Category Archives: CD Reviews

Rising Cajun Accordionist Kyle Huval

Kyle Huval and the Dixie Club Ramblers – Straight Allons (Valcour Records, 2017)

Award-winning accordionist Kyle Huval presents a lively set of dance-oriented Cajun songs. On Straight Allons you’ll hear Cajun French language songs featuring passionate accordion, great fiddling and pedal steel guitar, which gives it an old time country music flavor at times.

Kyle Huval is deeply influenced by the Cajun dancehall music of the 1960s and 1970s.

The song selection includes Cajun classics as well as new songs written by Kyle Huval and Cody Lafleur.

Personnel: Kyle Huval on accordion, pedal steel guitar and vocals; Mitch Schexnyder on fiddle; Jo Vidrine on guitar; Joel Savoy on fiddle and guitar; and Cody Lafleur on drums and vocals.

Straight Allons is a refreshing albums with catchy dance rhythms and notable instrumental performances.

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Gregg Allman’s Final Trip to Muscle Shoals Roots

Gregg Allman – Southern Blood (Rounder Records, 2017)

Southern Blood is a bittersweet recording. It’s the last studio album by the southern rock legend before he passed away.

Gregg Allman recorded Southern Blood at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a place of special significance, where the Allman Brothers Band made some of their first recordings.

Southern Blood includes a set of songs written by artists Gregg Allman admired, along with one original. Songwriters include Jackson Browne, Willie Dixon, Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter, Lowell George and Spooner Oldham & Dan Penn.

Musically, Southern Blood features a wide range of styles rooted in southern music traditions: blues, southern rock, swamp funk, and country.

 

Southern Blood is a deeply satisfying album highlighting the exceptionally expressive vocals of Gregg Allman during his final studio sessions.

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The Masterful Irish Craft of Usher’s Island

Usher’s Island – Usher’s Island (Vertical Records, 2017)

Usher’s Island is a new superband that brings together some of the greatest contemporary Irish folk music musicians. Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle have played with the most iconic Irish and Irish American bands: Planxty, Bothy Band, Lunasa and Solas.

The majority of the compositions on Usher’s Island are traditional songs and tunes rearranged by the band, along with a handful of originals by Usher’s Island members.

The way the album was made connects with Irish tradition as well. Mike McGoldrick bought a cottage in County Galway, western Ireland that had been used by musicians in the past to hold sessions. McGoldrick turned it into a recording studio for three days.

Throughout Usher’s Island the listener is treated to fascinating storytelling songs and delightful ensemble pieces with superb instrumental interaction and superb solos weaved in. Irish music at its best.

Personnel: Andy Irvine on vocals, mandola and harmonica; Dónal Lunny on vocals, bouzouki, baritone bouzouki, bodhran and keyboards; Paddy Glackin on fiddle; Mike McGoldrick on wooden flute, low whistle and uileann pipes; and John Doyle on guitar, bouzouki and vocals.

Usher’s Island features masterfully-crafted Irish music with dazzling acoustic interplay and exceptionally expressive vocals.

Buy Usher’s Island in Europe

Buy Usher’s Island in the rest of the world

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Cavaquinho and Braguinha Marvels

Júlio Pereira – Praça do Comércio (Tradisom, 2017)

Praça do Comércio is a beautifully-packaged album + book by Portuguese multi-instrumentalist Júlio Pereira. He’s one of the leading performers of the cavaquinho, the small Portuguese guitar which is also the ancestor of the Hawaiian ukulele.

This time, Júlio Pereira has added the braguinha to the collection of instruments he performs on Praça do Comércio. The braguinha is another small guitar, from the island of Madeira, closely related to the cavaquinho.

The 111-page book is a wealth of knowledge, with notes in Portuguese and English. It provides details and photos of the cavaquinho and braguinha, illustrations, as well as music notation.

 

Júlio Pereira – Praça do Comércio

 

In addition to his skill as a musician, Júlio Pereira is a talented composer. His music incorporates traditional Portuguese music as well as sounds from northern Africa, jazz and classical elements, Brazilian and Mozambican rhythms, flamenco and other influences.

The lineup on Praça do Comércio includes Júlio Pereira on cavaquinho, braguinha, bouzouki, synthesizer, viola braguesa, guitar, backing vocals; Miguel Veras on guitar; Sandra Martins on cello; Luciano Vasconvelos on bass; Quiné on percussion; Diego Duque on trumpet; James Hill (ukulele); José Manuel Neto on Portuguese guitar; Pedro Jóia on guitar; Norberto Gonçalves da Cruz on bandolim.

Guest vocalists: António Zambujo (Portugal), Olga Cerpa (Canary Islands, Spain), Chney Wa Gune (Mozambique), Luanda Cozetti (Brazil), Teresa Melo Campos (Portugal), Mariana Abrunheiro (Portugal), Inés Melo Campos (Portugal), and Andreaia Joao Lopes.

Praça do Comércio is an exquisitely-crafted album that highlights the beauty of the small guitars from the eastern Atlantic.

 

 

 

Buy Praça do Comércio (Amazon) or from Tradisom

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Spellbinding Taos

Efrén López – Stelios Petrakis – Bijan Chemirani – Taos (Buda Musique, 2017)

Taos brings together three outstanding instrumentalists representing various Mediterranean cultures. Efrén López (Spain) and Stelios Petrakis (Crete, Greece) are skilled multi-instrumentalists specialized in a wide-range of plucked and bowed string instruments. Bijan Chemirani (France) plays all sorts of percussion from the Middle East and is especially effective with the zarb and mesmerizing frame drums.

Taos is a masterfully-constructed instrumental album that combines Greek music, Medieval European and Middle Eastern influences featuring dazzling virtuosity and creativity.

Lineup: Efrén López on hurdy gurdy, saz, guitar, Cretan lauto, qobuz, ud, rabab, and percussion; Stelios Petrakis on Cretan lyras and Cretan lauto; and Bijan Chemirani on zarb,daf, bendir, dolra, riq, and calabass.

Taos is a superb album showcasing the beauty and entrancing sounds performed by Efrén López, Stelios Petrakis and Bijan Chemirani.

Buy the digital version of Taos

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A Jazz Flute Celebration

Nestor Torres – Jazz Flute Traditions

Nestor Torres – Jazz Flute Traditions (Alfi Records, 2017)

Puerto Rican flute virtuoso Nestor Torres celebrates jazz, classical and Latin jazz stylings on Jazz Flute Traditions. The album includes a wonderful tribute to Spain featuring a medley of the “Concierto De Aranjuez” and Chick Corea’s iconic composition “Spain.”

The album also includes versions of classics by Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef, Cole Porter and Chick Corea’s “Windows” and various other composers.

The lineup on Jazz Flute Traditions includes Néstor Torres on flute; Silvano Monasterios on piano; Jamie Ousley on bass; Michael Piolet on drums, and José Gregorio Hernández on percussion.

Guests: Miguel Russell, on percussion; Ian Muñoz on alto saxophone; and Marcus Grant on drums.

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Austrian Celts

Black Market Tune – Drifters & Vagabonds

Black Market Tune – Drifters & Vagabonds (Galileo MC GMC076, 2017)

Black Market Tune is an Austrian world music groupled by fiddler Paul Dangl. Although Black Market Tune performs Celtic music on many tracks, the band also features Swedish music and Austrian tunes from the Alps along with jazz elements and a handle of electronics.

The band members include Austrians Paul Dangl, Christian Troger and Johanna Kugler; and Scottish accordionists Colin Nicholson and John Somerville.

The fiddlers do an outstanding job at switching from Scottish /Irish to Nordic styles of fiddling and providing superb interplay with the accordionists. On the vocal side, there is a fine balance between the male and female vocals and also an ability to switch from Celtic to Tyrolian vocals.

Personnel: Paul Dangl on fiddle and vocals; Colin Nicholson on accordion and bodhran; John Somerville on accordion; Christian Troger on guitar, mandolin, electric guitar, effects; and Johanna Kugler on fiddle, viola, and vocals.

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Flamenco Romantico

Rafa El Tachuela – Flamenco Romantico

Rafa El Tachuela – Flamenco Romantico (ARC Music, 2006)

After his fruitful collaboration with master Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy on the best selling album Flamenco Arabe, flamenco guitar virtuoso Rafa El Tachuela returns with a masterpiece of work, a collection of romantic and beautiful compositions in Flamenco Romantico.

The moods evoked on the 12 instrumental tracks range from harmony and longing to quarrels and beauty. Born in Berlin, Rafa El Tachuela began teaching himself flamenco guitar at the age of thirteen.
He has toured through Europe as a soloist. Our picks on this album include the upbeat Con Temperamento and the Arabic-tinged Juntos en la Inspiracion.

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Boubacar Traoré Meets the South

Boubacar Traoré – Dounia Tabolo

Boubacar Traoré – Dounia Tabolo (Lusafrica, 2017)

The master of Malian blues Boubacar Traoré connects with three leading African-American blues and roots music musicians, Cedric Watson, Corey Harris and Leyla McCalla, on Dounia Tabolo. He’s also joined by talented French harmonica player Vincent Bucher who sounds more American than French, and percussionist Alassane Samaké.

The final result is a remarkable recording where the sounds of Mali and the music of the southern United States get together, delivering a superb cross-cultural album.

The lineup on the album includes Boubacar Traoré on lead vocals and guitar; Vincent Bucher on harmonica; Alassane Samaké on calabash, shaker and percussion. Guests: Cedric Watson on fiddle and washboard; Corey Harris on guitar and vocals; and Leyla McCalla on cello and vocals.

 

 

Dounia Tabolo is a wonderful mix of Malian rhythms and melodies with the sounds of the Mississippi Delta along with the unexpected sound of Leyla McCalla’s beautiful cello.

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Caught Up In Getting Caught Up

It is a long time since I have contributed reviews to this site. The reasons are many, varied and not a matter of public record. They’re also quite boring, so you wouldn’t want to hear about them in any case. My tendency had been to write reviews in groups united by some sort of genre, style or perceived common-ground theme. But I presently find myself so far behind that the disconnected overview I am about to subject you to is the only approach that will effectively close the gap. Apologies, and away we go.

As a longtime fan of Afrobeat music, I was greatly interested when I heard that Chicago Afrobeat Project would be collaborating with drummer Tony Allen. Allen, after all, was the man behind the kit for all of Fela Kuti’s groundbreaking records and was just as instrumental (pun absolutely intended) in creating the Afrobeat style. What Goes Up (Chicago Afrobeat Project, 2017) does not disappoint. Allen’s militantly polyrhythmic drumming is as spot on as ever. He also brings the experimental feel of his recent works, so the album isn’t simply formulaic Afrobeat but rather an effective blend of contemporary textures (including measured doses of rap) and traditionally-grounded grooves.

Horns, stinging keyboards and no-nonsense vocals (largely female) share most of the upper mix with Allen’s drums, while bass, guitars and percussion provide covert menace beneath. The lyrical unrest typical of Afrobeat is very much present in songs that address racial and gender inequity, political nonsense, media trickery and the belief that the high and mighty will be toppled sooner or later. None of the tracks are even five minutes in length (another departure from the once-usual Afrobeat template) and lest you think it’s all message-laden heaviness, “Afro Party” will handily prove otherwise. If this is the current state of Afrobeat, it’s in a healthy state indeed.

 

Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo – Betsayda Machado and Parranda El Clavo – Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree

 

While Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Colombian and Afro-Peruvian music have all been getting their due of late, Afro-Venezuelan music hasn’t fared as well. Perhaps the level of upheaval in that nation has some bearing, but now there’s a degree of redress to be found with Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree (Odelia, 2017) by Betsayda Machado and Parranda El Clavo.

Percussion and vocals are all you hear on this field recording (albeit captured with modern technology), and given that Betsayda and her many-strong ensemble are descended from escaped slaves who lived in hidden village communities, the drumming and call-and-response voices ring with an air of both celebration and defiance. This is thunderously rousing music, binding in its spell and guaranteed to raise your spirits to the highest heights. Alan Lomax is surely smiling from the Great Beyond.

 

Ilú Keké. Transmisión en la Eritá Meta

 

Similarly, Transmision En La Erita Meta (Sendero Music, 2017) is all about drums and voices, though the drums here are more than instruments. They are a trio of sacred Cuban bata, vessels of sound created to invoke and seek the blessings of the deities known as orishas, belief in which originated among the Yoruba people of West Africa and survived the slavery era. The worship system of Santeria was later syncretized with the saints of Catholicism, but purer forms of orisha worship endure in Cuba and elsewhere.

Spoken testimonies are interspersed among the 21 tracks on the CD, and if your understanding of Spanish is as non-existent as mine, the hypnotically complex pulses of the double-headed, bell-festooned bata and reverent vocal chants are all you’ll need to connect to the Divine. The disc comes with an extensive booklet that tells in great detail how the story of the particular drums used fits into the overall tradition that inspired their use. It’s as absorbing to read as the drumming is to listen to. Curl up and absorb yourself in both.

 

Aurelio – Darandi

 

Keeping close geographically as well as covering more music that came about in the age of slavery, Darandi (Real World/Stonetree, 2016) by Honduran Garifuna master musician Aurelio, captures him at his raw best. Following a performance at the U.K. WOMAD festival, he took his band to the in-house studio at Real World Records and recorded a dozen live-and-direct tracks that are a kind of greatest hits from his three previous studio albums.

Acoustic and electric guitars, bass and a pair of snare-buzzed traditional hand drums provide the accompaniment to Aurelio’s nimble voice and the glorious wraparound of his three backing vocalists. The African roots of Garifuna music resound in the highlife-like guitar chiming and feverish drumming, but Spanish and Central American indigenous elements are just as present. I’ll leave it to you to research the Garifuna origin story if you don’t already know it. I’m too busy listening to this excellent music.

 

Monoswezi – A Je

 

The liner notes of A Je (Riverboat Records/World Music Network, 2017), the latest by Monoswezi, describe them as “African-Nordic jazz alchemists.” And who am I to argue? Such wording makes my task of describing their music that much easier. I’m fairly sure this is the group’s third album, and the most immediately striking addition to their sonic brew is the harmonium, that hand-pumped organ so central to Pakistani Qawwali devotional music. The instrument gives a penetrating mystical edge to Monoswezi’s already very fine fusion of Mozambican, Norwegian, Swedish and Zimbabwean sounds. As before, I’d peg the rhythmic side of things as mostly African, though melodically it’s the punctuation of instruments like clarinet, banjo and the prior- mentioned harmonium that add the welcome Scandinavian chill and outward reach.

New to the lineup is Sidiki Camara, a calabash and ngoni (lute) player whose name I’ve seen in the credits of many a West African music album and who brings an extra layer of spark to this one. A Je is Monoswezi’s best yet, full of propulsive, hands-on percussion, adventurous but mutually perfect combinations of lead instruments (such as banjo and mbira plucking happily side-by-side) and vocals that sound like jelis singing tales of recent trips to Arctic zones and beyond. Consistently great listening through and through, so count it a must-have.

 

Elida Almeida – Kebrada

 

Closer to the African mainland (just to the west of it, specifically) we find the latest up-and-coming singer from Cape Verde, Elida Almeida. She scores on Kebrada (Lusafrica, 2017) which despite her young age finds her fully adept at the heart-stirring nuances of singing in familiar Afro-Portuguese styles like funana and coladera, mixing things up with some Latin and Caribbean inflections. Nothing revolutionary, just great music for the many out there who love the sounds Cape Verdeans have brought to the world. The fact that one of the contributing musicians is recently deceased Malagasy accordion master Regis Gizavo makes it even greater and more than a little bittersweet.

 

Stringquake – Cascade

Sometimes three pieces are all you need. Such is the case with Stringquake, whose album Cascade (Stringquake, 2016) blends Amelia Romano’s harp, Misha Khalikulov’s cello and Josh Mellinger’s percussion into instrumentals that range from intimately moody to absolutely grand. The two stringed instruments complement each other to perfection, an intertwining mesh that trades leading roles of tonal beauty while keeping pace with a percussion backdrop that includes cajon, frame drum, tabla and steel pan. You can rightly call some of this chamber music, some of it jazz fusion (like the cover of Don Cherry’s “Guinea”) and some of it world music in the not-otherwise-easily-classified sense. But it’s all beautifully, passionately rendered and stands up to repeated listens that continue to impress.

 

Astrid Kuljanic – Transatlantic Exploration Company – Riva

 

If an unconventional musical foursome is more your speed, check out Astrid Kuljanic on her release Riva (One Trick Dog Records, 2017). Her band, comprised of accordionist Ben Rosenblum, bassist Mat Muntz and percussionist Rogerio Boccato, is called the Transatlantic Exploration Company and her own background of having been born in Yugoslavia, studying music in Italy and Manhattan and finding inspiration on the Adriatic island of Cres makes the name perfectly fitting. And not surprisingly, the music fits the moniker as well. Kuljanic’s swooping, versatile vocals make her sound at home singing reconfigured traditional Croatian songs, scatty jazz pieces, samba-inspired charmers, a quirky original or two and a completely unique take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” She and her players sound like they’re having a blast and the music is again hard to classify, but the whole thing is head-spinning good. Available from www.onetrickdogrecords.com

 

Divanhana – Live in Mostar

 

Lovers of sevdah, the often-melancholic traditional music from Bosnia and Herzegovina, will rejoice in Divanhana’s Live in Mostar (ARC Music, 2017). The band sports instrumentation that only bows partly to tradition (accordion, electric piano, electric bass, drums, percussion and violin) and livens up their “Balkan blues” with jazzy breaks and klezmer-like seasonings. The achingly gorgeous lead vocals of Naida Catic (particularly on the unaccompanied “Daurko Mila”) are clearly a major asset, but the entire band rises to the occasion.

Given how crystalline the sound is, you might easily mistake the disc for a studio album until the audience reaction reminds you that a lucky bunch of folks were able to enjoy this live and direct. And the CD comes with the next best thing to having been there: a DVD featuring live performances and interviews. Get this and savor a double dose of sevdah at its progressive best.

 

Various Artists – Cuba! Cuba!

 

If your collection of Cuban music isn’t complete (and whose is?), pick up Cuba! Cuba! (Putumayo, 2017). The various artists here are mostly in classic sound mode and some are younger artists carrying the torch for that classic sound. Still, the Putumayo folks like to throw in a wild card or two, and one surprise here is the unearthed instrumental “Guajira” featuring legends Alfredo Valdes Jr. on piano and trumpeter “Chocolate” Armenteros, recorded in Peru in 1964. That track serves as a kind of guidepost for the other fine singers and players on the disc, including veterans Roberto Torres and Armando Garzon (the latter with the ever-venerable and hypnotic “Chan Chan”), Miami-based young traditionalists Sonlokos and the always invigorating Jose Conde y Ola Fresca. This one’s got sizzle to spare.

 

Various Artists – Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston

 

“Chan Chan” is also the opening track on Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston (17 North Parade/VP, 2017), a brilliantly realized Cuban/Jamaican fusion in which son meets one drop, congas patter away alongside nyabinghi drums, Spanish-accented troubadours trade off with Trench Town chanters and both sides nice up the party. Some songs are more one locale than the other and employ a key element (like deejay chatter or regional horn riffs) that make the connection, while most are seamless mashups that are simply thrilling, like veteran guitarist Ernest Ranglin joyously picking his way through “410 San Miguel” with pianist Rolando Luna nimbly matching the vibe (and that’s before the dub effects even kick in).

Some of the other participants on the album are Sly and Robbie, Barbarito Torres, Changuito, Bongo Herman, Julito Padron and a chorus of notables that includes Leroy Sibbles, Lutan Fyah and Price Alla. That’s just the tip of things. No other written words will do justice to this landmark release recorded at Havana’s Egrem Studios under the guidance of producer/arranger/keyboardist Jake Savona. Highly recommended.

 

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – Canzoniere

 

Grandly combining Italian traditional music with jolts of contemporary Western pop, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino strike a tasty, dance-ready balance on Canzoniere (Ponderosa Music Records, 2017). CGS are one of those bands that can seemingly do it all, mixing accordion, uniformly rhythmic clatter and a reggae feel on “Ientu,” infusing “Moi” with a start-and-stop techno stomp that dramatically punctuates the traded vocals, builds simplicity into complexity in nothing flat with help from guitarist Justin Adams on “Aiora” and erects walls of sound throughout using instruments and voices that are organically and electronically symbiotic. I’m not sure if the term “mind-blowing” is still in the accepted lexicon, but this album fits that description in a most satisfying way.

 

Mary Ann Kennedy – An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World

 

Scotland’s Mary Ann Kennedy gives us An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World (ARC Music, 2017), and a very nice lot they are. Her voice is grand and soaring and the arrangements, heavy on strings and Kennedy’s own piano, match to near-perfection. The lyrics are from a combination of literary sources while the musical arrangements are again Kennedy’s work, so the whole thing has an air of tradition mixed with vision.

Those who appreciate the familiarity of Gaelic music will be spellbound even as subtleties like the South African melody that underpins “Song for John MacDonald” ring true from a world beyond. For pure beauty, you can’t beat this.

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