Friday, March 29, 2013

CD Review: John Brown's Body's 'Kings And Queens'

John Brown's Body
Kings And Queens
Easy Star Records

Vocalist, Elliot Martin, leads the charge with reggae-focused tunes that are inspired by British reggae, roots music, dub and bass, and electronic music. The Brooklyn-based group releases a new album from one of the leading reggae labels in the world, Easy Star Records. There is a strong horn and brass presence, with bass, keyboards, and programming. The reggae beats are classic and memorable. There are elements of rock, alternative, and trance music, too. Even though many people know what reggae music is, John Brown's Body attempts to reinvent the genre with wonderful results. There are twelve tracks in all. Fans of reggae will love Kings And Queens. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: ArHai's 'Eastern Roads'

Eastern Roads
Balkanworlds Records

ArHai began with Jovana Backovic, a vocalist, keyboardist, and programmer from Serbia. Her bandmate, Adrian Lever, is a tambura player, guitarist, pianist, and double bass player on the album. The duo enlist the help of additional instrumentalists, including tabla, percussion, electric bass, and vocals. The music is folktronic with a good amount of world fusion ranging from South Asian to Scandinavian influences, but Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions are not too distant either. The background vocals on some tracks are reminiscent of Enigma-type tracks. However, this is not a dance album. Still, there are some 'danceable' tracks that are very moving. If contemporary folk music is what you are after, then ArHai serves it up deliciously. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Chicha Libre's 'Cuatro Tigres'

Chicha Libre
Cuatro Tigres
Barbes Records

Based in Brooklyn, Chicha Libre brings us sounds from various regions and cultures. The band's members come from Mexico, Venezuela, the USA, and France. The collective creates a form of Peruvian cumbia-beat, which is akin to Afro-beat. However, the primary difference revolves around more Latin, South American, and urban dance forms with psych-trance, rumba, and tropical rhythms. The spicy mix of funk, jazz, and urban folklore creates a fascinating listening experience with lively vocals, hip percussion, and electronic accompaniment. The psychedelic ramblings are very melodic and nostalgic. Despite the lack of music on the new album (only 4 tracks), the music that is available is unforgettable. Fans of contemporary cumbia will love the music of Chicha Libre. Cuatro Tigres is Colombian, Peruvian, Californian, and Amazonian, but most of all, it is music that is to be experienced by everyone. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Deva Premal & Miten with Manose's 'A Deeper Light'

Deva Premal & Miten with Manose
A Deeper  Light
White Swan Records

The dub-centric, yoga-focused, Sanskrit mantras of Deva Premal & Miten have been known for years. However, the addition of Manose--a Nepali Bansuri flute master--and keyboardist, Maneesh de Moor--takes the languid, soul-stirring music to new dimensions. There are even classical influences with violin and viola, thanks to Richard Moody. The sputtering, dry notes of the Bansuri flute eloquently play off the swishy, electronic undertones of the keyboard. However, the sounds are very tantric and sensual with none of the tunes connoting a hurried or frenzied state of being. Moreover, the sounds are not rooted exclusively in samples, loops, or showy electronics. The eight long tracks spans one-hour in length. There are certain themes with each song, such as 'innocence' and 'devotion'. The Sanskrit anthems are perfect for relaxing, dreaming, and believing in a higher human cause. This is perfect for fans of laid-back music with a purpose--a purpose of being in harmony with each other. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Cesaria Evora's 'Mae Carinhosa'

Cesaria Evora
Mae Carinhosa

Cape Verdean songstress and music pioneer, Cesaria Evora passed away in 2011. Producer, Jose da Silva, compiled an album of previously unreleased songs that showcase a music legend. The sweet and sincere songs draw upon emotive mornas and moving coladeras. The songs are mostly guitar-driven with some marimba, percussion, piano, and string accompaniment. There are thirteen tracks, including "Sentimento," "Quem Tem Odio," "Talvez," "Mae Carinhosa," and many others. Despite the tracks' absence on other recordings, the songs tend to form a cohesive and fluid mix from start to finish. There are tracks by Pedro Rodrigues, Teofilo Chantre, Frank Cavaquinho, Jon Luz, and others. Own the last piece of Cesaria Evora's musical legacy today. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Justin Ancheta's 'Plant'

Justin Ancheta

The reggae-funk and jazz concoctions of Justin Ancheta are pronounced on his latest release, Plant. There are some Klezmer, acoustic, and indie-rock-influenced tunes that showcase a good variety. Part of the diverse song styles stem from a diverse instrumental repertoire, which includes djembe, bass, clarinet, sax, trumpet, trombone, violin, clavinet, guitars, and various electronic accompaniment. With a background in Filipino/Spanish/English/Norwegian/American family roots, you know there has to be an ethnic bone in his body. Thankfully, all ethnicities are represented here, but jazz, folk, and funk seem to be at the top of the list. Justin Ancheta is a musician with a knack for creative songwriting that borders somewhere between Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, and Xavier Rudd. Simply outstanding! ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Dub Colossus' 'Dub Me Tender Vol 1 + 2'

Dub Colossus
Dub Me Tender Vol. 1 + 2
Real World

The heavy dub style of Nick "Dubulah" Page is evident throughout this new release. The reggae-tinged tracks, laid-back jazz, trance, and variegated funk music is nostalgic and contemporary at the same time. The album is divided up into two volumes, but the music is not very different. The amped-up beats, electronic additions, and jazzy undertones makes the new album shine beyond belief. Every song contains the word 'dub' in some form and function. The meditative dub forms are evident, as well as the more dance-friendly forms indicative of DJ performances on the dancefloor. There are Ethiopian-jazz elements with bluesy, funk sounds on some tracks. This is a good romp on the wild side of dub. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ze Luis' 'Serenata'

Ze Luis

The Cape Verdean vocal and guitar songs of Ze Luis are predominantly breezy, relaxing, and soulful. There are guitars, percussion, and cavaquinho. The relatively few instruments do not detract from the vocal power of the songs. The fourteen songs represent a classy array of island rhythms and melodies that are far from being ho-hum. Serenata is Ze Luis' first album, but it is very mature with candid vocals and sincere songwriting. The arrangements are quite folksy, but a little classical influence is evident, too. Nevertheless, Serenata is a fun album with bright songs and moving melodies that capture the light and life of Cape Verdean society. Celebrate life with Ze Luis!

CD Review: Elements Of Life's 2-CD 'Eclipse'

Elements Of Life
Eclipse [2 CD]
Fania Records

Spearheaded by Louie Vega, Eclipse is a 2-CD set of songs that traverse the worlds of jazz, latin, R&B, gospel, soul, Afro-Latin, Caribbean, Afro-beat, and blues music. The second album contains remixes of classic Fania songs as an homage to the record label. There are a variety of guest artists on the first album, including Urusula Rucker, Nina Rodriguez, Josh Milan, Anane & Lisa Fischer, and Cindy Mizelle. There are electronic, trance, dance, jazz, and down-tempo grooves with classic sounds of from the 1960s or 70s. There is plenty of edgy percussion, guitar-work, and brass sounds. Fans of Brazilian, jazz, Afro-beat, and world fusion will love the sounds of Eclipse. For excellent poetry, smooth rhythms, and catchy hooks, Elements Of Life is where it's at. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's 'Jama Ko'

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
Jama Ko
Outhere Records

Mali's ngoni masters, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, bring us another amazing treat, Jama Ko. The ngoni lute, an instrument hailing from Mali, Africa, creates scintillating sounds that are kora-like. This is Afro-pop at its finest. There are featured artists, including Khaira Arby, Zoumana Tereta, Taj Mahal, Kasse Mady Diabate, and Amy Sacko. There are chilling male and female vocals that would win-over fans of Mali music without a doubt. Some of the songs are more upbeat and include organ, drums, and electric guitar. However, the majority of songs are steeped in the rich, cultural history of Malian music traditions in a contemporary format. Overall, the fine list of guests and engaging ngoni blues are something worth listening to. If you get a chance to see the group live, do not miss it. There is a limited, 2-LP release of this title, too. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: David Starfire's 'Ascend'

David Starfire
Six Degrees Records

The adventurous fusion of electronica and Indian music is the basic source of inspiration on the newest release, Ascend. There are heady, urban elements that are littered with electronica connotations that are electro-rock-infused. David has enlisted the help of fellow musicians, Natacha Atlas, Afrika Bambaataa, Cheb i Sabbah, iCatching, and Sheila Govindarajan. The upbeat percussion, electronica, and South Asian-influenced songs incorporate a variety of vocals, rhythms, and styles that are anything but boring. The dancefloor medleys are exciting and innovative, while contemplative at the same time. The world fusion elements are especially intriguing. Fans of electronica fused with world music and a side of South Asian character will love David Starfire's latest release. Ascend rises to the occasion. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Various Artists' 'Turntables On Las Ramblas'

Various Artists
Turntables On Las Ramblas
Wonderwheel Recordings

If there ever was such a Latin funk, Spanish dub, and Balkan party album, Turntables On Las Ramblas would be it. There are funky, brass, electronica, and Spanish-infused concoctions that incorporate a variety of contemporary, urban melodies and rhythms. There are hip-hop elements, global grooves, house music, and party tunes with male and female vocals. Some of the musicians included on the compilation are Los Chicos Altos, Novalima, Nickodemus, Sid Vaga, Wagner Po, Flowering Inferno, Mariella, and others. There are gritty loops, samples, and heavy beats with multi-ethnic infusions that stew and boil-over with memorable results. The thirteen tracks represent a good cross-section of brash brass, urban rhythms, and gypsy/Latin tunes. If you are seeking a multi-national party soundtrack, then Turntables On Las Ramblas would be it. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Pierre Akendengue's 'Destinee'

Pierre Akendengue

Gabon-born, Pierre Akendengue, has been involved in music for several decades. Pierre studied in France, but returned to Gabon in the 1970s and 80s to continue music. After the landmark album, Nandipo (1974), Gabon music became known to all of Africa and beyond. On the current release, Destinee, Pierre continues in the traditions of popular Gabon music with an Afro-pop vein. The music contains a variety of bows, strings, guitars, drums, flutes, kalimba, balafon, bass, and horns that add some spicy flavor to the culturally-rich and diverse tracks. Pierre's vocals are accompanied by his daughter and a few other vocalists. The equatorial country is at the heart of the world and its musical influences are far-reaching. There are French, Latin, Brazilian, Cuban, and Afro-Caribbean similarities throughout. There are also heady guitar songs that are more indicative of soukous. At any rate, the giddy rhythms, fun vocals, and party-like songs are richly-textured and brimming with infectious Afro-pop grandeur. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nuru Kane's 'Exile'

Nuru Kane
World Music Network

Hailing from Senegal, Nuru Kane is a splendid musician of the Moroccan guimbri, guitar, kora, and calabash. Nuru's deep voice resonates the message of hope, love, and life throughout the eleven tracks. The music is upbeat and similar in style to other Senegal roots musicians. There are Afro-funk elements, but the majority of music is steeped in contemporary roots genres. Afro-pop listeners will hear some of the pop inflections, but most of the songs are not clearly linear and harmonically-cohesive. Instead, there are classical, percussive, and hypnotic with some trance-inducing qualities. There are hints of Latin, reggae, folk, and blues music that are undeniable. Fans of Cheikh Lo will be pleased with Nuru Kane. Despite the rather short running length of forty-three-minutes, Exile features enough musical variety to keep African music fans quite happy. ~ Matthew Forss 

CD Review: Kaleidoscope Jukebox's 'Infinite Reflection'

Kaleidoscope Jukebox
Infinite Reflection
Rhythm & Culture

Multi-instrumentalist and Indiana-native, Clint Carty, showcases his musical talents on the intelligent, enthralling, and electronic release, Infinite Reflection. The music is upbeat with all the electronic nuances of trance, down-tempo, funk, and experimental dance music. There are ethnic influences, fusions, and melodies throughout. However, the power of electronica seems to keep it all together. There are hints of hip-hop, soul, jazz, and dance that are unmistakable. Spoken word vocals are the primary vocals with a little rap thrown in. The result is more informational; rather than for the joy of singing. At any rate, the fourteen tracks possess something stellar--an inherent ability to teach us something new with each note. The largely upbeat melodies and rhythms make Infinite Reflection a must-have for forward-thinking audiophiles. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Syriana's 'The Road To Damascus'

The Road To Damascus
Real World

Syriana is a group headed by Nick "Dubulah" Page with songs written by Abdullah Chhadeh, Bernard O'Neill, and Nick "Dubulah" Page. The album is not to be confused with the 2005 film Syriana. Instead, The Road To Damascus paints a colorful picture of lush Middle Eastern melodies, rhythms, and instrumentation. For example, the oud, qanun, double bass, guitars, piano, keyboards, percussion, and a few vocals round out the musical repertoire. The violins are added by the Pan Arab Strings of Damascus. The album is mostly instrumental, which allows the tracks to shine beyond borders. The thirteen tracks do contain some cinematic tendencies, but the majority of songs are steeped in roots, folk, and classical music. Fans of Middle Eastern music will love the sultry nuances of Syriana's music. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, March 28, 2013

CD Review: Karlex's 'Paris/New York/Port Au Prince'

Paris/New York/Port Au Prince
Lil'people Records

Paris/New York/Port Au Prince reflects Karlex's multi-national roots and residences over the years. Hailing originally from Haiti, Karlex brings together a fusion of Caribbean, American, and French pop confections with good amounts of funk, jazz, and folk that are all raw and brilliant. The songs are sung in English, French, and Haitian Creole. "Regarder La Verite" opens with a jaunty beat and earthy vocals that reflect a slight reggae tone and dreamy, nostalgic folk-rock with an Americana foundation. "Restavek" begins with blurby electronica and dance-laden percussion that is groovy and hip-hop focused. The rap vocals are accompanied by swift guitar-work and urban lyrics that are driven by instrumentation. "I Say Hey" begins with a reverberating electric guitar and swishy electronic embellishments. The Afro-Caribbean grooves are based on gritty jazz elements with an almost aboriginal rock beat. "Miami Beach" opens with a jazzy, but swishy rock tune with shimmering electronic inclusions. The twelve songs reflect a wide array of vocal and instrumental arrangements that are anything but dull. The music is not characteristic reggae, rock, jazz, pop, or classical. Instead, Karlex explores the popular melodies and rhythms of the Caribbean, Africa, France, and the United States. Essentially, Karlex should be on the playlists for anyone seriously interested in multi-ethnic roots music and French Diaspora music in particular. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Spark & Echo's 'Inheritance'

Spark & Echo

Husband-wife duo, Jonathon Roberts and Emily Clare Zempel, are based in New York's South Bronx. The acoustic folk, Christian, and contemporary singers/songwriters produce an uplifting release of eleven songs inspired by Biblical events, themes, and messages with memorable vocals and captivating instrumentation. In fact, the bassoon, ukulele, accordion, and piano are the instruments of choice. The gospel according to Spark & Echo is filled with theatrical piano-tinged tunes with assorted instruments and vocal medleys that are rich with pop-focused qualities. The alternative tunes are quirky, witty, instructional, and intelligent throughout. "Buy Me A Hat" is a funky, heady tune with classy vocals and theatrical musical elements that are swishy, punchy, and carefree. "Inheritance" continues in the funky vein with Ben Folds-esque vocals and vocal deliveries with poetic lyrics and jazzy, classical, and experimental foundations. "How To Be Free" opens with an angelic vocal medley accompanied by accordion, bell-tones, and light percussion. The entire song represents a little down-tempo with some big kirtan-like arrangements that reflect a Christian presence, rather than seeking spiritual guidance from Hindu sources. Overall, the music resembles a mishmash of Squonk Opera, Ben Folds, and Zero 7. This is a solid release of tunes that are applicable for all of the world's inhabitants. Each song is a spiritual release whether you believe it or not. 5 Stars (out of 5). ~ Matthew Forss      

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

CD Review: Steph Barrak's 'Words To Break Your Heart By'

Steph Barrak
Words To Break Your Heart By

Boston, MA-based singer and songwriter, Steph Barrak, creates spirited contemporary pop songs on this new eleven-track album, Words To Break Your Heart By. The gritty and warm guitar melodies of "Fossil Tears" contains heartfelt lyrics and folksy rhythms. "Married A Robber" provides a scintillating guitar melody with vocals indicative of Leigh Nash or early Shawn Colvin. "The Way You Make Me Smile" is a choppy tune with infectious pop hooks and smokey vocals accompanied by percussion and twangy rhythms. "Natural Progression" is an uppity tune with a steady guitar and percussion beat that is alternative from the onset to the end. "Painted Face" contains echoing guitars and an upbeat melody with highly-infectious vocals. "Connecticut" opens with another upbeat melody and soaring vocals that take a backseat on some lines, while the percussion takes over. Overall, fans of alternative pop and folk will love the music of Steph Barrak. Think Beth Orton meets Leigh Nash meets Shawn Colvin meets Suzanne Vega. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

CD Review: Matthew Heller's 'Invitation'

Matthew Heller

The Oregon-based, alt-folk singer/songwriter, Matthew Heller, creates a gritty and grungy world of music that is inspired by the things around him. The music of "Space Girl" creates a mix of Americana and Nirvana with ample room for improvisation. The radio-like voicings of "Shake It" are mainly based on alternative song stylings with some Western and country punk infusions. Think Owsley meets Jace Everett. "Mercy" begins with a light guitar opening and some percussion. The folk and country-inspired tune saunters along with grace and a full sound reminiscent of a more laidback Oasis. "Another Dose" begins with a punk-driven drum opener that picks up speed with an Oasis-like beat and radio-like vocals. "Drone Strike" begins with a squawky guitar sound and rock percussion that is more psych-punk than alt-folk. Invitation is an album that contains upbeat rock songs interspersed with a nice dose of folk or Americana elements for an enjoyable journey of one's soul. Think of Xavier Rudd, Nirvana, Oasis, and Jace Everett all rolled into one. Invitation is something that cannot be turned down--you have to turn it up! ~ Matthew Forss  

CD Review: Jamie Block's 'Whitecaps On The Hudson'

Jamie Block
Whitecaps On The Hudson

The anti-folk and alternative musical creations of New York's Jamie Block are anything but ordinary here. Jamie's voice is somewhere between Cake and Wilco. The poetic and historic vocal delivery of "Whitecaps On The Hudson" create an almost Native American-like folk beat indicative of John Trudell. However, the song is purely an invention of Jamie Block with an achingly beautiful instrumental display near the end of the song. "Kate" is a quiet little ditty with light percussion and scintillating acoustic guitar. The folksy stylings include some guitar drones that pierce the melody with poignant charm. "Show You Mine" opens with a rumbling guitar and percussion set and Jamie's vocals with a slight nostalgic presence--even if it is only the 1990's. "Sam Patch" is another poetic masterpiece with an almost spoken delivery throughout that includes a heady drum beat, squeaky and grungy guitars, and other industrial, steampunk noises. "Black Eyed Susan" opens with a sauntering, acoustic folk beat and carefree vocals that drift into a dreamy sequence of alt-folk brilliance. There are thirteen songs in all. Anyone with an interest in anti-folk, alternative folk, or even Americana will love Jamie Block's new release. Five stars all the way! ~ Matthew Forss