If you like your music to come with a heavy dose of drama and no small amount of pathos then Through Infinity are definitely going to tick a lot of boxes for you. Wandering between a sort of theatrical rock and the more intricate and exploratory end of the genre, they also blend in graceful, classical piano lines, underpin with emotive flute cascades and hints of a world music vibe and the overall affect is both big and clever.
It must be difficult selling a foreign-language album into the already saturated market of English-speaking releases, sure we all like an occasional ‘Gangnam Style’ or ‘Despasito’ to shake it up, but on the whole English-speaking music fans like English speaking bands. So, to combat this, the music has to be good. Duke Ellington once said, “there are two kinds of music, the good and the other kind”, this is true, and it’s also true that good music will always find an audience, so if you feel your record collection is lacking a Sicillian singer-songwriter who produces music that is tricky to categorise, then look no further than Alessio Bondi.
As every student of Greek mythology will know, Dionysus was the son of the mortal Greek Princess Semele and was fathered by Zeus, but after Semele’s death (of fright after Zeus revealed his Godly power to her) Zeus took the unborn Dionysus and attached him to his thigh until his birth.
Pretty grand stuff, even for the Greeks.
This album, by London-based Australian duo Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, is written around the myth and legacy of Dionysus but, to my ears, it’s so much more. The album is split into two ‘acts’, each over 15 minutes in length and it’s sounds like an audio journey into history and geography.
Act One begins with ‘Sea Borne’ and has such grandeur and cinematic awareness that you can almost picture an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh surveying the landscape while slaves and labourers drag and position mighty rocks towards the under-construction Pyramids as the white sun bears down. The tempo and feel of the song put me in mind of hundreds of feet pressing into the sand while ropes are pulled, and whips are cracked.
‘Liberator of Minds’ has the gentle lapping of water as the introduction, we’ve moved away from the sand and dust of the desert onto the banks of the river Nile or the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, palm trees slowly shift, and barges travel silently as the music rolls and pounds with traditional North African percussion and chants.
It feels as if I’m writing a review for an album firmly cemented in World Music but this is so much more than that, yes it takes it’s influence and energy from Africa and the Middle East but this is music to lose yourself in, a journey to far off lands from forgotten times taken from the comfort of your living room or headphones, this takes the sounds of Moroccan markets, from traditional folk, from electronic music, from private prayers and carefully, and beautifully moulds and shapes it into something so well produced that it’s easy to find yourself lost in it’s complex avenues and passages.
Two years in the making this album is interesting, exciting, powerful and could possibly nudge its way into your favourite albums of 2018.
They say that in life – and in music – timing is everything, and within ‘The Darkness Between the Leaves’ comes the feeling that we’re leaving summer and entering into the changing season of autumn, which, as I write this, we are.
The album opens with the words “the nights are getting colder, the summer birds are gone, the days are getting shorter…” and this feeling of the passing of time runs throughout this wonderful album.
Alba Griot Ensemble (Alba being the Gaelic name for Scotland and Griot roughly meaning a storyteller, musician or poet) is a clever hybrid of Celtic folk and blues played with traditional instruments of the West African country of Mali and is difficult to categorise. Fans of World Music will no doubt have in their collection more difficult styles of music to pigeon hole but those who follow more commercial styles will struggle to pin it down.
This isn’t the heavy rhythmic music that Paul Simon or David Byrne used in the 80’s, these are finely layered pieces which take on both genres without sounding like either is unwelcome at the table. We have acoustic guitar and double bass from typical folk music sitting side by side with a stringed lute-like instrument called a Ngoni, African percussion and subtle vocals.
The ngoni has a reputation for being able to be played fast, it features heavily especially on the instrumental ‘Horonia’ and shows its speed on ‘Shadow Queen’, it sounds lovely here and bridges the gap between African and Celtic music and sounds at home when the band move into blues and jazz territory.
There is a variation in the music that is welcomed and shows the ability of the band to stretch its legs into other styles of music, this keeps the listener interested because each song delivers a new flavour. ‘Long Way Home’ is one of three songs I keep returning to, it’s possibly the most straight forward track on the album yet it has a percussion and rhythm that remains enjoyable and accessible, ‘Blurred Visions’ with a melody similar to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ flies by at 5mins long before we end the album with ‘North Wind’. A mighty nine minutes in length, it gives the band, in particular the rhythm section, the chance to jam and groove until the album comes to an end. This song closes the album like the sunset closes the day. Great stuff.
When you hear the term “holiday music” what springs to mind depends on which part of the world you are from and what your cultural heritage sounds like. With this in mind Greg Herriges has collected together music which goes beyond the Holly and The Ivy of the western Christmas traditions and recorded, reworked and in some cases composed his own music which reflects the sounds of festivals, revels and holiday celebration across the globe.
The skill of such an enterprise is to come across with authenticity, that you are revelling in the music with the spirit and joy for which it was intended rather than being merely a dusty academic, collecting and cataloguing for anthropological reasons rather than musical. And as he flits from Basque to Balinese traditions, from Catalan to Chinese song and from Hebrew to Ukrainian heritages he never once sounds anything other than at one with the music. A glorious celebration of world music and a reminder that however much we talk about the global village, the world is indeed still a large, fascinating and beguiling place full of rich rewards and musical marvellousness.
All manner of musical genres and bi-genres end up in the pile of cd’s I get to look through and review, anything from folk or acoustic singer/songwriter to various offerings from rock, indie and punk but occasionally something turns up that stops you in your tracks and makes you think or (in this case) say out loud “what do we have here?”
The album cover alone was enough for me to want to know a little more about this curious little package of musical mysteries.
First things first though I should warn you that this is not a genre or style of music for everyone, I’m still undecided if it’s a style of music for me, and I can see that this will only appeal to a certain slice of the general public but if you want something a little different in your cd collection, this isn’t a bad contender.
The style of music is traditional Yiddish folk and it’s presently perfectly from Canadian musician Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin, who has spent years producing hip-hop and quietly exploring and collecting music from his own Yiddish culture.
I confess that this is the first time I’ve ever heard anything Yiddish outside of various films soundtracks but give it a chance and you’ll be treated to a style of music that is haunting, beautiful and holds within it centuries of persecution, pain but also the celebration of being alive.
The music is expertly played by long-time collaborators the Kaiser Quartett, that bring a certain gravity to the recordings with warm, timbered tones from their instruments, add to this the authentic vocal delivery of Socalled and you’ve got a powerful combination. I think the best compliment I can give to this album is that it could have been recorded during any decade of the last hundred years, it feels so steeped in its history and so authentically recorded that you feel transported to an era of horse drawn carts and the turbulent times of the last century.
Powerful, beguiling, haunting and uplifting all at the same time.
There are a few odd and almost indefinable generic terms in music, handles used mainly by lazy journalists, like myself, to easily box music, the draw lines of demarcation in an effort to say it is one thing or another. Of all of them the worst is the term “world music”…music that is representative of a culture or a place and therefore meaning something different to every one who hears the word. But maybe world music is actually something else all together…maybe it isn’t music from one part of the planet or another but music which is built from various sounds garnered from all corners of the globe…corners of a globe? Well, you know what I mean.
The fact that Ajay was born in India, lives in Switzerland, that he weaves pieces of pop with rock, blends of eastern instrumentation and western folk traditions, loose psychedelia with rigid structured grooves, plunders the past just as much as he looks to the future, means that he is the perfect world citizen to be able to truly create this new world genre. A genre where east meets west, where worlds collide, where occident dances with orient.
Forget About Yesterday sums up his ability to cross genres and borders perfectly, tabla beats and wailing blues harmonicas, pastel hippy-pop warmth and a looping funky groove beating at its heart and Ordinary Memory sounds as if R.E.M. relocated to the outskirts of Bangalore at the end of the nineties. There are straighter Americana infused songs such as All Your Thoughts, a real end of the night bar room sing-along and the wonderfully named My Wallet is a House of Cards is a stomping blues-rocker.
The real charm of the album is that even though it covers a lot of ground stylistically, just compare the late-night jazz vibes of Grooving In Paris with the retro-folk-pop of While I’m Standing Here, it has a cohesive quality, each song, no matter where it leans generically feels like a necessary part of the whole album. I’ve tried to avoid using the B word, but it has the same sort of breath-taking diversity and exploratory nature as the later Beatles album and for once I feel that such a comparison is no mere rhetoric or hyperbole, Little Boat really is a gem of an album.
So, maybe this is a new genre, more likely it is an acknowledgement that genres don’t really exist or if they do they are a hinderance to musicians creativity rather than a guide. Whatever the answer, Little Boat is an album everyone should hear…today…right now…go and buy it this instant, you’ll thank me later. You will….
Dead Can Dance have announced details of a brand new album entitled ‘Dionysus’,
which is set for release on 2nd November via [PIAS] Recordings.
ACT I : Sea Borne – Liberator of Minds – Dance of the Bacchantes
ACT II : The Mountain – The Invocation – The Forest – Psychopomp
Pre-order the album and find tour dates & tickets here:
Formed in Melbourne in 1981 by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, the style of Dead Can Dance over eight previous studio albums can be described as compelling soundscapes of mesmerising grandeur and solemn beauty that has incorporated African polyrhythms, Gaelic folk, Gregorian chant, Middle Eastern mantras and art rock.
Ever since the group’s inception, the duo have also been informed by folk traditions from all over Europe, not solely in musical terms but also by secular, religious and spiritual practises. The idea behind ’Dionysus’ comes from this backdrop and was shaped as Brendan Perry explored the long established spring and harvest festivals that originated from Dionysian religious practices, a journey that brings to the fore rites and rituals that are still practised to the present day.
World music has always mixed well with dance beats and electronic music largely because they share a common purpose. Music that can trace its sounds back though history and heritage, has survived the fickle fortunes and fads that fashion dictates because it was the dance music of its day. Club sounds are the dance music of today and so the two make a natural alliance. And that is why Yallel works so well.
The core sounds are those haunting vocals that have drifted across the deserts of North Africa and The Middle East for a millennium and the same energetic beats that drove Moorish warriors towards their targets or danced through the air above Persian philosophers, whirling Dervishes and Sufi mystics across the years. Add to this some high octane modern clubland beats and electronic washes and you have the perfect meeting of the old world and the new, the organic and the digital, the cutting edge and the timeless. Perfect.
Take a female singer/songwriter/producer from Delhi in India, give her a musical education from London and drop her into the boiling pot of influences of a city like, oh I don’t know… New York, and it would be pretty interesting to hear what she came up with, well Rivita is that woman and her new five track EP is currently being played into my ears.
I like to leave an album on loop when I’m going to review it and this album benefits from such a method because the depth within the production only really reveals itself through repeat listening and shows that this EP wasn’t cobbled together with little thought or planning, it knows what it wants to do and sets up the listener early with the opening track, ‘Galaxy’ (coming in at barely a minute in length), boldly stating “I speak the truth, and nothing but the truth”.
It’s a good opener, a strong appetiser, if you will, for the music to follow which dips it’s toes into electro dance, world music and straight laced pop with strong hooks and choruses, particularly ‘While The Love Is Gone’ (which you’ll be singing for hours afterwards).
This song gets a remix treatment within the EP with Rivita – who, as well as singing and writing these songs, also produces – clearly interested in exploring other treatments. Where the original mix seems to soar with the help of subtle backing vocals, the remix benefits from the inclusion of acoustic guitar. ‘Hunt You Down’ is a catchy pop song that, and I’m showing my age here, reminds me of 90’s band All Saints. That isn’t in any way meant as a negative, they bridged the gap between pop and ‘urban’ (whatever that means) successfully and ‘Hunt You Down’ wouldn’t sound out of place on any commercial radio, and is, again, an ear worm in waiting.
There is lots to enjoy in this snippet into the talent of the Dehli-Born, New York native, and this EP will act as a calling card for those wishing to delve deeper into the back catalogue of her work (which can be found at www.rivitamusic.com)
I once heard a folk tale that every place on the map has its own voice and tale to tell. Not just natural features such as rivers and trees, rocks and mountains but even man made structures and the more ancient they are the more they have to tell. It is for this reason bards and storytellers would travel from place to place listening to the song of the land, learning its message and then use it to inform and entertain. India’s top guitarist Kapil Srivastava seems to be on just such a mission. The founder of India’s largest chain of Guitar Schools, Guitarmonk is the man behind Amazing India, a heritage site guitar journey, connecting the countries unique places and heritage sites and composing a piece of music for each.
Musically he is creating a series of wonderfully unique Ragas on Guitar that are inspired by and reflect the majesty, history and diversity of the country capturing its individual colours and flavours in sonic form. Kapil is also filming this audio and video adventure, a feat which when complete will gain an entry into the Guiness Book of Records.
As one half of Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard explored wonderful sonic territory and created music which wandered between re-imagined world sounds and soundtrack style arrangements, she painted with cinematic and widescreen musical colours, and balanced the ethereal and the neo-classical. She has since been associated with numerous big budget soundtracks but is equally likely to be found exploring niche world sounds and highlighting cultural traditions.
As the name suggests The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices falls squarely in the latter territory, a brilliant splicing of the countries traditional sounds and a sweeping arrangement with Gerrard’s voice threading through but always happy to defer to the sumptuous vocal arrangements which act as the platform upon which she works.
It is a piece which steps between worlds, the timeless musical footprint of the region is at its heart and it is also music which could easily have been found on a Dead Can Dance album, especially the later, more musical ethnically linked ones such as Into The Labyrinth or Spiritchaser. It also offers the same wonderful “vocals as music” feeling as the likes of Karl Jenkins, though less intentionally, but unless you are fluent in Bulgarian then the appreciation has to be sonic rather than lyrical and that is a wonderful problem to have as the overall effect is stunning. Maybe the lack of understanding means you appreciate its hidden subtlety and musical beauty rather than focusing on the communication of language.
So of course the piece is stunning, this is Lisa Gerrard after all and that is generally her default setting. If you want something that transcends language and instead speaks in a more universal musical form, that of emotion and ethereality, then she is your go to girl. But you always knew that anyway.
From the punningly clever title and the vibes emanating from the cover, it is obvious that this is no mere return to the rock based journeys that formed last years Growing Wild. And as I said at the time, even that was a new take on the instrumental rock guitar format, exploring some wonderful musical tangents and meanderings into jazz, blues and funk along the way. This time around Slang takes that musically inquiring mind and deft creativity and visits warmer and more chilled climes and delivers his own unique take on acoustic driven world music.
And the world in question here is one of the eternal beach, of Island life, Carnival, or at least its chilled out after party, and of drinking wine under the Iberian sun. He weaves classical Spanish sounds, Calypso grooves and latin cool together, subtle and supple acoustica cradled in just enough musical accompaniment to act as a cradle around the guitar but never get in the way of the central instrument.
The music is highly evocative, Sunset Siesta paints the sun going down over the Sierra Morena, Pub Street captures all of the hustle and bustle of a busy bar and the to and fro of tourists and socialisers in a vibrant blend of steel drums and flamenco-esque guitarwork and Fading Slowly is lilting, latin and lovely.
If most music relies on the lyrics to get the message across, Slang shows us another way. This really is music paining pictures, setting scenes and describing scenarios, using just a song title and after that using only the music presented here, a series of small films appear, snapshots of journeys have yet to take or wonderful aids to revisit those you have already experienced. As always Slang is a master painter, it is just that his brushes are guitars, his colours are notes and his easel is the listeners imagination. How cool is that?
Listening to an album in a language that you are not fluent in (I’m English, most of us barely have a handle on our own language let alone those of our neighbours) is a bit like watching a subtitled film. For just as then you have the translation running along the bottom of the screen, a good songwriter can use music in the same way. I may not be able to exactly translate the meaning behind the song but the music translates it into emotions, feelings, highs and lows, energy, passion and melancholia as directed. And whereas language is limited by the number of words available, music can be used in far wider variety of ways and so when it comes to communicating with the heart, and indeed the soul, music is a much more eloquent form. And Alessio Bondi is master of that language.
Sfrado is a collection of songs exploring the artists life, both as a child growing up in Sicily and as an adult discovering the romances and relationships of his adult life. Musically it also covers a lot of ground too, wandering from funky brass driven boogies such as Vucciria to the lilting latin folk-pop of Di Cu Si to the more traditional Mediterranean guitar sounds of Wild Rosalia and the wonderfully named Un Pisci Rinta A To Panza, A Fish In Your Belly!
Sfardo is a heady blend of the personal and the universal, of local sounds and global sonic adventures, of childhood innocence and more worldly concerns. But more than that it is a beautiful album and if the music alone is enough to make me appreciate its breath-taking and heart-breaking appeal, those who are fluent with his Sicilian words and sun-kissed tales are in for a real treat.
Folk music, roots music, world music, Americana…all terms which only go a very small way to describing what Chris Murphy does, for in many ways they are terms far too loaded down with implication to do the job efficiently. This is about seeing the wood for the trees, and Murphy’s wood is as much about small film vignettes, cinematic scenarios made into song and theatrical live performance, as it is about song writing traditions.
That he is a virtuoso on the violin is a given, a charismatic performer…check, a deft and dexterous song writer, another tick in the box, but it is the story telling and live charm which runs through his performance that links him more to the troubadours of old than the recording artists of today. Though obviously he nails that job description with ease as well.
The music is addictive, charismatic, communicative and fun, Murphy is bold, sassy and infectious and the whole package is a great reminder that when it comes down to it, some of the best music happens when the artist uses simple musical lines to conjure vivid images. It would seem that substance over style, and indeed artistic sustenance over musical snacking, is back on the menu.
None other than Louis Armstrong keenly observed that “All music is folk music, I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song,” and in his colloquially rich and triple negative way, he was right. If folk music is music by the people, of the people, for the people, then it doesn’t take much of a leap to see that old Satchmo was correct. Sharon Shannon’s latest album is the red biro underlining that idea
Although known for a core sound which sits in celtic, particularly Irish traditions, she proves that no matter where you go on this earth, which culture or region you find yourself in, the honest music of the land is a universal language, one which dovetails neatly into both that of its near neighbour and of far flung shores. And so it is that she travels genre, geography and time to find common ground from our shared musical expressions.
Hip-hop beats sit alongside classical charm, African rhythms vie for space with Canadian traditions and arabesque details embroider European folk splendour. Timeless musical birthrights join a more contemporary canon and urban urgency blends with pastoral passions.
At a time when the world seems more fractured and insular than ever, maybe remembering such universal languages is as timely as it is important, and Sacred Earth is nothing less than the perfect introduction to learning and appreciating that common musical tongue.
Twenty years and nine albums down the line from his debut release, The Latin Jazz Project, and Tony Marino is still expertly exploring the boundaries and back roads of that genre. This new album takes instrumental excursions through myriad sub-genres, from the expected Samba, Calypso and Funk to the more niche grooves associated with the carnival vibes of Frevo and the percussive urges of Baiao.
I have to confess that I am not as well versed in the intricacies of jazz as I would like, so I will apologies to aficionados for the absence of a detailed unpacking of the music. But then most of us approach such things, as a punter and consumer, which is fine, as those with only a casual relationship with the genre, like myself, will find an accessible, infectious and hypnotic collection of sounds within.
Forget the mechanics, music for my money is all about evocation, the painting of visions and vistas, a conjuring of people and places and here there is no shortage of images brought to life as these magical sounds pass before your ears. Draw a line connecting Brazilian carnivals to Cuban dancehalls, another from chilled beach parties to ancient African rhythms and then many more connecting places and thoughts, music and stories that have no business being connected. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars and patterns dancing behind your eyelids is the music of this outstanding composer.
If you have found contemporary jazz too impenetrable, too complex, then maybe this is the place to start. Not only does the straighter delivery of the Latin groove sit more easily on the listener, but also the gathering of global influences keeps things nicely fresh and spontaneous. This fusion of world sounds hits a high point on Pradeep and Neera, a tabla drum driven groover that matches classical India rhythms with modern jazz piano, orient meets occident, to fantastic effect.
And it is this disregard for cultural boundaries that is the charm of the album, rather than explore just the one musical path way to exhaustion, Tony Marino is set on gathering the largest amount of experiences, casting his net wide and taking in a broad range of musical styles. But it is then what he does with these musical building blocks that is the key, for despite the wandering and exploratory nature of the album; there is a consistency and house style that turns this coming together of ideas a unique brand.
And as a mere punter, I can easily see the attraction of this wonderful collection of tunes and it’s subtly changing dynamic means that it fits in as chilled background music, conducive to a quiet night in but crank the volume up and you have nothing short of a very sophisticated party sound-track.
Jazz fans will appreciate the dexterity of playing and the deftness of the compositions, regular punters will find a groovesome and fun re-examination of seductive and sensual sounds but everyone will find something to love in a collection of musical soundscapes that have one foot firmly planted firmly in Latin jazz but the other stepping out to explore the world and its music.
Los Angeles based Cambodian and American rock band Dengue Fever announced today that they are set to begin a deluxe reissue campaign to release the bands long out-of-print back catalog via their own Tuk Tuk Records.
Both critically acclaimed titles are set for release on May 26th in the UK. Each title features new bonus tracks, new liner notes, archival photos and upgraded original artwork. Both CD titles are now in housed in digipaks and feature an expended 20-page booklet for Dengue Fever while Escape features a fold out poster. Vinyl reissues will be available later this year.
“Since acquiring our back catalog a few years back, we’ve always talked about doing deluxe editions of all of Dengue Fever’s out-of-print titles properly on our own label,” said Dengue Fever bassist and Tuk Tuk Records Co-owner Senon Williams. “Our primary goal was to get our first albums Dengue Fever and Escape From Dragon House back in print first with bonus material and other upgrades and use it as a template to upgrade the rest of our back catalog moving forward.”
Confirmed track listing for Dengue Fever:
1. Lost in Laos
2. I’m Sixteen
3. 22 Nights
4. Hold My Hips
5. Dengue Fever
7. New Year’s Eve
9. Glass of Wine
10. Shave Your Beard
11. Pow Pow
12. Connect Four
13. A Go Go (Remix)
14. Doo Wop (Live at the Rickshaw Stop 2004)
15. Hold My Hips (Paul Dreux Smith Remix 2004)
16. Lost in Laos (Tom Chasteen Remix)
17. Thanks-A-Lot (Live at Spaceland 2004)
Confirmed track listing for Escape From Dragon House:
1. We Were Gonna
2. Sni Bong
3. Tip My Canoe
4. Tap Water
5. Sleepwalking in the Mekong
6. One Thousand Years of a Tarantula
7. Escape From Dragon House
8. Made of Steam
9. Lake Dolores
10. Saran Wrap
12. Escape From Dragon House (Napster Session 2006)
13. Made of Steam (Mechanical Pencil Remix)
14. Sleepwalking Thought The Meking (Morgan Page Remix)
15. Sni Ha (Napster Session 2006)
Aside from these reissues, Dengue Fever will be touring extensively throughout 2017. They are set to make their Middle East debut in the United Arab Emirates on February 17 and in March, the band head out on tour with fellow global pioneers Tinariwen in the United States and Canada. For Dengue Fever tour information including set times, ticket prices, venue information and more can be found at http://denguefevermusic.com/tour/
Praised by critics and fans alike, Dengue Fever are often lauded as a rare combination of garage rock, psychedelic rock, Khmer rock, world music and the almost lost rich Cambodian music from the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Their high energy live shows and musical evolution which began covering Khmer classics in 2003 and has featured original composition from that point forward, have made them a must-see act more than a decade after they began. Coverage in outlets such as NPR, New York Times, BBC, Pitchfork, Mojo, Later with Jools Holland and more, has afforded the band an opportunity to tour on nearly every continent including Brazil, Australia, Russia, Korea, Hong Kong and soon Abu Dhabi.
The original intention was to come at this album purely from a musical perspective – explore, discuss, opine just the musical factors that are found within it. But however hard you try to detach cause from result, it becomes an impossible task. Not only does the enormity of the events that sit behind this collection of songs float above the whole project, the very idea of the land, the natural world and an intangible primal force runs through the very essence of these songs, lyrically for sure but also through the music.
It would have been very easy for the compilers to play an obvious card at this point, to collect songs and sounds which served existing preconceptions, which tugged at heartstrings and which delivered a bag of cultural clichés and rose-tinted nostalgia. What is so clever about this collection is that whilst evoking the primal sounds and ancient, elemental spirit which is at the heart of the album, it is still wonderfully diverse, fantastically contemporary and rather than look back over it’s shoulder, is instead staring towards new horizons. Music thatperfectly captures the enduring, cyclical and timeless nature of the issues being promoted here.
I’ll start with Tallulah Rendall as she is the only artist I was previously aware of, but is also the perfect embodiment of an ancient concept being channelled through a modern form. With a blend of 60’s folk revival and modern chilled, pop balladry her message is one of change being the result of a multitude of small, personal shifts in attitude and outlook to realize one new, bigger cultural revision.
And if that is a wonderful central hub for the album to spin on, what circles it is an eclectic and myriad take on the same positivity. Karen Woods delivers a haunting, tribal – celtic jig, Murray Kyle takes a traditional protest song route and Martha Tilston takes us down some pulsing, haunting and sonorous pathways. Elsewhere there is room for emotive instrumentals and lyrical poignancy, bucolic haziness and rousing standards, music that evokes a place and songs that are universal.
This is an album that also resonates through a bigger picture, a picture which captures a vastly changing world, one where freedoms are being eroded, laws and justices rewritten for the gain of the few, one where the love of money is indeed the root of evil, an evil that is cashing in the natural world, for a quick turn around, selling the very stuff of existence as if they somehow owned it. Not only the water of life but the earth, our fellow inhabitants and the very air we breathe. Step beyond Standing Rock and you should see this album as a rallying point for what is to follow, a sound track to an awakening of ideas and that this may be just the tip of a fast eroding iceberg.
To listen to, support and purchase the album go HERE
Echo Park Orchestra have a gift that is rarely found in contemporary music, to be able to take extremes and weave them together into a middle ground experience that ticks more boxes than you were even expecting to be presented with. I’m not talking about extremes in mere musical terms, more in concept, as they match deft, deep and devilishly clever word play with accessible, pop aware, yet progressively fluid music.
They offer a range of subjects from the grand and existential to the comparatively small and contemporary, and manage to work with those contrasts so sublimely that rather than sound like jarring juxtapositions they instead take on a wonderfully holistic nature. And it is the exploration of the idea that whatever the lyrical subject matter, whatever the musical reference point, making music is the weaving of universal threads, no matter how disparate and seemingly detached, everything connects somewhere.
And so it is that, aided by a very revealing set of sleeve notes to help unravel these colourful wefts, you find songs which conjure images of the galaxy set to classical Indian groove, dirges to the demise of the modern song form evoking an ancient Sumerian hymn and flamenco flourishes documenting the humble realities of love and much, much more. But if the idea of trying to find common musical ground between such a wide-ranging set of ideas and influences seems a spinning gyre that the centre cannot hold, then think again. The very essence of Echo Park Orchestra is the glue which holds these wonderfully diverse elements in place and which provides a cohesive a recognisable sound.
To build a sound which is as pop-aware as it is experimental, which explores world music but still sounds from its very own self-contained culture, that can pun as well as it probes, can offer lyrical sagacity as easily as offers musical sass and for which the term eclecticism is an understatement, is something all creative pioneers strive for. Many take a lifetime to realise such a concept, some never do. Echo Park Orchestra manage to do it in one album and still find that they have something just as conceptually mind-blowing to offer next time around. How great is that?
If the universe is indeed infinite as those clever types on BBC 2 shows are always trying to explain to my less than comprehending brain, then there must be a place where traditional Balkan folk tunes and first generation British punk meet. So why not here and now? Okay, a bit of clarity before I scare you off.
Although Trans-Siberian March Band may deal in the musical fabric of eastern European it is their approach which makes one think that had John Lydon been raised in a small Black Sea port then this is exactly the type of music he would have been famous for. Perhaps. If you take his subversive nature, his desire to warp music into a new strange and snarling beast and to approach music purely on his own terms and apply it to Balkan traditions then you end up with TSMB.
Throughout 12 tracks the ear is treated to a musical chimera where folk frolics and gypsy jaunts fight with klezmeric machinations and Slavic ska to form a brass infused Ottoman folk-punk or it might just be the sound of Bellowhead working as the house band in an Armenian brothel.
Even if you haven’t dipped a toe into music like this before, even if you have never even heard of WOMAD or know an ocarina from a tambura , this riot of re-imaginings, this progressive celebration of what we once used to try and label world music is the perfect place to start. Right who’s up for a bit of Janissary Jazz? Balkan Beat?
Yes, I’m always banging on about how pointless generic tags and labels are, especially in this largely post genre world. But then again when I pick up a press release for a band described as “Parisian avant-garde psych desert metal” how can I not go there, I would defy anyone to pass by such a description without at least checking it out…maybe labels do work.
Blaak Heat is the sound of worlds colliding, desert worlds at that as Southern California stoner rock and middle eastern tones and progressions are feed into the musical equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider and fired at impossible speeds into each other. The resulting explosion is one of hard metallic riffs and kaleidoscopic psych-rock grooves but as the noise dies down you hear the luscious oriental beats and spiralling arabesque patterns that lay at its heart. Or as guitarist Thomas Bellier puts it : “We took our favorite Middle Eastern sounds, and reinterpreted them through the prism of our cultural baggage – weird European psychedelia, a healthy dose of vintage hard rock, experimental jazz… we were able to mix loud fuzz guitar tones along with traditional acoustic instruments, such as the oud and the kanun.”
It is technical yet emotive, thunderous yet subtle, it is the sound of occident meeting orient and it is gloriously inventive.
Although well known and highly regarded on the acoustic and open mic. circuit as a mainly solo player, what becomes immediately obvious upon hearing Good Times is that Jimmy has totally embraced the scope that the recording studio has to offer. Not only is everything you expect from his sound present, the inclusion of a host of additional studio layering really enables him to explore his own songs fully. It is Moore only more so. The trademark guitar dexterity is still the starting point but now cellos sweep through below the melody, tabla drums emphasis the groove, bass lines ground the songs and kit drums lock the whole thing together. The songs have always been there, now though it is as if someone has flung open the curtains, flooding the room with light and warmth and a beam of light has illuminated their potential.
The central point of the album for me is, ironically enough, Anchor where the combination of beats, more direct guitar work, great use of dynamics plus a killer melody mesh to present something that we haven’t seen before, Jimmy Moore as a chart option, if that song appeared before the record buying masses with the name Bugg or Sheeran attached it would undoubtedly sell by the shedload. Similarly Heaviest Heart is Frank Turner without the politics another sure fire sell.
The danger of first ventures into the studio is that child in a sweetshop feeling and the desire to delve into every jar and try every option available. Thankfully it is something that Jimmy has wised up too and avoided and what you have with Good Times is still essentially a solo effort but with just the right amount of musical addition and studio exploration. That said suddenly the prospect of Jimmy Moore as a full band is a tempting thought.
First published in The Ocelot – Dec 14
Like a bunch of genetic scientists beavering away in secret laboratories, for the last decade The Imagined Village have been exploring the secrets of splicing the core sounds of folk and world music into new musical forms. This, their third album, Bending the Dark, is the biggest success story so far. Like Simon Emmerson’s Afro-Celt Sound System which came before it, The Imagined Village is a fluid collaboration of musical explorers that changes with each album, even each gig, and I suspect that it is because of this approach rather than despite of it, that the musical scope of the band remains so varied.
At it’s heart is English folk music, but it is from a desire to move away from the twee, Arran sweater, pipe smoking, finger in the ear, beardy traditions of the genre’s past and fuse it with roots music from across the globe that it gains its strength. It can also be seen as a musical essay on Englishness, multi-culturalism and how traditional music, like the country itself, assimilates and evolves from these new contributions.
Despite calling on the strengths of many of its individual players, it is when the cultures are truly married that their sound really soars. Less concerned with re-workings of Martin Carthy’s repertoire the fact that they now write as a band is paying dividends. Songs like The Guvna with it’s dub beats, Celtic melodies and Asian vibes not only make for cracking songs but enable you to meditate on the fact that we live in a country that now naturally throws such music together. The highlight of the album is the title track itself, a song which seems to encompass everything that the band are about.
The winning factor is that it never appears to be forced. Listening to some old interviews with the band you get a feel for the fact that this isn’t a deliberate project but just the product of today’s society. If Afro-Celt Sound System was the result of a group of guys who were friends first and musicians second each bringing some of their own musical surroundings into the band, The Imagined Village is merely an extension of that. And as one of them pointed out, it is not a band that needs to be defined in terms of being worthy, heralded or necessary. It is just a band with a sound whose existence was inevitable.
Loreena McKennitt is not a household name for many, though she has been creating a very unique brand of music for many years, her first album, Elemental was released in 1985. The cover of 1997’s release, Book of Secrets, does suggest something of what you are going to find inside. The artist herself stands framed in a sunburst of vivid reds, oranges and gold’s, which itself blends into a tapestry like appearance as it reaches the edge of the cover. And this in a way is a good metaphor for the contents, a vivid tapestry, interwoven ideas and a collection of stories and themes that cross both geography and time itself. Book of Secrets forms the last part of a musical travelogue that Loreena began with 1991s, The Visit and is consistent in its musical conclusion to those songs found there. There are many similarities to be drawn between Loreena’s mix of influences and those of Enya or Enigma, but whereas the former tends to have a classical and piano bias and the latter aim for a pop market, this artist creates gloriously soft and gentle mixes of Celtic, folk and diverse world styles and even a hint of rock from time to time. Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and featuring the loan of some of Gabriel’s band, Book of Secrets is a warm and inviting album, one that washes over you rather than requiring any effort to fully appreciate its worth. People may criticize its production work, it is a very polished album and for many lacks a living and spontaneous quality, but this is music that is a fusion of styles that don’t sit easily together and as such may be seen as more the product of the studio than anything else. That said anyone who can produce such moving and ethereal music as this will have me defending them against any such petty gripes, this is definitely a case where the end more than justifies the means. And its not as if the well honed production is there to cover any lack of ability as this album boasts a cast of a couple of dozen of the worlds finest musicians.
As the haunting drone of the Prologue rises with the sound of Middle Eastern strings, Loreena’s haunting voice takes centre stage, rising in resonance as the drums and rhythms of a Bedouin camp drift through. Immediately images are conjured in your mind, campfires glow, desert winds move the desert sands and dark eyed exotic strangers stand in the shadows. This music not only talks to your soul, it can carry you away to a place of the artists choosing. And as gently as it carried you away, it sets you down in another place and time. As the east is left behind, a more familiar place is upon us. The Mummers Dance conjures up the spring festivals of pagan times.
When in the springtime of the year
When the trees are crowned with leaves
When the ash and oak, and the birch and yew
Are dressed in ribbons fair
Again the voice is at the forefront, but violins and mandolins flutter in the background, like the ribbons of the maypole being imagined here. Though we are on the familiar soil of an older Europe, the exotic feel is not lost; the song still evokes fantasy and a magical escapist dreamlike quality. The violin leads in the next track with a more wistful approach and the full Celtic flavour is brought to bear with the flute and whistle that haunts the piece. Even Loreena’s vocal style changes to fit the surroundings as she manages to steal a piece of Clannads sacred domain. This is Skellig and it recounts the last words of a dying monk on the island community of a group of Dark Age men of God.
Beneath these jasmine flowers
Amidst these cypress trees
I give you now my books
And all their mysteries
Harken, John, my word
Let not these keys be lost
The secrets lie within
The writers of the past
Again we venture east with Marco Polo in an instrumental journey that bears his name, the eastern flavours abound in this arabesque arrangement and the rhythms that are created seem to match the gentle rocking of the traveller on the camels back. Tabla drums drive the song as wordless vocals accompany the precession east. Eventually the music fades as the caravan moves out of our senses and a more western flavour takes its place. A more familiar folk tradition is offered up next, the Highwayman being a narrative using the words of a poem by Alfred Noyes. This is by far the longest song on the album, but never seems to flag, even if you don’t concentrate on the words themselves, the voice as an instrument and some fine guitar accompaniment make for a smooth ride.
La Serenissima, another instrumental follows and its gentle harp and violin co-join into a renaissance sounding lilt, if you were sat in a Medici court chamber this would be the theme music to the encounter. The originality of this piece is provided by its minimalist approach, it is light and airy. Hot on the heels of this is Night Ride Across The Caucasus, drums imitate the clatter of hooves and a darker rhythm is the basis of this track
There are visions, there are memories
There are echoes of thundering hooves
There are fires, there is laughter
There’s the sound of a thousand voices
Loreena’s voice hits new heights on the middle eight sections of this piece and as always the music is layered and interwoven with care so that the whole range of instruments has its own place to be. An intense emotion is barely kept in check as the song drags you on its journey to places only dreamed of. The final song is inspired by a train journey through Russia and the words of Dante. Dante’s Prayer begins with a vocal ensemble before piano and violin lay down a sorrowful base and again that rich and clear voice cuts through to your heart. A minimal song, again creating its beauty out of a sparseness and emotive delivery, it is enough to have a voice of this ability but it is the literacy and well crafted words that are as much part of the overall affect in these songs.
Book of Secrets is a collection of moving and beautiful songs that hint at the glorious diversity of the world around us. It revels in a wide range of styles and dozens of instruments. I can recommend no better body of work for relaxing to, it will make you forget your own place and time and connect you with the oneness of our planet. Although the album, and Loreena’s work in general can take you to many far flung lands and times through its clever amalgamation of styles, the way she views the world is expressed in her diary entry at the time of writing the last track
“It is now Day 5 on this train journey across wintry Siberia. Travelling alone, it is strange not to be able to have a conversation with anyone, but one learns how much can be conveyed through actions, body language, a look in the eye… I saw some men on the platform today and one resembled my father. He had reddish hair and a long, very Celtic-looking face I would have expected to see in Ireland, not Russia… I am reminded again of the Celtic exhibition in Venice and the suggestion that the Celts may have originated in the Russian steppes. Perhaps the love of horses which began there is the very same that can be seen in County Kildare today”
The world is a very small place and this album will bring it to your door.
The flippant journalist might say that Cocos Lovers are the band that Mumford and Sons wish they were. Being a flippant journalist I definitely adhere to that sentiment. But as the leading lights of the London folk mafia shed all their early promise of being the new Waterboys in favour of being David Gray with banjo’s, folk music is in need of a new torchbearer and Cocos Lovers might just be what they have been looking for.
In this case however, the term folk music is such a limiting label, aren’t they always, as one of the defining flavours in their heady musical brew is the chimurenga vibe rendered via the guitars rather than the more traditional African instruments. And as often as not it is a Bhundu Boy back beat that you find yourself immersed in as opposed to the more expected western four four. The result is often a wonderful collision of afro-beat era Talking Heads and the more expected folk influences given the bands Kentish birthright.
Whilst the aforementioned Mumfords might be easier to sell to an audience who a generation earlier would have been eagerly lapping up Dire Straits hits, what makes Gold or Dust so great is that it requires a more discerning taste and a more artistic ear. That’s not musical snobbery, it’s just that there is more to savour, more to appreciate, in short it is not big but it is clever. It takes an alt-folk starting point and then runs ragged over world music, progressive songwriting processes, pushes over boundaries, shows a wonderful understanding of dynamics, light and shade, harmony and a host of other musical tricks and influences that normally get lost in that rush to make it…whatever that means these days.
If you like records that offer immediate pay off then this is not for you. This is a record whose attitude reminds me of the reason I became so geeky about music in the first place, why I could play the same album over and over again in the isolation of my teenage bedroom. The subtleties and musical layering found here are such that it invites you to return to it time and time again to explore it’s hidden depths as it reveals something new and rewarding each time you play it, just as music should do.
History has shown that mixing music and spirituality rarely pays off. The results are largely shallow, new age kitsch at best or stiff necked, pompous Bible bashing at worst. It takes a deft musical hand, a sincere heart and clear mind to combine these factors with any real success. Thankfully Mantrasphere ticks all of these boxes.
Although born of a place where western singer-songwriter tradition meets Buddhist chant, it manages to move both genres into new and unexpected realms. Hughie Carroll, the man behind this clash of orient and occident, tells me that the music has its birth in the meditation practices he is so fond of. In those quiet insular moments he hears otherworldly sounds that he then tries to capture and set down in music. Though he claims to be only partially successful at doing this, what he has managed to create is a magical dovetailing of ethereal sounds that are both accessible to the western ear and built around very authentic eastern traditions.
Although led by an acoustic guitar that wanders between laid back, folk vibes, flamenco flourishes and classical dexterity, the rhythmic heartbeat of the music lies in the layers of mantras and tranquil vocalisation that form its bulk. And although wonderfully structured, there is a seductive, clean-limbed beauty to it all. As you would expect there is an appealing calm to these works, the perfect antidote to the stresses of the modern world, just let it wash over you in the knowledge that it has the power to still even the most unquiet of minds.
The songs themselves speak from quite personal inspirations; dreams, travel, personal beliefs and events, all of which moves these creations beyond the fairly meaningless term of world music and into a much more apt description – worldly music.
Unlike most of the albums that this will probably get compared to, the ones you find in the racks of Glastonbury gift shops next to CD’s of whale song, the sound of trees growing or yogurt fermenting, this is no throwaway mood music, there is so much more depth to it and inspiration to be gleaned from it than that.
The real beauty of the album is that whilst being spiritual it doesn’t aim to preach yet is still able to speak to everyone. And speak it does, seemingly in a language that is both personal yet universal, minimal yet comprehensive. It is at once music to chill out to yet energizing, music of the here and now yet timeless. You can’t ask a lot more from a musician can you?