All posts by Arthur Shuey

Arthur has been reviewing music for publications since 1976 and began focusing almost exclusively on world music in 2012. His musical background includes past presidencies of the Cape Fear Musicians Association and Blues Society of the Lower Cape Fear, founding membership in nine other blues societies, service on 17 music festival planning committees, two decades of teaching harmonica to individuals and groups, operating a small recording studio and performing solo and in combos for 30 years. Arthur has written professionally since 1975, pieces ranging from short fiction to travel articles, humor to poetry, mainly for local and regional entertainment media. His blog," Shuey's World," is featured at www.accesswilmington.com.

Eighteen Captivating Bulgarian Songs

Galina Durmushliyska - The Enchanting Voice of Bulgaria
Galina Durmushliyska – The Enchanting Voice of Bulgaria
Galina Durmushliyska

The Enchanting Voice of Bulgaria (ARC Music EUCD 2514)

Beside this critic’s workstation is a reproduction of an icon from the walls of a 12th Century Bulgarian church. When the Ottomans conquered the country two centuries later, they converted the church into a mosque where, following the Mohammedan prohibition of graven images, they painted over the walls and all the Christian art thereon. When the Turks retreated, several centuries later, the building was re-consecrated Bulgarian Orthodox and every effort was made to restore its ancient artifacts. That is why this critic is now glancing at a medieval depiction of St. George slaying the dragon from the back of a blue horse; blue paint can be removed or recovered from every overlaid original paint color but white. One learns from this new release that Bulgaria’s music, like its other arts, still has a touch of the Turk, an Eastern meter and frequent brief walk-on appearances of twanging harmonic minor accents. It spices the album’s ambiance interestingly, keeping it exquisitely balanced on a tightrope between folk and exotic music.

The liner notes are extensive and mandatory, as the release is foreign enough to Western ears to require a good guide. The songs center around perceptions one would associate with a Balkan peasant stereotype, simple, even constricted in world view, but always passionate and deep. The music is formally orchestrated and lush, but strongly folk-based; imagine a Bulgarian Bruckner. These factors being examined and passing examination with flying colors, we can move on to the artist, herself, Galina Durmushliyska.

I cannot improve on the summary of her abilities one can find in the album’s liner notes and her press materials, “Galina Durmushliyska is arguably the finest exponent of Bulgarian traditional songs, with an exceptionally warm and lyrical voice.”

Eighteen captivating songs.

Buy The Enchanting Voice of Bulgaria in North America

Buy The Enchanting Voice of Bulgaria in Europe

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Tremendous Slim Ali and the Hodi Boys

Slim Ali and the Hodi Boys - 70s Soul!
Slim Ali and the Hodi Boys – 70s Soul!
Slim Ali and the Hodi Boys

70s Soul! (Arc Music EUCD 2517 )

Misleading title, but easily forgivable because the record is fantastic. This item is supposed to be representative of the soul music sound of the ’70s, particularly that of Stax Records in Memphis, “the voice of black America,” according to the marquee outside that label’s building in its heyday. Further, this item is supposed to give us that sound through the talents of a band based in Nairobi, Kenya. Well, it does that latter, but there’s little content evocative of Stax or any subgenre of mainstream soul music whatsoever. By “little,” I mean just the horn section parts.

What it sounds like, delightfully, is Traffic, the great experimental Britrock band of the late ’60s and early ’70s. That’s a good thing, because Traffic was that different flavor in rock that let us think, look around and have our own experiences amidst the loud insistences of Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin et al that the world move and shake to their grooves only. Anything positive one can say about Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, Traffic, one can say about this collection from Slim Ali and the Hodi Boys. Exactly. Precisely. You can put this CD on, play just about any song, and tell a friend just arriving that it’s a bootleg or newly discovered Traffic record, and that friend will believe you. Slim Ali’s voice and phrasing are the voice and phrasing of gifted young Steve Winwood.

That this release is as it is, is actually better than a good thing, because Traffic didn’t put out enough records to satisfy those who appreciated them, and here is another chance, curiously packaged as a Memphis soul-style record. On second and ongoing listens, one finds another big plus to the record.

The songs all make sense, lyrically, and that feature was not a consistent priority for Traffic. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and that was perfectly acceptable for the rock of Traffic’s time, but all these years later, one notices that it is much easier to remember the words to songs that make sense.

If you will do yourself and your household and friends the kindness of adding “70s Soul!” to your music collection, I believe you will be finding it easy to sing along with these 15 slow-to-mid-tempo deep spacey grooves, framed as they are by tremendous organ, bass, percussion and Memphis-y horn parts decades into the future.

Buy 70s Soul! in North America

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Saor Patrol Fueled by Adrenalin

Saor Patrol - Open Air Asylum
Saor Patrol – Open Air Asylum
Saor Patrol

Open Air Asylum (ARC MUSIC EUCD 2499, 2014)

If you are of Scots extraction, you will enjoy Saor Patrol. No question. As a Scot, I recommend the expense of any and all Saor Patrol CDs to other Scots. Readers who know the stereotype know that this is a strong statement.

Let me address non-Scots and other readers now. I have played their records for friends and heard most frequently as initial reaction, “A heavy metal band with bagpipes!” Well, “I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,” as Robert Burns put it, with any argument to that. I would, instead, agree. Heavy metal is supposed to incite. Nothing incites like the pipes.

In music as in other societal areas, the middle class is fading. There are $3-$6 cover charge bar bands and then there are the huge arena shows costing up to $1,000/ticket. The latter cost that much because the big boys cart around hundreds of tons of stage lights, props and gimmickry. Here’s an exciting band that needs some big speakers … and bagpipes.

It isn’t just bagpipes. The percussion is a smooth blend of big-stage rock and military march, abetting the pipes as if one is the carburetor and the other the pistons of an engine fueled by adrenalin, and the rest of the band gets it.

This Saor Patrol release happens to be live, and that helps to pump up any listener, but any of their CDs have the same strengths. Thank you, ARC Music, for making Saor Patrol’s music available to us all.

Buy Open Air Asylum in North America

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Flutes and Songs from the Andes

Various Artists - 40 Best of Flutes and Songs from the Andes
Various Artists – 40 Best of Flutes and Songs from the Andes
Various Artists: Luz Marina Posada Montoya, Mauricio Vincencio, Ukamau Amerindia, Los Rupay, Juan Carlos Garcia (Artist), Niyireth Alarcon

40 Best of Flutes and Songs from the Andes (ARC MUSIC EUCD 2509)

As always with ARC, the recording is wonderful. Listeners will definitely come away with greater appreciation for the resonance and versatility of Andean flutes in combination with simple percussion and string instruments.

There have been some fine Andean flute releases in recent years. It accelerates the imagination, drawing to mind crisp, clean air, beautiful, cloud-level views of the beginnings and progress of things and stimulus to the intellect. There may not be obvious happiness to some of the tunes, but there is always reason and rhythm and never hopelessness. If one is familiar with the form, that is what one expects from a two-disc set titled as this one is. That’s not what this release is.

There are several tunes that do give that exact aural reward, but more that sound more Iberian than Andean. It’s bedrock Hispanic folk.

In the late 19th Century, an American ethnomusicologist traveled to the Gaelic backwaters of the British Isles to find the root songs of familiar Appalachian folk ballads. At the same time, a British ethnomusicologist traveled to Appalachia in search of isolated communities where the fading memories of Reformation-period ballads might still be strong. Apparently, villages in the Andes are places where some Native American instruments were long ago adapted to melodies imported in the minds of colonists; conquistadors’ near descendants and that is a treasure unique to that region today.

It is all interesting. Every cut is evocative of something historical and powerful. It is not wholly mystical.

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The Pulse of Brazil Presses All the Right Buttons

Various Artists - The Pulse of Brazil
Various Artists – The Pulse of Brazil
Various Artists

The Pulse of Brazil (ARC MUSIC EUCD 2507, 2004)

Extremely cool and not overly foreign. To what can one compare it? Hmmm. Piedmont blues. You see, Delta blues and other subgenres from the Deep South came from people with low incomes, Sears catalogs and something to say, whereas Piedmont blues came from a similar environment, but at least the artists had access to radios, so they knew a little more about what other musicians were doing, whether they could afford exactly the same lessons and instruments as those other musicians or not. “The Pulse of Brazil” presses all the right salsa buttons, but does so with more innovation, resourcefulness and creativity and less formality and elaborate gear than any mainstream release within that genre.

It’s more sparse, too, keeping the spice, sexiness and steamy ambiance of good commercial releases shopped to James Bond film productions but showing off some great individual artists along the way. A phrase rarely used by World Music reviewers is, “Crank it up,” but that is a serious and enthusiastic suggestion regarding this release.

The nice thing, the superlative praise one can give to a foreign language release is that it makes the listener start trying, not only to dance along, but to sing along with songs in an unknown tongue. This CD does that with some songs on the first listen and with all on subsequent plays.

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A Ticket to Brazil’s Best Current Musical Offering

Various Artists - Celebrate Brazil – Songs from Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Porto Alegre
Various Artists – Celebrate Brazil – Songs from Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Porto Alegre
Various Artists

Celebrate Brazil – Songs from Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Porto Alegre (ARC Music EUCD 2505, 2014)

The title indicates that the release will be an audio tour of sorts, representing the best of the music coming out of a cohesive musical community today. That is a specialty of ARC Music, something no other label does as well as this one does. Close your eyes, and this release becomes your ticket to Brazil’s best current musical offering. Open your eyes, and it is, at the least, a travel agent’s most potent ally.

… how to describe an anthology of songs from a foreign country sung in a foreign language? That’s an ongoing challenge and joy in reviewing such releases. Among possible solutions – namedrop some music industry names that might listen to the release. For this one, this reviewer is thinking Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. “WHAT,” you think, as a World Music fan? Well, the world’s getting smaller, we all have access to each other’s vibes, and this particular release keeps the strong percussion of Brazil while leaning heavily on small, combo rock band mainstream instrumentation and three-chord rhythm. I am not saying that this is a collection of wannabe future Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison song embryos that happen to be sung in Portuguese, but 25 years ago, when those names had fresher ears less formula-restricted by consultants, this is exactly the sort of thing that put and kept them on top.

In short, treat your ears to “Celebrate Brazil.”

Buy Celebrate Brazil – Songs from Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Porto Alegre

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La Cantiga Del Fuego

Ana Alcaide - La Cantiga Del Fuego
Ana Alcaide
La Cantiga Del Fuego
Ana Alcaide

La Cantiga Del Fuego (Arc Music EUCD2417, 2012)

The more unique an artist’s path to self expression is, the more heroic and delightful is the result. Ana Alcaide expresses herself with, to quote Wikipedia, “a nyckelharpa (literally “key harp”, plural nyckelharpor), sometimes called a keyed fiddle, … traditional Swedish musical instrument. It is a string instrument or chordophone. Its keys are attached to tangents which, when a key is depressed, serve as frets to change the pitch of the string“. Okay, that’s off the beaten path in itself, but here’s where it gets really good — She uses her nyckelharpa to play music, as her label puts it, “inspired by the journey of the Sephardic Jews and the city of Toledo.”

So meet Olga at the casbah, but not before dusk on Saturday. There is a hint of the exotic, Moorish flavor to her music, but none of the minor key drone one would expect of klezmer, another Jewish musical form. This is the sound of fresh air, hope and excitement, of packing for a better life, of pageantry and rhythm.

It is easy to say that it is good and stimulating, but not particularly easy to describe. For that, readers, please visit the album’s website, arcmusic.co.uk/shop/lacantigadelfuegoanaalcaide-p-1069.html take it from there.

You can also read an interview with Ana here: Interview with Rising Sephardic and World Music Performer Ana Alcaide

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InVentus

Custodio Castelo - InVentus
Custodio Castelo – InVentus
Custodio Castelo

InVentus (Arc Music EUCD2616, 2012)

Django-esque, but with more gypsy and less jazz. Has it some distinctively “Portuguese” element or elements? Yes, it does have a sort of stuck-in-the-past Moorish Sun Belt ambiance when one thinks about it, but this is not music for thinking about. Custódio Castelo is not only the world’s leading player of the Portuguese fado guitar, but also a great composer of the sort that does all the thinking about the music for you. It is cerebral, even a bit of a challenge to follow in its intricacy at times, but it is for feeling, not thinking.

It is also powerful. InVentus purchasers will not only find themselves programming their ring tones and alarms with these songs, but waiting impatiently for a movie good enough to use any of these songs as soundtrack material to come along. Listen to this CD and you will want to see the movie. Any movie into which these dramatic, achingly lovely pieces fit. You will want to see people dance to these songs, and meet to them, and eat, drink and be in all ways merry to them.

In the meantime, you will very much enjoy listening to and share the CD.

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Dindinha

Ceumar – Sons Do Brasil – Dindinha
Ceumar

Sons Do Brasil – Dindinha (Arc Music EUCD 2408, 2005)

Ceumar is a sort of Brazilian Joni Mitchell, pleasing to folk, jazz and pop listeners. A singer of songs about experiences with which we can all identify, she has a good match of vocal and guitar tone that drives her recordings. English-speaking listeners may well catch themselves starting to sing along and then realizing that her Portuguese is a foreign and unknown language.

The songs are interesting for other reasons as well. Many of the key words in her songs are words that don’t translate directly or easily into English, but which are handy words to express things we would like to express. The first track, for example, is called, “Banzo,” a Portuguese term representing a feeling of missing something deeply. “Achou” means “you found it,” and the song is about achieving a successful romance. “The way you look at me improves my vision,” says “O seu olhar.”

The instrumentation is a different blend of cultural inclusions on every cut. Guitar, bass, body percussion and clay pot are followed by guitar, clarinet, percussion, cavaquinho [Portuguese cousin to the ukulele] and 7-string guitar. Brazilian percussion patangome, congas, djembe and cowbell grace a cut after guitars, percussion, effects and viola. One will not become bored while listening to this CD.

Very good for general enjoyment and film soundtracks, on which the label’s catalog is more and more often appearing.

Buy Sons Do Brasil – Dindinha

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A Bright Star Has Risen

Perunika Trio – A Bright Star Has Risen
Perunika Trio

A Bright Star Has Risen (Arc Music EUCD 2409, 2012)

These three Bulgarian women show a clear commitment to sharing the distinctive range of their homeland’s musical roots in the 14 songs on this release. They beautifully demonstrate the power of the human voice as a musical instrument. One finds this done often and well in music from the Eastern Orthodox part of Europe, as that church’s tradition allows only the human voice to be used as an instrument for praising God. This is not to say that Perunika limits itself to somber spiritual chant. Far from it. Were that their bent, they would hardly have named their act after an ancient Slavic rain goddess.

Bulgaria, as portrayed in song by the Perunika Trio, is a land of passion and extremes, whether the extreme religious faith one would expect to find in a place where cultures collide like the Balkans, deep romantic feelings or pangs of loss. Though a bit restricted by its being a cappella, the record is a convincing kaleidoscope of the seasons, the secular and the sacred, the urban and rural and the past and the present in this colorful crossroads of Europe.

It is not a record for everyday listening, but for Sundays with the Times, days when the seasons definitively change, for planting flowers and for late night contemplation of the Human Condition. For these occasions, for times when it is right, “A Bright Star Has Risen” is superlatively right.

Buy the album in North America: A Bright Star Has Risen

Buy it in Europe: A Bright Star Has Arisen

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