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.
Stripped bare but for flute, rattles, rasp, gourd, clay wind whistle, clay pot percussion and vocals Ongtupqa Sacred Music of the Hopi Tribe more than fills Grand Canyon National Park’s Desert View Watchtower where it was recorded during a single night with no second takes.
Set for release on July 26th on the ARC Music label, Ongtupqa is a precious listen into sacred Hopi song by way of Clark Tenakhongva, a Hopi Third Mesa traditional singer, Gary Stroutsos, a Seattle, Washington based flutist and composer and Matthew Nelson, an ethnomusicologist, host of Tucson’s KXCI’s program Global Rhythm Radio and the trio’s clay pot percussionist.
On this recording where a flute might sound like the call of a bird or a gust of wind, where a voice might summon up memories of the rush of a storm or an ancestor’s call from the distant past and the gentle thudding percussion of a clay pot might suggest the distant rumble of thunder or the rustle of a footstep on the path, Ongtupqa firmly and squarely roots listeners to the earth and sky in this elegant call into the wild in the hopes it will stay that way. Ongtupqa is spiritually soulful and intensely meditative with not a hint of modern New Age frippery.
Ongtupqa takes listeners through spare, beautiful tracks like “Butterfly Clouds,” the flute instrumental “Place of Emergence” and Mr. Tenakhongva ‘s song about the flight of the butterflies among the watermelon flowers on “Butterflies Are Free” before launching into the truly stunning pairing of “Rolling Thunder” and “Rain of Life.”
There’s also the vocal and rattle centered “Thank You My Fathers,” the lovely haunting solo flute of the Mr. Stroutsos composition “Vasey’s Paradise” and the lovely “Raindrops” to lure listeners.
Ongtupqa’s stunningly powerful serenity glides in on a voice, a breath passing over a flute, the rasp of a rattle and fingertips against a clay pot. Beautiful.
“Nusrat was one of the greatest singer of our time. When his singing takes off, his voice embodies soulfulness and spirituality like no othe,” Peter Gabriel said that about the late legendary Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Revisiting the utter extraordinary voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has turned into a bit of a celebration as Real World Records celebrates their 30th anniversary in the music business with a July 26th release of the live recording Live at WOMAD 1985 and the vinyl re-issue of Night Song, his final recording for Real World Records.
Restored from the original analogue tapes, Live at WOMAD 1985 is simply thrilling. From the first notes of “Allah Ho Allah Ho” through “Haq Ali Ali” to “Shahbaaz Qalandar” and ending on the last of the fading notes of “Biba Sada Dil Mor De.”
Live at WOMAD is a panoramic
musical landscape of all the wonderfulness that made Mr. Ali Khan’s vocals so
breathtaking. Listeners are treated to the brightness of song, the reverent
ecstasy of Qawwali devotion and vocalizations that sound as if they grew out of
the fires of earth, bubbled up and over rocks and stones within ancient river
banks, took flight and came back to earth as a gentle as a breeze. Surrounded
by harmoniums, tablas, singers and hand-clapping, Live at WOMAD 1985 is just
simply the raw spectacular richness whirling around Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Night Song reissue (Real World Records, 2019)
The re-issue of Night Song is no less astonishing. Originally released in 1996, Night Song came about as a second collaboration with Canadian producer Michael Brook after the release of the 1990 album Mustt Mustt.
Folding in Western and Asian
influences, Night Song is smart, sophisticated and strikingly potent even after
some 23 years. Listeners get an earful of sweetness edged with kora on opening
track “My Heart, My Life” before the delicious open landscape feel of vocals
against harmonium, percussion and keyboards of “Intoxicated.” And it just gets better
with the eerie mysteries of “Lament,” the electronica mix of “My Comfort
Remains” and the precious elegance of title track “Night Song.” My favorite has
to be the moody mix conjured up “Sweet Pain.”
Writing together all the songs on Night Song, Mr. Brooks and Mr. Ali Khan (Mr. Ali Khan solely penned “Night Song”) found the perfect balance of east and west for Night Song so it can be no surprise that it was nominated for a Grammy award and is considered a classic world music realm. Re-visiting this recording after more than 20 years was definitely no chore and if you missed snagging it in 1996 or are just hearing it for the first time don’t waste a moment more before falling under Night Song’s spell.
Several years ago I was at a
neighborhood party where the host had tuned in a local blues to set as
background music. A woman at the party asked that the music be changed because
she didn’t like blues music. She said the blues sounded dated to her and the
music itself implied a kind of pre-Civil Rights misery she didn’t like and
didn’t want to be reminded of.
I remember being a little irritated at this commentary, but said nothing. Blues, its regional sounds, tones and its lyrics, like it or not, are all a part of a legacy about the culture from where it comes. Misery, misogyny, racial injustices, class oppression, dirty politics and bad relationships of every kind have always been part and parcel to the blues and a clever way to slip messages past the polite society censors about the culture and its people. Like most musical genres the blues is a kind of historical record, but it’s often an uncomfortable history. Fortunately, a lone person at a party not liking the genre certainly isn’t going to stop it. Have a beef? Have a broken heart or soul? Have a confession? Add a guitar and it’s magically transformed into something universal. Have blues will travel.
And the blues do indeed
travel. Just one listen to The Rough Guide to Country Blues, out on the World
Music Network/Rough Guide’s label, and all sorts of wonders appear. Revered
rock guitar licks, jazz phrases and familiar vocal turns, growls and slides
hide in plain sight on this collection of country blues that all were recorded
between 1926 and 1935 by the pioneers of country blues. It’s filled with sly
snatches of ragtime, gospel, hillbilly twangy goodness and Dixieland jazz.
For the skeptics who just can’t imagine why they would want to listen to some old scratchy recordings, let me remind you these songs are the real deal and, here’s the kicker, you probably already know a fair number of them. Proof is in The Rough Guide to Country Blues opening track the hauntingly good “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” by Skip James. Some of you might recognize it from T. Bone Burnett’s soundtrack from the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” as sung by Chris Thomas King.
Some might recognize Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe’s “New Dirty Dozen,” a future version of the song was used in Quincy Jones’s movie soundtrack “The Color Purple” and sung by Tata Vega. Frank Stokes appears on the Rough Guide on “I Got Mine.” Ry Cooder and Pink Anderson have cut versions of this song. Just as Rhiannon Giddens took cues from the vocals of Geeshi Wiley on her “Last Kind Words Blues.”
Halfway through the Rough Guide listeners get a sweet string laced version the Mississippi Sheiks’s “Sitting on Top of the World.” As with all things good and right with the world, what goes around comes around and “Sitting on Top of the World” has gone around and around. This song has been recorded by a few notables like Howlin’ Wolf, Doc Watson, Cream, Chris Goss & the Forest Rangers, Ray Charles, The Grateful Dead, Jack White and Janis Joplin.
The Rough Guide to Country
Blues possesses some real gems, songs that just shouldn’t be missed like the
sweet jaunty rag of Blind Willie McTell’s “Georgia Rag” or the guitar licks
found on Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water” or Bukka White’s “Sic
‘Em Dogs On,” or the sheer goodness of Big Bill Boonzy’s “How You Want It
Done?” or Blind Blake’s “Come On Boys Let’s Do That Messin’ Around.”
And there are some blues
artists that shouldn’t be missed like Charley Patton’s “A Spoonful Blues,” Son
House’s “My Black Mama – Part I” and Leadbelly’s “Packin’ Trunk Blues.”
And no listener wants to
miss out on these lyrics on Tommy Johnson’s “Cool Drink of Water Blues.”
I asked for water, and she gave me gasoline I asked for water, she gave me gasoline I asked for water and she gave me gasoline Lord, Lordy, Lord
Crying, Lord, I wonder will I ever get back home Crying, Lord, I wonder will I ever get back home Lord, Lordy, Lord
Or these lyrics from Son
House’s “My Black Mam – Part I”
Oh, Lord have mercy on my wicked soul, Wouldn’t mistreat you baby for my weight in gold, Oh, Lord have mercy on my wicked soul, Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm.
If you’ve ever heard Malian artists like Ali Farka Toure, Afel Bocoum, Le Troup Regionale de Nia funke, L’Orchestre de Gao, Songhoy Allstars or BanKaiNa, you’ve heard Alpha Ousamane “Hama” Sankare. This vocalist, calabash player, composer and arranger is a kind of musical cornerstone in Mali’s musical landscape who stepped out on worldwide musical stage in 2018 on his Clermont Music release Ballebe – Calling All Africans.
Now, because the fine folks at Clermont Music know a good thing when they hear it, they’ve set loose another stunning collection of songs by Mr. Sankare on the world music scene. Entitled Niafunke , Mr. Sankare blazes bright with this collection of original tracks with a few traditional Malian tunes thrown in for good measure and a track co-written with vocalist Afel Bocoum.
Whether you’re new to the
wonders of Malian music or are already a devoted fan, Niafunke is brimming over
with Malian goodness.
Joining Mr. Sankare’s vocals
and calabash playing on this recording is a first class line-up of musicians
including Oumar Konate on guitar, Oramane Toure on bass, Makan Camara on drums
and percussion, Afel Bocoum on backing vocals, Yoro Cisse on monochord, Alibaba
Traore on guitar, Kande Sissoko on ngoni and Sekou Toure on backing vocals.
trance-inducing rhythms, warm call-and-response vocals, shimmering guitar licks
so good they’ll make a grown man weep and surrounded by the steady, righteous
rhythms of calabash, Niafunke is stellar collection of musical treats.
From the opening of “Dewel Wege” through tracks like the guitar lick laced “Remobe” and goodies like “Tiega Mali” and traditional track “Nojarro,” Niafunke is all hip grooves surrounded by that keenly felt Malian dessert blues/rock stamp.
Fans will definitely want to take a listen to “Alkaleyka,” the bluesy “Yer Kur Ti Afo” and the feel good “Solane,” as well as the upbeat ode to women and children “Cherie” and spectacular instrumental “Baba Gomni.”
Niafunke overflows with great music and good grooves, so my only complaint about Niafunke has nothing to do with the music itself, it concerns the liner notes. In teeny tiny letters on the back of the cover under the song title are some of the lyrics to the songs. Some of these lyrics include: “Today Mali suffers – Killings Banditry – We are tearing each other apart,” “People of Mali come together for peace,” and “Its is a tragedy that there are so many people without meaningful work. So much human potential is being lost.”
I’ll say right out that the regular World Music Central reader is smarter than the average bear. That being said, I’m sure there are a good number of folks out there that have no clue about the goings on in Mali or even where Mali is. If it takes liner notes concerning the state of affairs another country or culture or the tragedies of another group of people far away to enlighten music lovers then that’s what it takes. I don’t think making a point to publish decent sized liner notes of a song’s lyrics so people can and are encourage to read them takes anything away from the music. Knowing the hardships of Mali doesn’t take power away from Mr. Sankare’s music – it makes it all the more powerful.
Anyone who has dipped an ear into the musical wonderlands crafted by Dead Can Dance knows that the journey down these fantastical rabbit holes can be gloriously fierce and wholly satisfying and their latest offering Dionysus is certainly no exception. Following up on releases like Spiritchaser, Anastasis, Into the Labyrinth and Aion, the dynamic duo behind Dead Can Dance Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard have chosen the ritual and rites of Dionysus as the creative jumping off point for their latest musical journey. Dionysus. You know, the Greek god who’s got the goods on wine, wine making, fertility, ritual euphoria, religious ecstasy and theater. That Dionysus.
There’s no need to start brushing up on your Greek mythology or crafting a fennel staff topped with a pine cone; the music on Dionysus is all about that mysterious, well-trodden path of rite and ritual, plucking sounds that bubble up from the earth or snagged straight from the wind.
For this recording, Mr. Perry lures listeners with an array of collected sounds from around the globe like belled goats from Switzerland, a beehive from New Zealand and bird calls from Brazil and Mexico. Paired with Dead Can Dance familiars like frame drums, flutes, whistles, soaring vocals that might well have been snagged from the air and soul-stirring rhythms, Mr. Perry adds a daf or Iranian frame drum and a fujara or Slovakian shepherd’s flute to his musical cauldron.
Divided into two acts, each with several tracks that flow into one another, Dionysus opens with ship and surf sounds on “Sea Borne” before evolving into mélange of drums, hand claps, fabulous horns and vocals and you’ve magically arrived at the beginning of your own ritual backed by electronica and soaring vocals. Like all fantastical musical journeys there’s always a bit of surrender to the direction of the music.
Dionysus turns next to the “Liberator of Minds,” a lush landscape of percussion instruments, flutes and whistles with a decidedly Middle Eastern flair before giving way to “Dance of the Bacchantes,” a piece that quickly finds ritual ecstasy by way of intense drumming and female vocals and ululations that’s fierce and delicious.
Turning to Act II, is where Dionysus hooks listeners further by way of “The Mountain” where the ritual continues with pipes against mysterious electronica, ethereal vocals, including some from Mr. Perry himself, and a backdrop of rite-inducing percussion.
At the mountain top, listeners are ready for “The Invocation,” preceded by belled goats and the wind before evolving into some truly spectacular vocals laced by bells and zither-like instrument. The retreat to “The Forest” is just as stunning in that familiar musical cross-cultural Dead Can Dance mix of vocals, percussion and electronica.
The journey ends with “Psychopomp” that opens with rattles, birdsong and ritual rhythm before taking on a dreamy slide into an otherworldly place where vocals twine around rattles and birdsong.
Dionysus is everything you want in a Dead Can Dance recording – rhythms rooted to the earth, vocals plucked from under the wings of swooping birds and that savage grace only music can capture for us mere mortals.
Okay, I know what you’re
thinking. You see the title The Art of the Vietnamese Zither and I can hear the
huff of your sighs and feel you rolling your eyes from here. Perhaps you are
imagining a rather spare, academic exploration of the zither and a dense
intellectual tour through Vietnamese music with an impossible array of terms to
learn and understand in order to grasp the Vietnamese zither. Well, nothing
could possibly be further from the truth. Achingly elegant and intricately
engaging, The Art of the Vietnamese Zither will have listeners perched on the
edge of their seats, anticipating note after note capable of musically
expressing a summer afternoon, the rainy season and a young man’s ride on a
horse to seek his bride all by way of the Vietnamese zither.
Armed with a musical
education that includes the Music Conservatory of Saigon and the Ecole Normale
de Musique de Paris, as well as previous recording credits Beyond Borders and A
Journey Between Worlds, Vietnamese composer, pianist and zither player Tri
Nguyen has turned out a stunning recording with The Art of the Vietnamese
Zither. There’s nothing spare or clinical about this music. It comes across as
sweepingly cinematic and deeply personal to Mr. Nguyen whether it is a grand,
bold piece like “Strategist Khong on the Fortress” or a delicately intimate
song like “Autumn Moon Lullaby.”
Composing and arranging most
of the tracks, Mr. Nguyen has gathered up a group of musicians to join his
vision and own zither playing on the Art of the Vietnamese Zither like Buynta
Goryaeva on violin, Iryna Topolnitska on violin, Carolin Berry on viola, Dima
Tsypkin on cello, Son Mach on violin, Thanh Trung on guitar, Trung Tran on
monocord, Nguyen Quyet on Vietnamese bamboo flute, Thien Lam on Vietnamese
lute, Tran Hien on Vietnamese drums and for an unlikely addition on several
tracks Qais Saadi on percussion and oud.
From the very opening track
“Exchange of Love” through to the last note of closing track “Black Riding
Horse,” The Art of the Vietnamese Zither is masterful in its balance. It’s easy
to pick out the reverence to ancient musical traditions of Vietnam and where
Mr. Nguyen marries that with Western traditions as on the elegant “Song of the
The bright delicacy and
careful bend of notes allow tracks like “Twilight Mist,” “Sadness of the South”
and “Move on Water, Walk on Clouds” to simply flow like fluttering silk in the
breeze. Stepping away from the delicate into the bold “Melancholy” and
“Strategist Khong on the Fortress” prove that there’s plenty of drama in
Vietnamese music. And, if that weren’t enough, Mr. Nguyen dazzles with a kind
of hybrid track on “Child Where Are You?” with Mr. Saadi providing percussion
and interestingly enough sinuous oud lines, and again on the track “Golden
Skies.” Closing with the traditional Vietnamese folk song “Black Riding Horse,”
Mr. Nguyen fleshes this track out with traditional Vietnamese bamboo flute,
lute and drums to dazzle listeners with this wild musical ride on a black
The Art of Vietnamese Zither
is a gorgeously sumptuous listen and well worth the journey across southern
Vietnam’s musical landscape.
Everyone knows that the tin
with an assortment of cookies is just so much better than the tins with just a
single kind of cookie. It’s just so much better to sample one’s way through
dark chocolate covered cookies, white chocolate wafers, shortbread squares,
bites of buttery Madeleine cookies or milk chocolate covered cookies with tiny
pictures pressed into the chocolate than a beaten up bag of plain old
snicker-doodles. That’s just fact.
Interestingly enough it can
be the same way with music and our friends at ARC Music know this and have put
a wonderful collection for listeners to nibble their way through on Journey to
the Middle East. This compilation works its way through the music of Syria,
Egypt, Persia, Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey. This glorious collection
would delight the most seasoned listener or the newbie listener dipping an ear
into the musical mysteries of the Middle East.
Listener get a dose of the dramatic right up front with the traditional song and dance from Cyprus titled “Cifdetelli” by the folk ensemble Yeksad. Journey to the Middle East turns hip with Hossam Ramzy and Phil Thornton’s “Planet Egypt” replete with hypnotic percussion and call-and-response interplay between mizmar, argul and kawala from the ARC release Planet Egypt.
Up next is “Aziz Jun” by Zohreh Jooya, originally from the ARC release Persian Nights. Fans will simply not want to miss “Midnight Sun” by Dastan Trio. This track is just simply impressive as Dastan musicians Pejman Hadadi, Hossein Behroozi-Nia, and Hamid Motebassem weave a web of improvisational mastery on barbat, setar and tombak that includes some spectacular percussion.
If that weren’t enough to lure listeners to Journey to the Middle East, there’s the sly and sassy “Iraqi Jazz” by Ahmed Mukhtar, the sweetly soulful “Mi Yitneni Of” by The Burning Bush, originally from the ARC release Folksongs from Israel. There’s also “Amaken” by Andre Hajj & Ensemble, the sultry vocals on the Syrian song “Hayyamatni” by Zein Al-Jundi and Armenian dance song “Karoun, Karoun/Nooneh” by Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian.
The Iranian percussionists of Zarbang have on offer “Cycling Feast” and it is a powerful Sufi trance, ancient Iranian call to the wild and percussion extravaganza all rolled into one. Journey to the Middle East keeps up the wild ride all the way to the end with a final track from Ensemble Huseyin Turkmenler called “Rumeli Karsilamisi.”
Journey to the Middle East is a whole assortment treats and everyone knows that’s the best.
Refugees for Refugees – Amina (Muziekpublique, 2019)
It’s become fairly standard to sum up a person’s life in a single moment. We catch a glimpse of the face as some person crosses a border, disembarks from a ship or jockeys for space in a refugee camp and we sum up that life.
There are some who would chalk up the refugee story by making it part and parcel to tragedy, war or desperate circumstances, while the less sympathetic would see an unwanted burden. But that’s never the whole story. We don’t see bread bakers, engineers, nurses or store owners where the family’s store has successfully existed and operated for and by generation after generation of the same family. We certainly don’t see the keepers of traditional craft work like carving or needlework or artists or musicians. We dismiss the back story of the refugee, that life before being uprooted, and perhaps the most precious of that life. It is with some sadness that I think we might be truly missing out.
It’s somewhere in here that
Muziekpubique, a non-profit organization in Belgium, has seen this missed
opportunity. Running a program promoting folk and world music by way of
concerts, music lessons and a record label. This clever organization and label
has teamed up musicians from Pakistan, Tibet, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and
Belgium to create Refugees for Refugees, resulting in a second release of the
recording called Amina, in support of Muziekpublique and Cinemaximiliaan, a
kind of cross cultural crossroads for refugees in a Brussels park where refugees
can get information, find friends and even watch a movie or find a creative
While the good deeds of Refugees for Refugees might be incentive enough to support this project, the better bet is to support this wonderful music. Amina is full of delightful surprises and lush pleasures. Composing and arranging most of the music on Amina by members of Refugees for Refugees, this collaboration where one musical tradition is seamlessly enfolded in another, sometimes in improbable combinations, comes across as wholly organic.
Pooling the talents of Pakistan’s Asad Qizilbash on sarod, Tibet’s Dolma Renqingi on vocals, Syria’s Fakher Madallal on vocals and percussion, Tibet’s Kelsang Hula on dramyen and vocals, Afghanistan’s Mohammad Aman Yusufi on dambura and vocals, Belgium’s Simon Leleux on oriental percussion, Iraq’s Souhad Najem on qanun, Syria’s Tamman Al Ramadan on ney, Syria’s Tareq Alsayed Yahua on ud and Belgium’s Tristan Driessens on ud Amina flows free in that otherworldly space where musicians, regardless of their country or tradition, meet and commune, that place where all the good things in music happen.
Hooking listeners from the
opening strains of “Perahan,” Amina dazzles with a heady mix of vocals, ud and
ney. And, the tracks just get better with “Semki Molem” with its rich
combination of deep male chorus against the soaring vocals of Aren Dolma. The
ud laced “Qad Hijaz” is just as powerfully stunning as “Kesaro Sarko.”
Other goodies include the
sarod and quanun rich “Punarjanm,” “Tonshak” with its scratchy throat singing
against Tibetan vocals by Ms. Dolma and musical combination of sarod, dramyen,
ud, ney and bendir and all the glorious quanum riches of “Shuq.” “Tales of the
Mountain” will raise the hairs on the back of your neck it’s that good, just as
simple pleasures of sarod and dholla will delight on “After the Dust.” And
still the goodies just keep coming with “Rose Gate,” “Wasla Qudud Bayati”
“Lhasa” and closing track “Chaman Chaman.”
With Amina, supporting a good cause never sounded so good.
The Sol Creation Records release Poranguí is where fantastical rhythms rise from the earth, where vocals dive off cliffs to be buffeted by didgeridoos and flutes and where electronica seeps through the air like mist. Part shamanic ritual and part sonic wonderland Porangui is where listeners can find their rooted place on earth, fly along with the birds and perhaps on the edge of firelight dance just a little wildly.
Following up on the releases of the original motion picture soundtrack Ayahuasca and Ayahuasca Remixed, the live looping artist, musician and educator with an ethnomusicology background from Duke University, Porangui shows listeners and live audiences with way with meditative sounds and dance grooves with addictive results.
“Everything I do live is steeped in improvisation, in spontaneous sound. A lot of the work I do musically is about connecting to what’s happening in the moment in a given space with a given group of listeners,” says Poranguí. “I try to get a feel for what is in the seen realm and the unseen realm, really tuning into the energetics of the space. That’s where the magic is.”
Recorded at an opening ceremony for Lightning in a Bottle and at the Espiritu stage at Santa Fe’s Unify Fest, Porangui Live opens with an electronica and chant combination on “Ganesha,” and the magic musical carpet ride just takes off from there. The sound of frogs opens “Tonantzin” but is quickly taken over by the twangy goodness of didgeridoo wrapped around some tightly packed rhythms and soaring vocals. Just as wonderful is the delicate and dreamy “Oxum” with its birdsong, water sounds and silky vocals before the rhythms ramp up deliciously.
Porangui notes, “Music isn’t entertainment for me, as the goal is transformation. It’s a bridge to the heart, to a space where we can begin to imagine our best selves. This is crucial as our planet needs humans to upgrade themselves. For me, it’s coming into contact to our role as fire keepers. Technology is merely a different form of the fire we came to master long ago. We have a choice: to burn ourselves and everything around us with the fire of technology or to use it to illuminate the way.”
And, Porangui Live illuminates the way with offering of a percussion and mouth harp combo as a sort of invitation to play with the coyotes that can be heard in the distance on “Otorongo” or the flute lines along with rattles that sound like old bones against a thrum of percussion before evolving into a call to the night sky on “Danza Del Viento.” Closing with a kind of celestial lullaby on “Stardust,” Porangui lets us return to earth and revel in the night sky with loving vocals against dreamy electronica.
Snaring a little nature, riding waves of soaring vocals and hypnotic electronica and letting the mind of the listener slide from track to delicious track, Porangui Live is a kind of sonic sanctuary where listeners might just heal what ails them.
So, here we are. We’ve come to that time of year when I have this sudden insane desire to rip paper shamrocks from the walls and turn them into origami swans. With a few deft strokes of a Sharpie, I yearn to give every cheap, cheesy leprechaun a fabulous Salvador Dali mustache. I want to fill every faux pot of gold with squid and give every green, gaudy hat its proper due by handing it off to the nearest Labrador Retriever to be rendered into a slobbery, slimy cheap piece of felt as it so richly deserves.
It must be St. Patrick’s Day season.
I am currently without Sharpie, Labrador Retriever or squid, but, my fine readers, I do have music for your St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve got raucous music, soothing music, poetry within music, music so fine as to make a pint of Guinness shed a tear. I’ve got music with fiddles, music with guitars, music with pipes and music with voices so lovely it will give that Labrador Retriever pause and so drop that chewed hat. I’ve got music from across the ocean, music from down the road, music from across a green field and music from a dark wood. So, let’s get to it.
Those seeking to find a kind of Celtic serenity this St. Patrick’s Day have to look no further than New Age NY Company’s Irish Relaxation: Calming Celtic Instrumental Music and Beautiful Nature. Celtic Chillout Relaxation Academy and Calm Music Zone offer up tracks like “Irish Relaxation,” Spiritual Awaking,” “Nature of Ireland,” “Irish Soundscapes,” “Patrick’s Day,” “Waves & Cliffs” and “Ancient Hills of Ireland” for those looking for a bit of Celtic Zen (I’m sure all you Druids out there have your own name for a Zen-like state so just fill in your own word).
David Arkenstone has on tap for this St. Patrick’s Day The Celtic Heart. Sweet instrumentals like “Hearts Entwined,” “May Dance,” “the Promise Ring” and “Secret Wedding” are comfortably easy and enjoyable. This is perhaps a little sedate for a raucous St. Patrick’s Day party, but might be held in reserve if the mayhem needs to be taken down a notch or two.
The label Lorimer has put out Rise Up by a group called The Outside Track. Comprised fiddler and singer Mairi Rankin, singer and flute player Teresa Horgan, composer and harpist Ailie Robertson, composer and accordionist Fiona Black and guitarist Michael Ferrie, The Outside Track boasts such previous recordings like Light Up the Dark, Flash Company, The Mountain Road and Curious Things Given Wings. Rise Up possesses some real charmers such as “Dark Reels,” “Road to Rollo Bay,” “The Wahoo Set,” “Eleanor Plunkett” and “Happy Reels.”
Out of the Scottish Gaelic tradition comes Eabhal and their 2019 recording This Is How the Ladies Dance. Musicians Megan MacDonald, Jamie MacDonald, Nicky Kirk and Hamish Hepburn have crafted a fine fiddle and accordion soaked album on This Is How the Ladies Dance with delicious fare like “Beir Soiridh,” “MaSim,” “Windsong,” “An Ribhinn Donn” and “The Artist.”
Luckenbooth Records has on tap Claire Hastings and her album Those Who Roam. With her previous recording Between River and Railway under her belt, this Scottish singer and songwriter dazzles her way Those Who Roam with tracks like “The Lothian Hairst,” “Seven Gypsies,” “Jamie Raeburn” and “Ten Thousand Miles” with some truly spectacular vocals.
Scottish group The Tannahill Weavers has put out Orach -The Golden Anniversary Album, out in the U.S. On the Compass Records label. This is a wonderful collection of traditional and contemporary song celebrates The Tannahill Weavers 50th anniversary and their 18th album with the group’s current line-up members Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie, John Martin and Lorne MacDougall and fondly honoring past band members. Fans get goodies like title track “Orach,” “Jenny A’ Things,” “Oh No!,” “The Asturian Sessions,” “The Ghost of Mick McDonnell” and “Gordon Duncan Set.”
The goodness just keeps on coming with Altan and 4 Men & a Dog heavyweights Ciaran Tourish and Keven Doherty and their release Hotel Fiesta. This album is a punch to the gut, a kiss on the cheek and a warm embrace all wrapped in one with tracks like “The Oak Tree (Jackson’s 1 & 2),” “Hawker’s Blues,” “A Visit to Ireland/The Lark on the Strand/Peter Byrne’s Fancy,” “Boots of Spanish Leather,” “Ur Chnock Chein Mhic Cainte,” “The Foxhunters/Dusty Miller,” “Dan the Man” and “My Love Is in America/The Cup of Tea/The Donegal Reel.”
If it’s piping you want, it’s piping you get with Live Recordings from the William Kennedy Piping Festival. This double CD set is a compilation from various performances at the William Kennedy Festival from 2003-2017. There’s more pipers here than you can shake a stick at, including Sean McKeon’s “The Maid on the Green/The Humours of Glin,” John McSherry and Francis McIlduff’s “Son Ar Rost/Song of the Chanter/The Foxhunters/James Kelly’s/The Limestone Rock,” The Goodman Trio’s “An Roguire Dubh/Airgiod Cailighe,” Paddy Keenan’s “The Broken Pledge/The Skylark/The Bucks of Oranmore” and Jarlath Henderson and Ross Ainslie’s “Jim Tweedie’s Sea Legs/Iain Ruadh/Thunderstruck/Angus Thing/Limestone Rock.” This is a sort of glorious piping overdose.
Following up on recordings Teanga Na nGael and Gaelre, Irish singer Grainne Holland has out this year a whole CD’s worth of her own original songs called Corcra. Teaming up with a stellar cast of musicians including Aidan O’Rourke, Liam Bradley, Brendan Mulholland, Cormac McCarthy, Niamh Dunne, John Joe Kelly, Paul Dunlea, Conor McCreanor and Steve Jones, Ms Holland turns out a stunning collection of songs including “Mise Agus Tusa,” “Coinsias, Corp Agus Croi,” “Harry’s” and “An Ri Rua.” There will be no dry eye in the house by the time she’s done.
Lead vocalist Mairi Britton, fiddler Katie McNally, pianist, accordionist, mandolinist and vocalist Neil Pearlman and border and highland piper Elias Alexander make up the group Farsan and their debut recording “Gaelic Traditions in the New World” is rich and rewarding and well worth a listen. Masterly moving through tracks like “Taladh A’ Phuilein,” “Pronn An Caoran,” “The Water Boiling Machine,” “Fear Drabastach,” “A’ Mhisg A Chuir An Nollaig” and “Gun Togainn Air Hugan,” Farsan turns out a recording that’s equal parts achingly lovely and joyfully jaunty.
Scottish accordion player Gary Innes shows off his chops on his recording Imminent. Leaning heavily on his own compositions, Mr. Innes casts a wide net over the tracks of Imminent, offering up goodies like “The Doctor’s Order,” the raucously wild “Welcome to New York,” the sweetly solemn “Sheerwater,” the completely entertaining “Alpha Runrig” and the easy mood of “Trade Winds.”
St. Paul, Minnesota native Hannah Flowers takes a turn in Irish with her recording Amhran na Cruite: Songs of the Harp. Angelic vocals and fairy compositions woven throughout tracks like “Buachaill on Eirne,” “Cul Tiubh na bPearlai,” “Urchnoc Chein Mhic Cainte” and “Dun Do Shuil” will surely earn Ms. Flowers a nostalgic tear at the thoughts of the old country.
If you are looking for some straight up Irish folk then look no further than Daoiri Farrell’s A Lifetime of Happiness. This is the real deal Irish folk fare to cozy up along with some properly pulled pints and a few friends. You’ll want to snag a listen to tracks like “The Galway Shawl,” “Valentine O’Hara,” “Theres the Day,” “Sweet Portadown,” “Rosie Reilly” and “Via Extasia” if for no other reason than Mr. Farrell’s plumy Irish vocals.
The Skye born, Scottish smallpipes player Brighde Chaimbeul’s recording The Reeling is shockingly good and I mean leaked out of the air, bubbled up from some strange lake good. Recorded live in a historic church in Cromarty, Scotland, the music of The Reeling sounds as if it had just lingered in the air for a couple of centuries before a wee lass captured it and put it down for the rest of us. Don’t believe me? Check out tracks like “A Bhriogais Uallach/Highean Donn nan Gobhar,” “Moma e Moma Rodila,” “An Leimras/Harris Dance” and “Gur Boidheach Nighean Donn Mo Chridhe.”
Brandishing pipes and whistles, Jose Manuel Tejedor gives listeners a taste of Spain’s Celtic flavor on Miraes. Mr. Tejedor lays down the goodness with tracks like “Automatas,” “Espiona,” “Miraes” and “Rihonor/Rio de Onor.”
In addition to Mr. Tejedor on pipes and whiles Miraes is packed bouzouki, mandolin, bodhran, violin, concertina and with some steel guitar from fellow musician Angel Ruiz on “Valles.”
This is rather typical Celtic Woman fare with “Mo Ghile Mear,” Dulaman,” and “Fields of Gold” gracing Homecoming and tracks like “Ancient Land,” “Homeland,” “Mna Na hEireann” and “Tara’s Tune” on Ancient Land. While not exactly to my particular tastes, I’m sure there’s some out there waiting with baited breath to get a listen.
It started out with a few folk. People like Dave Geraghty, Gary Lightbody, Bono, Conor O’brien,Loah, Roisin O, Cathy Davey, Galia Arad, Faye O’Rourke, Saint Sister, Little Green Cars, The High Hopes Choir and The Camden Orchestra, along with musicians Cian Boylan, Conor Brady, Ben Castle, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Colm Quearney, Rob Malone and Graham Hopkins. Well, these folk put out the single “Homeward Bound” as a way to aid the homeless. Well, wouldn’t you know they put an album to carry their good works over. Street Lights, the album, teams up the likes of Damien Dempsey, Snow Patrol, The Frames, Vincent McMorrow, Villagers and Luka Bloom for a CD that will benefit Ireland’s homeless. Fans will want to check out Street Lights’s version of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound,” Damien Dempsey’s “Soft Rain,” Stephen James Smith’s spoken word coolness on “My Ireland” and Richard Hawley and Lisa Hannigan’s “Hush A Bye Mountain.”
Quicksand Cafe by Bangers & Mash, out on the Dancing Druid Music label might appeal those who want to gather up a gang of toughs and rock out this St. Patrick’s Day. Pulling together the talents of vocalist and percussionist Liam Hudock, electric bassist Seth Lesselbaum, vocalist and bodhran player Carole Lesselbaum, vocalist and guitarist Chad Herth, vocalist and fiddler Alexandra Adams, drummer Anthony Anastase and guest guitarist and drummer Brian Gabriel, Quicksand Cafe is a quick-paced Celtic steamroller as it rollicks along with tracks like “Fields of Athenrye,” “Star of the Country Down,” title track “Quicksand Cafe,” “Rambling Rover” and “Morrison’s Jig.”
From Wales there’s the stunning recording Y Tribanwr by the group YR Hwntws. Lushly sweet with jazzy overtones, Y Tribanwr is downright delicious. Corralling the talents of vocalist Gregg Lynn, vocalist, tabor player and percussionist Nia Lyn, fiddler Bernard KilBride, vocalist, flute and whistle player Imogen O’Rourke, mandocello player Dan B. James and double bassist and bass guitarist Dean Ryan, YR Hwntws has a tight, neat sound throughout tracks like “ Ym Mhontypridd mae ‘Nghariad,” “Aradwr a’i Ychen,” “Bro Morgannwg,” “Ffarwel I Dai’r Cantwr” and “Diawledig a Nefolaidd/Pibddawns Gwr Wrecsam.” The music is downright lovely, the recording excellent and the liner notes contain the Welsh lyrics to all the songs if you want to give your Welsh a go and the English translations if you’re a scaredy cat like me. Yeah, I think speaking Welsh might just need a wee bit of courage.
Another offering from Wales and a sort of off-the-beaten track comes Gwn Glan Beibl Budr. Fans might recognize Lleuwen Steffan’s voice by her previous recordings Tan, Duw A Wyr/God Only Knows and Penmon. While Gwn Glan Beibl Budr might be a tad more experimental than the Celtic Woman set would tolerate, but Ms. Steffan’s vocals on tracks like “Y Garddwr” and “Can Taid” are just too good to miss. Fans should check out the silky smooth vocals of “Cwm Rhondda” against some pretty fabulous percussion and instrumentation. Other goodies include the lazy smoky feel of “Caerdydd” and the sweet elegance of “Mynyddoedd.”
One of the real gems this year has to be Real World Records’ The Gloaming 3. So finely wrought, so utterly elegant, The Gloaming 3 is likely to cause normally placid people to turn to others and snottily ask, “Must you breathe in and out so loudly?” for fear of missing a single note. The Gloaming 3 gang of vocalist Iarla O Lionaird, hardanger d’amore player Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, guitarist Dennis Cahill, fiddler Martin Hayes and pianist Thomas Bartlett transform a voice and four instruments into a Celtic music lover’s wonderland. There’s no need to point out particular tracks, simply because it’s wonderful from the opening notes of “Meachan Rudai (The Weight of Things)” to the very last note of “Amhran na nGleann (The Song of the Glens).” All one needs to do is to surrender to the timelessness of each precious note and let the rest go hang.
I hope some of this music might go a long way to soothe the irritations of cheap green beer, insanely drunken revelers in matching T-shirts with “Irish you were naked” printed on the front and the stupidly obnoxious guy dressed as a leprechaun this St. Patrick’s Day. If not, my advice is to grab a Sharpie, a Labrador Retriever and a bucket of squid.
I’ll leave you with the Gaelic saying, “Giorraionn beirt bothar.” It essentially means “Two people shorten a road.” So, grab a friend, order up a pint, tell a tall tale and revel in some fine music.
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