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.
The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices featuring Lisa Gerrard – BooCheeMish (Prophecy Productions, 2018)
The women in the publicity photo for the album BooCheeMish smile, lovely in their traditional dresses and headdresses festooned with flowers. They are of varying ages; they are mothers, daughters, sisters and perhaps a few grandmothers in the lot. They seem pleasant, perhaps even a little unassuming, but that would be deceptive. To dismiss this group of songstresses as quaint or simply charming would be a dreadful mistake because these are the women of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.
Steeped in vocals traditions that have floated over fields, wound their way through mountain passes and sunk down deep into the very ground, The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices are captivating, haunting and call to our all shared nomadic musical past.
The female vocal choir, known as The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices (formerly Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) started out as The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir in the early 1950s to preserve and promote Bulgaria’s folk traditions by way of radio and television. It just happened that Swiss music producer Marcel Cellier stumbled upon and was captivated by vocal mastery of the choir and recorded and released the first volume “Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares” in 1975.
Volume II would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording, with additional recordings like Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (1989), Volume III, Melody Rhythm & Harmony (1993), Ritual (1994), Bulgarian Custom Songs (2001) and Pora Sotunda (2017) with Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance fame. The choir would go on to wow audiences in some 1250 concerts across the globe under the current conductor Prof. Dora Hristova.
So it is my sincerest pleasure to announce, with perhaps a small amount of gleeful hand clapping and girlish giggling thrown in for good measure, that the glorious voices of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices is back with a new recording called BooCheeMish, set for release on May 25th on the Prophecy Productions label. Joined again by Lisa Gerrard, as well as musicians like Hristna Beleva, Petar Milanov, Rano Ranila, Kostadin Genchev, Deimitar Karamfilov and a string quartet, BooCheeMish shimmers with the familiar goodness that is The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.
Opening with the soaring vocals of “Mome Malenko,” BooCheeMish packs a punch that’s exotic and evocative. Fans get welcomed doses of Ms. Gerrard’s shimmering vocals on tracks like “Pora Sotunda,” “Mani Yanni,” “Unison” and “Shandai Ya” that simply enhance the lushness of BooCheeMish.
Threaded throughout are added rhythms of jembe, riq, udu, tonbak and frame drums that add to the pleasure of the extraordinary, tight, neat intricate vocals of the choir. Listeners will wallow in the upbeat pleasures of Rano Ranila,” the haunting loveliness of “Mani Yanni” and the sheer lushness of “Sluntse” conjured up with help of Ms. Beleva and Mr. Milanov. BooCheeMish stacks stunning track upon stunning track so that “Unison” proves as powerful as tracks “Zableyalo Agne,” “Ganka” and closing track “Stanka” replete with string quartet members Yordan Dimitrov, Evgeni Nikolov, Ognyan Kostantinov and Dimitar Tenchev.
Kudos certainly go to Ms. Gerrard, the musicians and the utter impeccable recording and engineering of this CD, but the real superstars of this recording belong to Prof. Hristova and singers Elena Bozkova, Olga Borisova, Gergana Dimitrova, Gergana Popova, Snezhana Kastelova, Violeta Eftimova, Violeta Marinova, Binka Dobreva, Dafinka Damyanova, Daniela Kostova, Rulana Asparuhova, Marina Boiadjieva, Elichka Krastanova, Mariya Leshkova, Rada Nankova, Evelina Hristova, Evguenia Milousheva, Daniela Dimitrova, Tsvetelina Velyovska, Silvia Vladmirova, Sofiya Yaneva, Nevyana Ganeva, Elizabet Georgieva, Mirrela Asenova, Polina Paunova, Lyubomira Pavlova, Tsonka Dimtrova-Manolova and Diyana Visileva – the women of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.
Patricia Vonne is an actress, filmmaker, activist, bandleader, musician, singer and songwriter. So, it comes as no surprise she’s conjured up a rocking powerhouse recording, easily apparent by the snarly guitar licks and fierce vocals found on tracks like “City is Alive” and “Lil Lobo” on her seventh full-length album Top of the Mountain, set for release on May 25th on the Bandolera Records label. With recordings like Viva Bandolera, Worth It, Rattle My Cage and Firebird to credit, Ms. Vonne continues sharpen her vocals and song writing skill to claw deep and captures listeners with her own brand of tejano folk/rock sound on Top of the Mountain.
Ripe with sultry vocals, jangling guitar riffs and pounding rhythms, Top of the Mountain opens with the edgy “Citadel” before giving way to the speeding down the open road sound of “City Is Alive” with the aid of Robert LaRoche on electric guitar, Scott Garber on bass and Héctor Muñoz on drums.
Top of the Mountain proves versatile as listeners get the goods with Spanish lyric laced “Iluminaria,” the growly guitar of “Lil Lobo” and the catchy Latin flavored “Madre De Perla.” The Southwest sound prevails on title track “Top of the Mountain” edged with Ms. Vonne’s vocals and acoustic guitar, Mr. LaRoche on acoustic and electric guitar, Mr. Garber on bass, Dony Wynn on drums and David Perales on violin.
Equally delicious are tracks like sultry “Tidal Wave,” the lonely landscape sound of instrumental “Western Blood” and sweetly worked “Cancion de la Boda.” Ms. Vonne and company wrap things with the kicking rocking “Lekker Ding” with the help of guitarist Joe Reyes, upright bassist Harmen De Bresser and drummer Jan Pohl and the vocal and piano duet “God’s Hands” with Ms. Vonne’s soaring vocals against piano by Carl Thiel.
“I am very proud of this new work,” Ms Vonne says of this recording. “Top of the Mountain celebrates the defiant human spirit in the midst of adversity and the Higher Power that lights our path.”
Top of the Mountain is a rocking, wind-in-the-hair, open road in a speeding convertible ride of a recording. Enjoy the ride.
I can’t help from getting a little thrill from a band that sounds like they trekked off into the wilderness or down to the crossroads for a bit of inspiration and returned with something wholly different. That seems to be what U.K.-based band The Turbans did, except they actually retreated to a farmhouse in Northumberland. Dipping into fingers into gypsy, Balkan, flamenco, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean musical traditions, The Turbans have conjured up a sound that their Kurdish percussionist Cabbar Baba has rightly called “music from manywhere,” with band members rooted in the music of Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Iran, Greece, Spain and England. Their self-titled debut recording The Turbans will be available today, April 6th on the Six Degrees Records label.
The band’s Oshan Mahony recalls, “For this album we all went together to the farmhouse where I grew up in Northumberland. We all contributed about thirty songs. Some were traditional sounding, others were poppy. When ou have a classical violinist playing an Indian raga you create something really weird and new.”
And, nothing could be further than the truth on The Turbans. Possessed by a kind of feral grace and a sleek savageness, The Turbans weave a sound that is intricately explosive and hypnotically delicious so that dervishes or a raucous gypsy band might approach with more than a little trepidation. The sound is wholly global where strange and familiar coexist.
Comprised of violinist Darius Luke Thompson; percussionist and vocalist Cabbar Baba; oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki; davul player and vocalist Pavlos Mavromantakis; electric guitarist and vocalist Miroslav Morski; bass guitarist, trombonist and backing vocalist Fred Stitz; electric guitarist Moshe Zehavi; cajon player and classical guitarist Pablo Dominguez; ney, kaval and clarinet player Kansia Pritchard; saxophone and bansuri player Madhav Haridas and Oshan Mahony, The Turbans packs a punch with additional musicians and backing vocals so the sound is rich and full. It doesn’t hurt that the group snagged master mixer Jerry Boys who has worked with the likes of Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Toure, Shakira, Toumani Diabate and the Kronos Quartet, as well as World Circuit’s Tom Leader to master The Turbans.
The real cleverness of The Turbans is that the group allows one genre flows easily against another creating an kind of improvisational feel where tracks flow without sounding over polished. Opening track “Riders” is ripe with Middle Eastern influences and a joyful exuberance, while tracks like “Sinko Moy” delve into a subterranean mysteriousness. “Zawi” is all whirlwind goodness with some kickass guitar lines thrown in for good measure as is the lanky lines of “Samia.” “Kansianitsa” is rich with woodwinds and percussion, while “Aman” is all flamenco lushness. There are also goodies like “Hamouda” with its call-and-response vocals and guembri in this nod to the Gnawan and the lushly worked “Chubby” with its Chaabi influences. There’s also the raucously infectious brass laced “Madhavski Horo,” the sultry ney of “Ruuah” and carnival feel goodness of closing track “Hackney.”
Mr. Mahony says of the group’s dynamic, “Every single person in this band has such a strong fire inside them. I know so many good musician in this city, and even around the world, who play perfectly, but when they play they don’t release the passion of the music. Everyone in this band has so much fire.”
Thankfully we can hear and feel the fire of “manywhere” from here.
Perched on a stool center stage with a cloth covered table to his left upon which rests a bottle of water and a glass of pale orange liquid while light glints off bracelets, rings and an earring as he smooths back long curling locks and an equally long goatee, he waits. He cuts a fine figure in a sleek grey suit and a snowy white shirt as he pauses to let the crowd settle. There’s a brief moment of anticipation as we wait like the eager, greedy souls we all know we are. We wait for him to cajole us, romance us and entrance us with a voice that’s equal parts ferocious and aches of a thousand sorrows. That voice belongs to El Cigala.
Stepping away from his familiar flamenco fare, Diego El Cigala’s current salsa project and songbook from Indestructible takes fans on musical landscape from El Cigala’s native Spain to his adoptive home in the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia, garnering a whole new enthusiastic fan base.
Backed by a razor-sharp salsa group that includes pianist Jaime Calabuch, trumpeters Cristian David Muñoz and Edison Muñoz, trombonists Richard Stella and Bernardo Aguirre, percussionist Denilson Ibarguen, timbalero Diego Mayorga, bassist Julio Valdes and backing vocalists Diego Galindo and Andres Gonzales, El Cigala takes fans through salsa favorites, emotive ballads and a few more intimate songs with only piano to accompany El Cigala’s roughed over vocals.
Tapping, clapping and finger snapping his way through the Duke Performances Saturday, March 31st concert at Durham’s Carolina Theatre, El Cigala and band had the joint jumping. Fans get doses of “Moreno Soy,” “Indestructible,” “Hacha y Machete” and “El Raton,” as well as some nicely done romantic songs, but I think the more intimate songs with just pianist were perhaps my favorite bits and those places where El Cigala’s voice really comes through in fine flamenco jazz fashion. But then again it’s El Cigala and any song is worth the price.
St. Patrick’s Day. How exactly did the Catholic patron saint feast day of the the people of Ireland, a relatively small island in the North Atlantic, evolve into a worldwide celebration? With festivities and parades in communities large and small that traverse from United States to Australia from Germany to Argentina from Japan to South Africa, the logical answer of course is the ability of the Irish to pick up and move to wherever the road takes them with all the mitigating factors of migration mixed in like famine, disease and oppression. By why this extravaganza of green? Some might point to mass marketing with promises of barrels of beer, a good time party and a lively parade in those dark days that mark the lull between Christmas and the genuine start of spring. The spread of St. Patrick’s Day by way of the cross pollination of culture seem so reasonable, so rational, so plausible.
But the Irish in me wants it to be us. The Irish in me wants it to be our storytelling, our music, our dance. Yes, the Irish in me wants it to be the utter surety that “if you knew us, you’d like us,” which I’m not sure if it makes us charmingly likable or just a wee bit obnoxious. Those not quite spring days of March seem a good time for us heathens in the Northern Hemisphere to settle in with a pint against the backdrop of a sweet tune and listen to someone’s Da tell a story that couldn’t possibly be true, but then again it just might. See, I have no doubt that there’s a Irishman out there, right now, that’s looking at a lovely woman and saying, “Ah, Mo stoirín, you remind me of a girl …” before weaving a fantastical tale. Perhaps that’s the real lure of St. Patrick’s Day.
To lure you in further let’s find some music for your St. Patrick’s Day and there is indeed some fine music this year to tempt you.
There’s the standard St. Patrick’s Day fare of Celtic Thunder’s Celtic Thunder X with tracks like “Sons of Light,” “Toora Loora Lay” and “The Wild Rover.” While a little overblown and a bit more commercial pop than I personally prefer, their version of “Lannigans Ball” is lively.
The late 2017 releases of Voice of the Celts and The Voice Within by Dulaman follow along the same vein, but “Dulaman,” “On Raglan Road,” “Sally Brown,” “The Sally Gardens” and Na Ceannabhain Bhana” are worth a listen. Also, Celtic Woman has put out Homecoming – Live From Ireland for Susan McFadden, Mairead Carlin, Eabha McMahon and Tara McNeil fans.
The Gap of Dreams by Altan is certain to set your Celtic heart all aflutter. The stunning bright and beautiful recording is full of the goodness of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh’s vocals and fiddle, Ciaran Curran’s bouzouki, Daithi Sproule’s guitar and vocals, Mark Kelly’s guitar and vocals and Martin Tourish’s piano accordion. They threw in Tommy McLaughlin on keyboards just for kicks. On The Gap of Dreams fans get a dose of “The Gap of Dreams/Nia’s Jig/The Beekeeper,” “The Month of January,” “Nion a’ Bhaoigheallaigh” and “The Tullaghan Lasses/The Cameronian/The Pigeon on the Gate,” as well as “Cumha an Oileain” and the sweetly simple Mark Kelly composition “Port Alex.”
Equally delicious is the third offering Stri by Gaelic singer Maeve Mackinnon. Fans will want to check out this for tracks like “Iomaraibh Eutrom,” “Roisin Dubh,” “Dh’fhalbh Mo Run air an Aiseig” and “O Mo Cheist am Fear Ban.”
Fiddle fans will want to check out From Within by fiddler Eric Ryan-Johnson. This artist self release is packed with goodies like “Jigs: The Beginning/A Boy & His Dad/The Yelping Dog,” “Air: The Farmer of Florence,” “Reel: The Morning Cup,” “Air: February 23” and “Reels: The End Is Near/ Bound to Break.” And if that wasn’t enough sweet Celtic fiddle goodness for you, he’s also got The Wonderful Day on tap with treats like “Hornpipes: The Wonderful Day/The Bee’s Wings,” “Jigs: Knights of St. Patrick/Hast to the Wedding/Father O’Flynn’s,” “Air: Melody for Meredith Keefe,” “Reels: Bag of Potatoes/Blacksmith’s Reel/Castle Kelly” and “Reel: Coffin Ships.”
There’s Celtic Crumble’s Echos of Ireland with tracks like “Carry Me Home,” “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” “The Twins of Ballina” and title track “Echos of Ireland” to tempt fans.
Perhaps, a mixed bag of tricks will tickle your fancy. Well, then you might want to try out ARC music’s Discover Celtic Music. There are some real treats here with Aryeh Frankfurter’s “The Morning Dew,” Golden Bough’s “The Wren Boys/Gavin’s Hornpipe/Honeysuckle,” Noel Mclourghlin’s “The Hills of Connemara” and Mary Ann Kennedy’s “Air Leathad Sleibhe.” There’s also Gwyneth Glyn’s “Cwlwm,” Yvon Etienne’s “Si j’ai le courage,” Os Rosales’s “Muineira a Gatuxa” and Sian James’s “Mwynen merch.” Good stuff.
Pure Records has released Avenging and Bright by Damien O’Kane. Don’t let the goofy cover photo of Mr. O’Kane scare you off because this Northern Ireland singer and musician goes down silky smooth like the perfect pint on offerings like “Boston City,” title track “Avenging and Bright,” “All Among the Barley,” January Man,” and “Dancing in Puddles.” Mr. O’Kane’s vocal against piano, guitar and tenor guitar makes for some fine contemporary fare.
Perhaps one of my favorites has to be the Danny Diamond’s Elbow Room. This fiddler extraordinaire has played previously with Slow Moving Clouds and Morga, but on Elbow Room Mr. Diamond wows listeners simply by the shape and breadth of his own solo fiddler’s soul. Whether you’re a newbie listener or a seasoned Irish fiddle devotee, it’s easy to fall under the spell Mr. Diamond weaves on tracks like “Maureen from Gibberland,” “The Pinch of Snuff,” “Watching the Evening Grow,” “The Blackbird” and “Johnny Cope.” This is truly a fiddler’s delight.
The String Sisters have out Between Wind and Water. Irish vocalist and fiddler Mairead Ne Mhaonaigh, Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Annbjorg Lien, the American fiddler Liz Knowles, Shetland fiddler Catriona MacDonald, the American fiddler Liz Carroll and Swedish fiddler and vocalist Emma Hardelin have turned out some fine tunes on Between Wind and Water with jaunty tracks like “The Crow’s Visit,” “Hjaltland” and “Late Night in Forde.” Fans get morsels of sweetness like “Wind and Rain,” “Det bor I mina tankar” and “Mo Nion O.”
Another stunning fiddle recording is An Choill Uaigneach by Theresa Kavanagh. Hailing from Donegal, Ms. Kavanagh dazzles listener with the bright wildness of the fiddle on such tracks as “The Wild Swans of Coole/The Abandoned Meadow,” “Jocelyn’s/Grainne’s Jig” and “The Sword of Light/Secrets of the Willow,” and title track “An Choill Uaigneach” or “The Lonesome Forest” is elegant.
For Celtic fans looking for a little something off the beaten path might want to check out Plantec’s Live at the Festival Interceltique Lorient. These Breton Celtic rockers dole out a ferocious performance on this recording. Full of Breton bombard, guitar and synthesizer and programming, this is a definitive kick in the pants to any sweet version of “Danny Boy.” Recorded at the 2017 Lorient Inter Celtique Festival, Plantec’s Odran and Yannick Plantec and Gabriel Djibril kick some Celtic rock ass with tracks like “Croissant de letiez,” “Speedwell,” “Koun” and “Feulz.”
Another off the beaten path choice might be Celtic Rock Opera series recording “Excalibur IV The Dark Age of the Dragon” with music, lyrics and concept by Alan Simon. If you need a backing soundtrack for your noble quest down the highway or to the grocery store, well, here’s your music. Recorded with the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague, this recording rocks out with electric guitars, drums and keyboards, as well as mandolins, Celtic harps and big bold vocals. It features Moya Brennan (Clannad), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Michael Sadler (Saga),and Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep).
Brona McVittie’s We Are the Wildlife is a lovely contemporary Celtic folk collection. Her sweet vocals on “Where the Angels Wake You,” “The Flower of Magherally“ and “Molly Brannigan” are intimate and mesmerizing. Add in Myles Cochran on “The Vast and Vague Extravagance That Lies at the Bottom of the Celtic Heart” and you definitely have a winner.
If atmospheric and ethereal is what you are looking for you might want to check out the Irish harpist Aine Minogue’s In the Name of Stillness Celtic Meditation Music. Ms. Minogue set us a serene loveliness from opening track “In the Name of Stillness” and through tracks like “Home of Belonging,” “In the Name of Solitude” and “Quiet Absence.”
Mary Ann Kennedy has An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World out on the ARC label. The Scottish singer has tracks like “Seinn, Horo, Seinn,” “Sith na Coille,” “Iain Againn Fhin” and “Air Leathad Sleibhe” on tap for listeners.
If Ulileann pipes, bouzouki, bodran, fiddle, flute and cello are on your wish list for the season, then you might want to take a listen to John McSherry’s The Seven Suns. A 2016 release that some how passed us by is bold and infectiously delightful. With tracks like “Dance of the Siog,” “The Atlantean,” “Sunrise at Bealtaine,” “The Golden Mean” and “The Cloghogle,” Mr. McSherry, along with fellow musicians Sean Og Graham, Niamh Dunne, Michael McGoldrick and Sean Warren, will have you and yours feting until the wee hours.
Another 2016 out on the Compass Records label that somehow also passed us by that is well worth a listen is Doolin‘ by the band of the same name. Doolin’ is a fine time and rollicking good fun with tracks like “Mary’s Jigs,” “Sailing Across the Ocean,” “The Road to Gleanntan,” “Wind Her Up” and “The Galway Girl.”
There’s also The Irishman’s Finest Collection by John Duhan. Starting out his career at the age of 15 as the front man for Limrick’s 1960s rock group Granny Intentions, Mr. Duhan would later turn to his own writing and solo recordings like The Voyage, Just Another Town and To the Light, as well as having some of his songs recording by heavyweights such as Christy Moore, The Dubliners and Mary Black. On The Irishman’s Finest Collection, Mr. Duhan lays bare the Irish soul by way of tracks like “Just Another Town,” “The Voyage,” “All I Need” and “The River Returning.”
Should musicians like Irla O Lionaird, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes and Thomas Bartlett mean anything to you then you should drop whatever bit of nonsense you are doing and run around in a circle of delight. A bit of girlish screaming and arm waving wouldn’t go amiss either. If you hadn’t guessed these five musicians have out on the Real World label The Gloaming Live at the NCH . And let me say this recording is lovely, lovely and even more lovely. Be prepared to be entranced by the opening fiddle lines of “The Booley House,” through the sweet charms of Iarla O Lionaird’s vocals on “Cucanandy” and “The Sailor’s Bonnet” to the very Celtic magic of “The Pilgrim’s Song” and “The Rolling Wave” and all the way to the very end of “Fainleog.” You want this CD. You need it. Your very connection to all that expresses the sweetly joyful sorrowful Celtic soul depends on it.
Recorded at Dublin, Ireland’s National Concert Hall, The Gloaming Live at NCH is breathtakingly good, so good it’s hard not to feel a little giddy over this elegant work of voice, piano, Hardanger d’Amore, guitar and fiddle. You don’t even need to think about, just get it.
Finally, let me say that in regards to St. Patrick’s Day that I’m glad to know that we Irish aren’t hoarders of the holiday. There’s enough Irish to go around. That frothy pint doesn’t care a whit if you are saint or sinner. The fiddle tune doesn’t care if your are ferocious or feckless. You could be fool or faerie folk and you would still be welcome for what the Irish call comhaltacht – fellowship. So, settle in and listen to some good music and maybe somebody’s Da will tell you a story.
Mary Cliff has been named as one of Folk Alliance International’s newest Folk DJ Hall of Fame inductees for 2018. Honoring broadcasters who have demonstrated a passion for continuing the promotion and preservation of folk music, Ms. Cliff has risen to the challenge.
After a brief stint as a singer for the Hootnannies in the early 60s, Ms. Cliff turned to radio in 1966, eventually working with radio host Dick Cerri. She would take to the airwaves in 1968 on WAVA then WHFS and in 1970 on WETA. She’s done it all, producing and presenting music, news, interviews and hosting the show Bluegrass Country until 2015.
Folk Alliance International’s Folk DJ Hall of Fame honors those radio disc jockeys around the globe who preserve, promote and present folk music. One of this year’s inductees is Scotland’s Fiona Ritchie, who’s radio show The Thistle & Shamrock has proved to be a favored standard for National Public Radio (NPR) listeners.
Ms. Ritchie started out at the NPR station WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina working in fundraising and promotion before finding herself hosting a music show showcasing everything from classical to Big Band music, as well as producing and presenting live concerts. With this in, Ms. Ritchie broached the idea of a weekly hour of Celtic music and in 1981 The Thistle & Shamrock was launched. Becoming one of the most popular NPR music shows and cementing her audience base, Ms. Ritchie would return to Scotland to recreate the show from her Scottish home. She has been a presenter on BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 2, launched the series Celtic Connections on Radio Scotland and launched the web-based music channel ThistleRadio, as well as produced music compilations and authored the Celtic Music section of the NPR Curious Listener’s Guide Book.
Recordings, playlists, newsletters and materials from The Thistle & Shamrock are now part of the archive at the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews University in North Carolina. Ms. Ritchie also was honored by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and earned the Hamish Henderson Award for Services to Traditional Music.
Following up on 2017’s Folk DJ Hall of Fame inductees Oscar Brand, Mike Regenstreif and Howard and Roz Larman, Folk Alliance International has added New England’s Dick Pleasants, who helped start the first full-time commercial folk music station, to this years hall of fame.
Steeped in the sounds of famed coffeehouses Unicorn and Club 47, Mr. Pleasants cut his folk music chops at such radio stations like WCIB-FM / Falmouth, WCAS-AM/Cambridge and WVOI-FM/Martha’s Vineyard. He furthered the folk music cause by way of his show Folk Heritage, hooking listeners with interviews and live performances with everyone from Pete Seeger to Odetta to The Battlefield Band to Beausoleil and included live broadcasts from the Lowell Folk Festival and inside listens into the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Mr. Pleasants would go on to wow listeners at WUMB Radio on his Guest Mix show with interviews with Rory Block, Judy Collins, Bill Stains, Richie Havens, Bill Morrissey and Michelle Shocked among others. He also had a hand in launching Summer Acoustic Music Week, helped out the Boston Folk Festival and WUMB concerts for the likes of Emmy Lou Harris, Natalie MacMaster, Suzanne Vega and Sweet Honey In the Rock. In addition, he’s one of the found members of the South Shore Music Club and Woods Hole Folk Music Club and has been a member and supporter of the Nature Connection Inc.
We use music for a variety of things. We use it as entertainment, to get across a message, to get through our daily workout, to get up in the morning or to fall asleep at night. It is our emotional release allowing us to sing and dance at will. It sets the mood for our carnal encounters and plays a central role in many of our religious rites. Music can convey all shades of human emotion, having us politely applauding or behaving like animals. A piece of music can be played to a gargantuan crowd and still the meaning can be felt individually. But perhaps one of the best things is when music surprises us, when it snags those invisible cerebral threads and enthralls us.
That being said, I am pleased, surprised and utterly enthralled by Toto Bona Lokua’s Bondeko out on the No Format! record label. Silky smooth riches eke out of every track on this offering by French-born composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Gerald Toto; Cameroonian singer and jazz bassist Richard Bona; and singer and songwriter Lokua Kanza from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Slyly cool and cleverly crafted, Bondeko perfects a sound that is smoothly flavorful and richly worked homage to Caribbean breeziness, Afro-beat lushness and African troubadours.
Opening with the birdsong laced “Ma Mama,” listeners are treated to this trio’s spectacular vocals before giving way to the sassy guitar, bass and percussion backed “Naleki.”
“Youwilé” is stunning in its delicate simplicity of vocals backed by a pair of acoustic guitars. Bondeko lightens the mood with the sleekly cool “Je Kango” before giving way to the delightfully deliciously version of Toto’s “Love Train” with percussion and vocals supplied by Mr. Toto.
Equally scrumptious are offerings like “Ngum Nya Ko,” “Thitae and fluidly cool “Tann Tanbou A.” Listeners get a dose of flute and keyboard wrapped guitar and vocals on “Bukuvu” that is surely to lull even the most reluctant listener. Closing track “Awo” is all savage coolness with bass, smart percussion and vocals.
Bondeko’s particular brand of joyfulness makes this remarkable trio an irresistible lure to those cerebral threads. We will just have to content ourselves to be entertained, surprised, enchanted with Bondecko and wait, sort of patiently, until Toto Bona Lokua comes up with something new to dazzle us.
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.