TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena's Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena's Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.
There can be no doubt that music can engage the mind and body. Beyond lowering stress, improving mood and helping one to sleep, music can reduce depression, can improve memory and learning and can help soothe pain. So, you definitely need more music in your life, as do those on your holiday shopping list. Now, if listening is good then playing must be better, so why not consider wrapping up an instrument for those on your list.
It could be something soothingly simply like a singing bowl.
Don’t knock a kazoo. You certainly can’t be depressed and play a kazoo. Ever heard of sad kazoo music or a lament for kazoo?
Improving memory, better math skills, improving perseverance, sharpening concentration and fosters creativity are just a few of the benefits of learning to play an instrument. Giving the gift of a musical instrument promises years worth of learning and creativity. And, I’m sure if you’ve been good this year someone would gift you with perhaps a guitar or ukulele starter kit.
Whether you’re looking for a starter kit or an upgraded replacement, remember that old, unused instruments would make a wonderful gift for your local school band or community arts program.
Have you been staring at those cans of green beans in your pantry and wondering if you can wrap up the lot as a gift for your grandma; your inner self whispering seductively, ‘grandma likes green beans’ in hopes of striking at least one name off your Christmas gift list?
Have you caught yourself rifling through the kitchen junk drawer, the top shelf of the linen cupboard or the deepest, darkest part of the closet where the ugly sweaters go to die in desperate desire to finish Christmas shopping while still dressed in your flannel pajamas?
When you find that baby shower gift for that woman in your office you didn’t know all that well and ditched the shower anyway still wrapped on the shelf in the garage, do you think to yourself, “Well, I’m sure someone on my list has a baby and maybe they’ll appreciate the yellow duckie paper” just to cross off another name?
Has the idea of regifting lost its shame and is now a challenge to see if you can remember who not to give what gift you got last year?
It’s easy to slip into a desperate dash in the season of synchronized shopping, scooping up items you don’t really need and no one in your family will want. That said, let me just say one world to you – music.
Music is the answer to all your holiday shopping needs.
There’s music itself. Certainly, there’s a favorite recording for each person on your list this year. With digital music, it becomes super easy to create collection of music for friends and loved ones. Whipping up a personal playlist of love songs for the special someone for each year of your relationship or favorite hymns from childhood for a dear auntie or just popular tunes from your teenage years for a best friend are easy and quick.
There’s musical instruments, kits for beginners, music making software, books about musicians, sweet musical gifts for lulling baby to sleep, music posters, music on socks and scarves, music instrument jewelry, music documentaries and music on CD, DVD and vinyl… That’s were the World Music Central Gift Guide comes into play. For the next couple of days, World Music Central will have a revolving list of musically-inspired gift ideas for every person on your list. Picking the perfect gift of music is simple as a scroll through our gift guide.
It can be hard to summon up that holiday mojo when the weather’s turned mean, your five year-old won’t wear anything other than the Batman costume he put on for Halloween and the forced merriment of newscasters about the upcoming holiday season makes your teeth hurt.
There’s cookies to be baked, parties to be planned, presents to buy and you’re feeling harassed instead of ho-ho-ho. There’s no use claiming the holidays just sneaked up on you either considering the displays of Christmas decorations hit the shelves about ten minutes after the five year-old slipped on the batsuit. What you need is some holiday music. Good thing we’ve got the rundown on some 2018 playlist holiday treats.
I’m not exactly sure you’ll want to start out your foray into the wonderful world of Christmas with William Shatner on his Shatner Claus release (B07HNFZ5LS), even with Brad Paisley’s help on “Blue Christmas” or Joe Louis Walker’s help on “Little Drummer Boy,” but this CD is amusing as hell.
There are little warm fuzzies on this recording unless you plan to pull that Christmas sweater over your head. What Shatner Claus does have is musical masters like Henry Rollins, Rick Wakeman, Todd Rundgren and Iggy Pop lending their talents to Mr. Shatner’s interpretation of holiday classics like “Winter Wonderland,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night.” And, I do have to admit that Shatner’s version of “Feliz Navidad” with Dani Bander is a scream.
Also, out on the pop Christmas scene is John Legend with his A Legendary Christmas (B07JL9P74R) with guest appearances by Stevie Wonder on “What Christmas Means to Me” and Esperanza Spalding on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Snazzy jazzy tracks like “Christmas Time Is Here,” “The Christmas Song” and “Please Come Home for Christmas” have a sweet Nat King Cole feel.
Even rocker Eric Clapton has got the Christmas spirit with his release Happy Xmas. Clapton offers up tracks like “White Christmas,” “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday,” “Home for the Holidays,” “Lonesome Christmas” and the bluesy “Merry Christmas Baby.”
For world music fans there’s Putumayo Presents Joy to the World with sweet little goodies like Nossa Bossa Nova’s “The First Noel,” Frederick de Grandpre’s “Noel Avec Toi,” Jan Luna’s “Winter Wonderland,” Lynn August’s “Christmas by the Bar-B-Que,” The Mighty Diamonds’s “Frosty the Snowman” and Leon Redbone’s “Christmas Island.”
One of my favorites has to be Natt i desember (Night in December) by Iver Kleive and Knut Reiersrud from our friends at the Kirkelig Kulturverksted label. Stunning and deeply atmospheric Natti i desember is chocked full of goodies like “A kom, a kom, Immanuel,” “Stille natt,” “A Betlehem, du vesle by” and “Bjelleklang.”
Recorded at the Haderslev Cathedral in Denmark, this recording is a lush listen into some familiar songs of peace and praise of the season by way of a Nordic take.
Kammerochester Basel offer up the classical recording Porpora: Il verbo in carne (Christmas Oratorio on the Sony Classical label. This Christmas oratorio by Nicola Porpora tells the Christmas story by way of the Chamber Orchestra Basel under the direction of Riccardo Manasi featuring soloists Roberta Invernizzi, Terry Wey and Martin Vanberg.
Listeners looking for a classical take on Christmas and some superb vocalists are sure to enjoy this offering.
As a nod to the kickoff of their November 27th Holiday Caravan Tour, two new songs “Mardi Gras for Christmas” and “Alone for Christmas” are available for download as additions to their original 1998 Christmas Caravan recording. Surely “Mardi Gras for Christmas” will have the joint jumping at any holiday party.
Lushly backed by Ms. Savall’s Baroque ensemble Hirundo Maris, this recording is simply lovely with delights like “El Desembre congelat,” “Mitt hjerte alltid vanker,” “Wexford Carol,” “Kling no, klokka,” “Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia” and “Stille Nacht.”
Greg Herriges leads StellaRoma members Michal Bissonnette, Rundio, Pooja Goswami Pavan, Abhinav Sharma and Tatiana Riabokin on their Revel & Ritual. This is truly a recording for all seasons as StellaRoma takes listeners on a journey of holiday music from around the world.
A song for the Hindu Holi Festival of Colors (“Garuda/Khelat Rang Holi) or a song celebrating the Japanese Spring Cherry Blossom Festival (“Sakura, Sakura”) or a song for the Muslim holy day of Ashura (“Ashura”) make this recording delightful.
Fans might want to check out the season appropriate Basque song of the Annunciation “Birjina Gazetto Bat Zegoen,” the traditional Hebrew song “Sevivon, Sov Sov Sov” done up in a neo-Klezmer style or the 16th century Spanish Christmas carol “Foom, Foom, Foom.” There’s also version of a traditional Ukrainian New Year’s song called “Shchedryk.”
Available on the ARC Music label, this recording brims over with guitar, oud, violin, viola, cello and contrabass wrapping the mysteries of Hanukkah by way of tracks like “Maoz Tzur,” “Khanike, Oi, Khanike,” “Kita’l Tas,” “Akht Kleyne Brider” and “L’Chvod Chanukah.” This recording is a real treat.
As a sequel to theirWintersongs, the glorious voices of Kitka vocally travel from Bulgaria on “Collage of Koleda Carols” to Russia for “Zapovedi blazenstv/The Beatitudes” to Latvia for “Kur bijati ziemassvetki” to Ukraine for “Sco v pana khazjajna.” Taking listeners on a musical journey through Balkan, Slavic and Caucasian regions, Evening Star is holiday celebration, our earthy ancestors calling and a meditation all in one.
The group NewTown has on tap Old World on the Mountain Home Music label and this sweet little bluegrass recording will certainly get the juices flowing. Following up on recordings Harlan Road and Time Machine, this Lexington, Kentucky based group gathers up all the goodness of bluegrass by way of fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar and still manages to put a fresh voice on the genre. Putting polish on NewTown’s bright sparkly sound is producer Barry Bales from Alison Krauss and Union Station fame.
NewTown members, fiddler and vocalist Kati Penn, banjo player and vocalist Jr. Williams, guitarist and vocalist Aaron Ramsey, bassist Travis Anderson and mandolin player Mitchell Cannon have crafted a fine sound that is grounded by tradition and set free from those traditions by degrees through their own sound. NewTown is fresh and inviting.
Opening with “Fly Away,” NewTown takes flight with Ms. Penn’s vocals sure to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, add in fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass and all is right with the world.
Moving through tracks like “Evangeline,” “Heart of Stone,” “Laura Lee” and “Forgotten War” NewTown grows as sweet and comfortable as driving down a long road in a old truck with a good dog.
“The Harvest” is certainly a standout with soulful vocals and some brilliant fiddle lines, just as “Naomi Wise” shimmers bright and clear with Ms. Penn’s crystalline vocals against a truly twangy goodness.
Closing out with “Never Miss the Sun.” Old World wraps up potent mix that sure to snag fans.
Old World puts NewTown squarely on the musical map and we can’t wait to see where we’re going next.
Chucho Valdés – Jazz Bata 2 (Mack Avenue Records, 2018)
Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Chucho Valdés’s Jazz Bata 2 is a recording where everything is right and wonderful in the musicscape of Latin jazz.
Encompassing the eclectic, the electric and the elegant, Jazz Bata 2 is where the lyrical of Mr. Valdés’s extraordinary piano meets the meaty richness of batá drum and percussion. On this, his first release on the Mack Avenue Records label, released on November 16th, Mr. Valdés opens the floodgates to a glorious ebb and flow of jazz punctuated by delightful Cuban and African influences.
To trace the creative thread of Jazz Bata 2, one must go all the way back to 1972 and Mr. Valdés’s Cuban album Jazz Bata with bassist Carlos del Puerto and batá player Oscar Valdés, both who would become members of the group Irakere. Now, Mr. Valdés has teamed up with Cuban musicians Yaroldy Abreu Robles on percussion, Dreiser Durruthy Bombale on batás and vocals and Yelsy Heredia on double bass. Mr. Valdés notes that this continuation of his creative journey of Jazz Bata now comes, “with more resources, in every sense” and “with a wider panorama.” The results are extraordinary.
Opening with “Obatála,” Jazz Bata 2 unfolds as a mesmerizing puzzle of shards of Mr. Valdés’s prodigious talents on the piano, rounded curves of double bass, textures of vocals and architectural constructs of percussion and batá. “Obatála” easily incorporates the free sleekness of jazz, the sweet soulfulness of Cuba and the rich recesses of the Yoruba traditions with the batá drums.
“Son XXI” is no less extraordinary with delicious bass, piano and sultry Cuban rhythms. It should also be noted that the recording itself is fabulous and a listen to the lushness of “Luces” and “Ochun” is evidence of the expertise put into the recording. The sassy “Chucho’s Mood” is certainly a standout with bass and batá solos.
Jazz Bata 2 is also a bit of a tribute recording to Mr. Valdés’s father and teacher Ramón “Bebo” Valdés. In celebration of the centenary of Bebo Valdés’s birth, and interestingly enough Mr. Valdés’s 77th birthday as father and son share the same birthday, Jazz Bata 2 contains the track “100 Años de Bebo.” A charmer with Cuba writ all over it, it also features guest violinist Regina Carter who adds sweetness to the tribute.
“El Guije” opens with some catchy rhythms and vocals before giving way to some hypnotic rhythms and piano lines and finally lapsing into some wonderful drumming and call-and-response vocals.
Jazz Bata 2 closes with “The Clown.” As lushly worked as the rest, this track is the piano playground by Mr. Valdés and is where piano lines curve, bend and turn themselves inside out in the most wonderful of ways.
If Jazz Bata 2 is the continuation of a creative journey the ride is more than fine.
Often the first impressions that come to mind when handed a Celtic CD are of ethereal throated songstresses full of sorrow and longing for lost loves or traditional rowdy romps that seem to run quick and fast as if chased by the light, so cozying up to a newfangled take on the Irish Celtic traditions is a true delight.
Putting a new voice to those traditions is vocalist and musician Damien O’Kane. Those in the know might recognize him from such recordings Avenging and Bright, Banjophony with Ron Block, The Mystery Inch with David Kosky and Summer Hill.
Corralling a collection of mostly traditional songs on Areas of High Traffic, Mr. O’Kane has clearly and decisively put his own stamp on the music, fashioning a sound that’s fresh and easy.
It’s plain from the opening tracks of “‘Til Next Market Day,” that the music matters. There’s not a delicate fairy voice, a brash drinking song or an angry Celtic rocker in sight on this recording, instead there’s electric guitars, keyboards, piano, synthesizers wrapped up with Mr. O’Kane’s vocals and his own guitar and banjo work.
Joined by percussionist Cormac Byrne, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and keyboardist, pianist and synth master Anthony Davis, Mr. O’Kane takes the traditional past folksy into a sophisticated brand of folk that takes subtle dips into rock and jazz with aplomb.
Shimmering guitar and banjo lines provided by guest musician Ron Block remake traditional song “The Blacksmith” a standout track, just as the underlying rock sensibilities take “The Maid of Seventeen” beyond the expected.
And the goods just get better with the sweeping strains of “The Close of an Irish Day” or the dreamy moody sway of “The Banks of the Bann,” with additional vocals of Mr. O’Kane’s wife Kate Rusby.
Listeners get a dose of the inner musical workings of Mr. O’Kane by way of instrumentals “The Goddaughter Part 1” and “Interlude for Mama.”
The simply loveliness of “I Am A Youth” and “Erin’s Lovely Home” are as potent as they are soothing to the Irish soul. Areas of High Traffic closes out with a savvy version of “The Green Fields of America.”
Sleek and fresh, Areas of High Traffic is spectacularly rich and promises to break all the Celtic musical traditions it keeps.
The prodigious talents of Alevi Kurdish musician, singer and composer Ozan Aksoy is apparent from the opening strains of his upcoming November 2nd release of Ozan. Earning his chops early with saz lessons from father and later on with a spot in the group Kardeş Türküler, Mr. Aksoy soon found himself in New York pursuing a degree in ethnomusicology and whole new set of musical collaborators. On this lushly elegant recording charms out the riches of Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian musical traditions by way of folk tunes, love songs, laments and lullabies, carefully snagging western influences, Turkish Anatolian pop tunes and even flamenco riffs.
Mr. Aksoy remarks, “As an Alevi Kurdish musician playing the saz, and as an immigrant musician in the US, I was surrounded by many constraints including my cultural baggage. That burden is why I couldn’t make a solo album until now. But the time came. I wanted to share what I’ve been doing the past few years with the public. But I didn’t want to limit the sound of the album to a traditional box. I wanted to have collaborations with musicians from different parts of the world, who play jazz or other styles. It’s my way of being a Kurdish musician in New York.”
Luring listeners with vocals, bass guitar, ukulele, lavta (lute), saz (long-necked lute), kaval (flute), frame drums, percussion and keyboard, Mr. Aksoy furthers his sound on Ozan with guest musicians violinist Jeremy Brown, teff and claps by Ramzi El-Edlibi, pianist Tamara Kacheimeier, cellist Ani Kalayjian, classical guitarist Richard Miller, sarangi Shyam Nepali, vocalist Leah Shaw, drummer Jonathan Vergara and electric guitarist Luke Vichnis. Ozam is where Mr. Aksoy and company conjure up a musical landscape that bridges east and west, the traditional and the modern and where one music speaks to another.
“This is a snapshot of where I am as an artist. I’m putting all these traditions together in an era of hatred and separation. I didn’t want to shy away from that. Ultimately, these songs speak to our political climate, in the U.S. and in Turkey. They are about immigration, human experience, universal sensations,” Aksoy notes. “This is my current mood. As I grow older, I want to turn attention to those essential emotions that are overlooked in modern life, the nostalgia, pain, suffering. And the hope; there is hope in there, too.”
Opening with “Rhythms of Loneliness,” Ozan takes off on a fantastical journey that is steeped in exotic strings and piano laced with ethereal vocals before giving way to the smooth and easy “Hope” laced with bold dashes of sarangi.
Equally delicious are tracks like the Mediterranean flavored and framed drum edged “Rinde,” the richly worked “Kanchum Em Ari Ari” with its soulful vocals and cello lines and the love song “Leyla.” Additionally, there are goodies like the Armeno-Turkish lament “Derzor Colleri” and the darkly plummy closing track “Dandini.”
Ozan is a remarkably rich musicscape and we can’t wait to find out what Mr. Aksoy has in store for us in the future.