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.
Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Got Soul (Sony Masterworks, 2017)
Robert Randolph puts his latest recording with The Family Band called Got Soul this way, “The music takes me back into the roots of who I am, where I came from. It’s got an upbeat, positive church/gospel/rock/bluesy vibe to it. I’m like a rock and roll preacher on Got Soul.”
Yeah, “rock and roll preacher” just about sums the indefatigable sparkle Mr. Randolph & The Family Band lays down on the Grammy nominated Got Soul. In the way of previous recordings like Unclassified (2003), Colorblind (2009), We Walk This Road (2010), Born Again (2013) and Lickety Split (2013), Mr. Randolph and company have listeners veering off onto a wild musical ride where the colors of soul, funk and gospel run deep and vibrant. Searing and warmly exuberant, Got Soul proves irresistible as it embraces elements of rock and roll, blues and jazz to create a flattering mix.
Songwriter, vocalist and pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph is joined on Got Soul by a whole host of kick ass musicians like electric guitarist Johnny Gale, Hammond B3 organist Raymond Angry, electric bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Marcus Randolph, percussionist Bashiri Johnson, Hammond B3 Organist Shedrick Mitchell and backing vocalists Lenesha Randolph, Candice Anderson and Stevie Ladson. Guest vocalists Anthony Hamilton, Cory Henry and Darius Rucker lend their talents to make the soul stew even richer.
Opening with the fiery title track “Got Soul,” Mr. Randolph & The Family Band pulls out all the stops and dishes out a track that will have the most reluctant listeners jumping up and grooving to the music. Ramping up the goodness with “She Got Soul” with Anthony Hamilton on vocals, Randolph and company stokes the fire with some smoking guitar licks, sassy vocals and an irrepressible joyfulness. Darius Rucker takes his turn with vocals on “Love Do What It Do” backed by an intoxicating mix of pedal steel guitar, electric guitar, electric bass and Hammond B3 organ, not to mention some seriously fine backing vocals.
If that weren’t enough, Got Soul boasts the deliciously funk inspired “Shake It” edged by some sizzling brass lines laid down by saxophonist Jeff Coffin and trumpeter RaShawn Ross. The pedal steel guitar opening of Isaac Hays and David Porter classic “I Thank You” should not be missed and it just gets better with addition of organ and vocals provided by Cory Henry. Equally delightful are offering like “Be the Change,” “Heaven’s Calling” and the funk groove of “Find a Way.” “Travelin’ Cheeba Man is a raucous personal favorite. “Lovesick” and closing track “Gonna Be All Right” are just as delicious.
If you can listen to Got Soul without dancing, tapping a toe, raising arms skyward or at the very least nodding your head, seek professional medical or spiritual attention immediately.
It’s that time of year when World Music Central gives our readers the skinny on what’s out there for the music lover on your list. We’ve got musically inspired gift ideas for your mom, your dad, your kids, your music teacher and even that odd uncle who wows the family with the first couple of bars of “Stairway to Heaven” played on the organ.
So, over the next days be sure to check out the daily goodies on our gift giving guide. You’re just a click away from being the rock star gift giver in your family this year.
Do you remember last January when you said, “Hey, just throw all them in that big plastic bag,” and the other person did exactly that? Yeah, well it’s that time of year to face that big plastic bag of now knotted Christmas lights because the person responsible didn’t coil them neatly.
Along with the now snake pit of lights, you’ll be facing the endless list making, trying to crowbar out gift ideas from those curmudgeons in your family, preparing the assembly line of Christmas cookies and treats and rummaging through the boxes of last year’s decorations to pluck out the survivors. You know what you need? You need some Christmas music, either to get you in the holiday mood or to drown out the screaming of the person outside who just stapled his or her finger attempting to put up the new strands of lights because the cat has made a bed of the snake pit of old lights. Lucky for you World Music Central has a whole host of new and classic goodies for you to check out for your listening pleasure.
Looking to having yourself a merry little country Christmas? Well, you might want to check out country queen Reba McEntire’s My Kind of Christmas with tracks like “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Silent Night” with Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood.
Alan Jackson has out this season Let It Be Christmas with a sweetly country version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” as well as goodies like “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells.”
Nashville session musician and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy has put out the harmonica happy Classic Country Christmas with offerings like “O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Tender Tennessee Christmas.”
Ready to kick your holiday shindig up a notch or two? Well, you can get yourself a big old helping of 2015’s Southern Rock Christmas with sweet goodies like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by The Artimus Pyle Band, “Merry Christmas Baby” by Point Blank, “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Adam Hood, “Christmas Everywhere” by Black Oak Arkansas and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” by the Oak Ridge Boys.
There is also the compilation from Contrast Records called Santa Claus Is From the South with tracks like “Santa Is On His Way” by Bob Willis & His Texas Playboys, “Christmas Time Is A-Coming” by Bill Monroe, “Blue Christmas” by Hank Snow and for those of you remember The Porter Wagoner Show Kenny Roberts with his track “Christmas Roses.”
There’s also Bluegrass powerhouse Balsam Range’s It’s Christmas Time out on the Mountain Home Music Company label. This has got goodies like “Christmas Lullaby,” “The First Noel,” “I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas” and a kicking version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
North Carolina’s Bluegrass group Nu-Blu is ready to swing you into the mood with their digital offering Shine with sparkling little goodies like title track “Shine,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “What Child Is This” and “Mary Did You Know.”
For a little loftier fare, the Berliner Philharmoniker with Herbert von Karajan on The Christmas Album – Vol. 2 might just hit that inner holiday spirit in the sweet spot. There are some truly lovely tracks on this recording as in “Corelli: Concerto grosso In G Minor, Op.6, MC 68” Fatto per la Notte di Natalie” -1. Vivace – Grave – Allegro,” “Pachebel: Canon And Gigue In D Major, P 37 – Arr. For Orchestra By Max Seiffert – 1. Canon,” “Torelli: Concerto Grosso In G Minor, Op 8, No. 6 “Christmas Concerto” – 2. Largo,” “Manfredini: Concerto In C, Op 3, No. 12 – “Christmas Concerto: -1. Largo (Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale)” and “Locatelli: Concerto Grosso In F Minor, Op. 1, No. 8 “Christmas Concerto” – 4. Largo Adante.”
The Decca/London label has put out Winter Songs by Ola Gjeilo/Choir of Royal Holloway/12 Ensemble. The goodies on this recording “Ecce Novum,” “Across The Vast, Eternal Sky,” “The Coventry Carol,” “Wintertide” and a sweet little version of “Silent Night.”
There’s also Joyeaux Noel French Christmas Music with Michel Corrette, Pierre Dandrieu, Christian Lambour, La Fantasia and the Arcadia Ensemble with conductors Rien Voskruilen and Kevin Mallon. Tracks include “Te Deum in D Major,” “Dixit Dominus,” “Messe de Minuit Pour Noel, H. 9: I. Kyrie” and Messe de Minuit Pour Noel, H. 9: II Gloria.”
Sony Masterworks has put out Placido Domingo & Friends Celebrate Christmas in Vienna. Listeners get to wallow around in the wonders of Placido Domingo and enjoy tracks like “White Christmas” with Diana Ross, “Carol of the Bells” with Vjekoslav Sutej, Sissel Kyrkjebo, Charles Aznavour and the Wiener Opernkinderchor, “I Wonder As I Wander,” “Angels We Have Heard On High” with Tony Bennett and Vanessa Williams and “Stille Nacht” with Jose Carreras and Diana Ross.
Listeners might want to check out the dulcet Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist on their season’s offering Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary. The sweet sisters offer up treats like “Christmas Proclamation,” “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” “Emmanuel,” “Adeste Fideles,” “Gabriel’s Message” and “Gaudete” and each is more and more lovely.
And, there’s more. Oh, so much more!
If you were wondering what Herb Alpert of Tijuana Brass fame was up to – well, apparently a Christmas CD called simply The Christmas Wish. Ramping up his sound with a 45-piece orchestra, a 10-piece rhythm section and a 32-member choir, Mr. Alpert hits all the right notes with “Medley: Joy to the World/Silver Bells,” “Santa Baby,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and other Christmas classics.
Sony Legacy has dug through its archives and pulled out Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for your listening pleasure. Fans can expect oldies but goodies like “White Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Baby,” “Blue Christmas,” “The First Noel” and “Silent Night” by The King himself.
Even Smokey Robinson has succumbed to the pressure of the Christmas album with his first titled Christmas Everyday. Opening the “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” gets with guest artist Trombone Shorty, Christmas Everyday gets the cool treatment with tracks like “This Christmas,” “The Night That Baby Was Born,” “You’re My Present” with The Dap Kings and “O Holy Night” with Take 6.
The ever popular Celtic Woman has put out The Best of Christmas with tracks like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night” and “Once In Royal David’s City.”
The powerhouse band the Sultans of String have put out Christmas Caravan. This is a treasure trove of goodies like “Turkish Greensleeves” with Gundem Yayli Grubu, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with Mary Fahl, “Flight of Angels/Hark the Hearld” with Chris McKhool and Rebecca Campbell, “Celebrate the Holydays: with Sweet Honey in the Rock, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” with Ruben Blades and Luba Mason, “Himalayan Sleigh Ride” with Anwar Khurshid and “Feliz Navidad/Come on People Sing” with Alex Cuba.
David Arkenstone has put out Native Christmas on the Green Hill Productions label. With Native American flute, percussion, guitar and keyboards, Native Christmas is sweetly spare and restful with “Little Drummer Boy,” “We Three Kings,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Snow on the Mesa.”
If the classic pop Christmas is what you’re looking for you might just want to spring for the whole kit and caboodle in the 5-CD box set 100 Hits – Christmas Legends. This box set has it all from Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” to Perry Como’s “Its Beginning to Look a Lost Like Christmas” to Louis Armstrong’s “Cool Yule.” Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Mario Lanza, Glen Miller and Rosemary Clooney are all assembled her for your holiday pleasure.
The Capitol label has put out A Capitol Christmas Vol. 2 with treats like Glen Campbell’s “Blue Christmas,” The Beach Boys’s “Frosty the Snowman,” Dinah Shore’s “Jingle Bells” and Lena Horne’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Concord Records has on tap this year Dave Koz & Friends 20th Anniversary Christmas. Joined by David Benoit, Rick Braun and Peter White, Mr. Koz smooths over the holiday edges with cool offerings like “Winter Wonderland,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” “Feliz Navidad” and “The Home Medley: I’ll Be Home for Christmas/Celebrate Me Home.”
For the vinyl junkies out there the label Music on Vinyl has put out the 2-CD set of Beautiful Day: Kurt Elling Sings Christmas. Lush and smooth, Beautiful Day offers up “Sing a Christmas Carol,” “We Three Kings,” “Wencelaus,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “The Beautiful Day.”
The Cleopatra label has Blues Christmas on offer this holiday season. With tracks like Joe Louis Walker’s “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” Steve Cropper’s “Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby,” Kenny Neal’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Santa” be prepared to have all your low down Christmas needs met.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down and settled in to watch the 1968 concert film Monterey Pop by D.A. Pennebaker that I had recorded from Turner Classic Movies. With a line up that included The Mamas & The Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding company with Janis Joplin, The Animals, The Who, Country Joe and the Fish, Otis Redding, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Ravi Shankar, I had to simply lounge back on the sofa and wallow in the sheer goodness of it all.
Interspersed in the band footage, Mr. Pennebaker lets it all hang out with visuals of hippies, flower children, bearded, bespectacled intellectuals and button-down squares all soaking up 1968’s great American songbook. The strait-laced partying with the painted or costumed. The sophisticated sleek mingling with bikers and women in flowing, flowered caftans. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to go? I always thought so.
This morning I woke up to the news that 64 year-old Stephen Paddock repeatedly fired weapons from his Mandalay Bay Hotel Room upon the 22,000 concertgoers at the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival. With more than 50 dead and 500 wounded, this mass shooting has gone down as the worst in American history. But that’s always a tricky bit of trivia, isn’t it? It’s the worst so far. What in the hell could possible be down the road next?
I suspect the usual cast of characters in the wake of this mass murder will appear and then disappear like so much smoke like the somber-faced politicians reverently praying for those lost and those injured or the grim local news reporter spouting platitudes against a backdrop of lit candles and those angry self-appointed defenders of justice who if they had been there would have pulled out their own guns and dispatched the perpetrator with undue haste. But that’s always the problem isn’t it that those quick-draw Dirty Harrys are never around we they are needed. I also suspect that there will be the inevitable questions as to why Mr. Paddock committed such an atrocity, as if there could possibly be a good excuse or thoughtful reason.
Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to pray our way out of this. Surely, enough prayers were said in the wake of the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Pairs, or the Pulse nightclub shooting on Latin night in Orlando, Florida or the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena to finally put an end to this kind of massacre. I don’t think the prayers are working. Certainly, cities like Caracas in Venezuela, San Pedro Sula in Honduras, Cape Town in South Africa and U.S. cities like St. Louis, Baltimore and New Orleans that made it onto Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security’s annual ranking of the world’s most violent cities for 2016 are chocked full of the faithful. If praying were the cure-all wouldn’t Chicago or Cleveland and Milwaukee be much different places than they currently are?
I further suspect that forces are gathering as I write this summoning the music community to respond to this tragedy by way of a proceeds-for-victims concert, or a foundation or a fucking bunch of heartfelt tweets. I simply can’t image looking back on a musical career and pointing to a single concert performance as one of your best, where you got to jam with musical greats or played your heart out, all to memorialize a bunch of dead music fans.
Bob Dylan sang to us “There must be some way out of here.” Well, Bob, I just don’t see that happening any time soon.
Following up on their 2016 release of Eternal, the San Francisco based Baraka Moon is back to inundate listeners with their particular brand of savage coolness on Wind Horse, available on October 6th on the Baraka Moon Music label. Immersing listeners into a deep sound pool fashioned out mystical Sufi trance, textured Indian ragas, meaty African rhythms and the tangy flavors of Australia’s Aboriginal centuries-old musical traditions, Wind Horse is a deluge of sound that is potent and highly satisfying. With copacetic grooves and delicious dance tracks, listeners just have to ride the easy waves of Wind Horse for an excellent ride.
Baraka Moon has pooled its talents with its members, vocalist and harmonium player Sukhawat Ali Khan (who just happens to be related to musical masters Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan); percussionist and didgeridoo master Stephen Kent; drummer and percussionist Peter Warren; and guitarist, ukulele player and backing vocalist Anastasi Mavrides. Wind Horse also shows off the talents of guest musicians like Gurdeep Hira on tabla, Eda Maxym, Stella Karuna Kent and Sam Becker on backing vocals, Ben Issacs on jembe and percussion and Madusara Liyange and Swapan Gandhi on bansuri flute.
Wind Horse opens on the winds of the fabulous groove “Bismillah,” before moving onto the guitar slick and meaty rhythmic “Rasa Divine,” replete with some dishy backing vocals. Listeners shouldn’t miss out on the rich and rewarding “Narayane” with Mr. Khan’s vocals surrounded by guitar flourishes and mesmerizing rhythms. “Allah Hoo” is simply kickass good with didgeridoo against harmonium and Mr. Khan’s vocals.
“Sabir” is full of reggae flair, while “Mankuntu” is all quick paced richness. Equally delicious are the didgeridoo and speaking tongues flash of “Julay Julay” the raucous wild ride of title track “Wind Horse” and the lovely serene addition of bansuri flute on closing track “Alap.”
Baraka Moon’s Wind Horse is a magic carpet ride across Indian grasslands, Pakistani’s lazy river banks, African savannas and the rich, red earth packed landscapes of down under. And what a ride it is.
Love Is My Religion out on the Alif Records label, the latest offering by Turkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is stylishly dramatic and sleekly passionate and a worthy addition to Mr. Tekbilek’s impressive discography that includes the recordings The Sultans Middle Eastern Band Vol 1 and 2, Suleyman the Magnificent, Beyond the Sky, Whirling, Mystical Gardens, Alif, and Kelebek. Pulling at threads from the past and present, from the traditional and contemporary, Love Is My Religion cleverly weaves a spell that is both beguiling and deliciously exotic.
Opening with “Araf,” listeners delve deep into the warm riches of Mr. Tekbilek’s mastery of ney, oud, davul, bendir and darbuka, as well as the flavors offered up by accompanying artists Alex Alessandroni Jr. on piano, Bahadir Sener on kanun, Yossi Fine on acoustic bss and Chris Wabich on drums. If that weren’t enough to tempt listeners “Vivir” is utterly spectacular with the song’s composer and vocalist Yasmin Levy taking center stage with her heartbreaking vocals. Joined by Mr. Tekbilek on vocals and various instruments, keyboardist and guitarist Amotz Plessner and Hamid Saeidi on santour, “Vivir” shimmers.
Love Is My Religion adds icing to the cake with Ismet Siral’s “Barefoot Dervish” in all its piano, synthesizer, brass and woodwind goodness, as well as A. Ekber Cicek’s “Haydar” and the delicately delightful “Mara” composed by Amotz Plessner, Alex Alessandroni Jr. and Idan Raiche who also his own piano work to the recording, but the real outstanding performance on this track has to be Lili Haydn’s spectacular violin lines. Standout tracks like deeply exotic “Memories,” the jazzy slant found on “Steepe” and closing track “Adam, Love Is My Religion & Tende Canim,” composed by Mr. Tekbilek and using a traditional Sufi melody are sure to please any music fan.
The performances on Love Is My Religion aren’t just impeccable there’s hypnotic, graceful and fiercely good, so my only advice is to listen up, load up and disappearing into some delicious music.