZAZOUS and SWING DE PARIS

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