Category Archives: CD Reviews

Rune Songs: Vainamoinen Returns

Ove Berg & Sinikka Langeland - Tirun Lirun
Ove Berg & Sinikka Langeland – Tirun Lirun
Ove Berg & Sinikka Langeland – Tirun Lirun (Finnskogen

Freya Aswynn – Songs of Yggdrasil (Llewellyn)

Why is it that when you become interested in a subject, you find that others have also been magnetically drawn to that topic? A couple of years ago, I became interested in exploring Finland and its pre Christian or more magical side. Since that time, I rediscovered JRR Tolkien’s books and read Finland’s national treasure, Kalevala Legends in which magic, music and poetry play key roles. I had
also heard groups that perform and record rune songs such as Hedningarna and Värttinä. Then I came across Skogfinn vocalist and kantele player Sinikka
Langeland’s 2002 CD, Runoja.

Sinikka’s CD delved into both healing and epic rune songs of the Finnskogen region of Norway. In the late 1990’s, the Swedish-Finnish group Hedningarna headed to a different region in search of rune songs (Karelian region of Russia). Before that time, the two Finnish vocalists would learn rune songs off of old wax cylinder recordings, but were given the chance to learn these ancient songs from Russian elders who still sang them. However, the repertoire that Hedningarna came across focused on Finnish epic poetry and not the healing properties of rune songs. That isn’t say that the songs in themselves aren’t gorgeous with their superb harmonies and quests of heroes and sorrows of maidens because the songs represent all of those things. But that’s just half of the story of rune songs
and the other half involves applied magic and healing performed by shamans and this in itself could be the stuff of legends. Or perhaps Vainamoinen coming to life.

Ove Berg (kantale) and Sinikka Langeland (vocals) join their talents in both interpreting rune songs and by offering field recordings (those wax cylinders recordings in action) on the CD, Tirun Lirun. The CD numbers 38 tracks of both healing and epic runes, many of them recorded between 1905 and 1926 as performed by shamans. The musicians provide us with academic liner notes as well, but unfortunately you would need to be able to read Norwegian or Finnish text to fully appreciate these carefully researched notes. So I visited the label’s web site where I at least found English descriptions of each of the tracks.

Contemporary tracks of Sinikka’s clear soprano vocals and Ove’s enchanting kantele appear along side scratchy and barely audible archival recordings of shamans Kaisa Vilhuinen and Puro-Juhoin Pekka. Yet, I get this feeling that in order to explore rune songs, you need to listen to the archival and modern
recordings. So I think the musicians made a smart choice here by bringing us an ancient practice that seems to be fading with time despite the public’s interests in the Kalevala Legends and groups such as Varttina.

A quote appears on the label’s web site of what shaman Puro-Juhoin Pekka told the last wise woman in Finnskogen, Kaisa Vilhuinen. “You must not place the sword in the hands of a fool; With sorcery both good and evil can be done.” And often is in both legends and reality in places where this sort of magic is practiced. The rune songs featured on this CD were once used to protect people
and their animals, to heal wounds and to cast a spell over bees (I’m not sure why anyone would need to casts spells over bees). And the rune songs find their roots in shamanism. The rune songs arrived in Norway with the Skogfinns in the 1600’s and grew over time as a living tradition.

However, the Skogfinns and the Karelians weren’t the only tribal people singing magical chants. The Sami were also chanting magic for healing purposes and sorcery and they called their chants, yoiks. And no doubt other Nordic tribes in the area had similar practices in which fell under the scrutiny and punishment of the Christian church which arrived in Finland in the 13th century.

The rune songs that appear on Tirun Lirun run the gamut of epic poetry, such as track 4, Vainamoinen (of the Kalevala Legends), to practical purposes, (the shamanic-inspired Rollota used to fire up the oven). Kanteleensoitto is an epic song that focuses on the musical instrument kantale (once created by Vainamoinen). Anfallsrune is an incantation against fits and Turskarune is an incantation against wounds. Jonnrune/Raudan jalgea can stop a wound from bleeding and according to Professor Timo Leisio, “The Skogfinn’s runes to heal open wounds are so remarkable that they should be the subject of comprehensive research.”

If you find you have an interest in the magical properties of rune songs, Freya Aswynn’s Songs of Yggdrasil, released by the metaphysical book publisher, Llewellyn is also worth a listen. This CD delves deeply into the actual chants performed by the Nordic shaman Freya.

According to the CD liner notes, “In shamanism one of the most valued techniques is the use of sound. There are two main techniques: chanting and drumming, which are combined with breath control and synchronized with a heartbeat. The main reason for employing these techniques is to achieve an
altered state of consciousness… There are two different kinds of trance states. One is exhilarating and leads to tremendous amounts of energy; in this state magic acts can be performed usually on the spur of the moment

Freya goes on to describe the second kind of trance which is a journey state and the shaman’s attentions are turned inward. The chants that appear on Songs of Yggdrasil recount the shaman’s journey and in this case the shaman journeys through nine worlds, where various Nordic gods/goddesses and entities such as Odin and Freya are evoked. In the past, I had read a book that described the
journeys of seidr (Nordic seers) in which the seidre would sit on a high chair and drop into a trance where the seidre would journey through the nine worlds bringing back information for those ceremonial attendees seeking answers. I’m not sure how Freya’s recording fits into this practice. However, the chants included on the CD represent particular runes and vibrations associated with those particular runes. Freya cites, “Through chanting the runes, one can express the meaning of that rune.” Her recording demonstrates the galdr technique.

Whipping wind and howling wolves accompany Freya’s chants. This creates a Gothic atmosphere and easily sends its listeners on an inward quest. Freya also explains what and whom she encounters on the journey as well as, performing various invocations and chants. Also note that the chants on this CD are not melodic. While drums appear on at least one of the tracks, this recording represents sound healing through the use of shamanic chants.

However, if you are interested in pursuing the sound healing aspects of rune songs and would like to explore the Northern Mysteries, then picking up Freya Aswynn’s Songs of Yggdrasil along with her book, Northern Mysteries and Magick (Llewellyn), will get you off on the right foot. Working with sound and loving intentions could transform the world we live in for the better. If you’re
strictly seeking a more academic approach, then check out Tirun Lirun.

I am certainly not an expert on rune songs and I can find very little in the way of books on the subject, at least ones written in English. I will say that rune songs are worth exploring as both a musical and a magical practice.


Armenia The Beautiful

Cascade Folk Trio - Old Street
Cascade Folk Trio – Old Street
Cascade Folk Trio

Old Street (Bandaz Records BZ 2764, 2003)

Before this disc came along, I didn’t have much in the way of music from Armenia. In fact, on giving the matter further thought, I’m inclined to think I didn’t have any. And since it’s a nice piece of work, I’m glad to have it not simply as padding for my world music collection but for the much more important concern of listening pleasure.

Armenia, a small country south of the Caspian and Black Seas near to where Europe and Asia meet, has a history as both a kingdom and a Soviet republic. That history has been troubled at times, particularly the genocidal actions of the Ottoman Turks against the Armenian people during World War One. It’s definitely modern music we’re treated to on Cascade Folk Trio’s Old Street, so the overall feel isn’t as “folk” as you may think. Nonetheless, the use of programmed rhythms and studio polish isn’t overly intrusive, letting the more specifically Armenian elements, including abundant dhol drums and double-reed duduk, provide the real kick. So delight in the way the opening “Gentle Boy, Graceful Girl” alternates bursts of traditional sound with choppy jazz phrases or the bright funk of “Wipe the Tears From My Eyes,” because there’s also songs here that don’t focus so much on fusion. And delight in the vocals too, because the name above the title refers to the three singers whose pipes bring it all together.

The lead singing is divided pretty evenly between a guy named Arman Aghajanyan and a gal called Ohanna Mtghyan. Their versatility, coupled with the varied exotic spark of the arrangements, can make you feel as though you’re listening to rai, Gypsy music or French cabaret, though the lamenting nature of many of the songs (evidenced by some translated lyrics in the liner notes and probably reflective of that troubled history mentioned earlier) will tug on new and different sets of heartstrings. Recorded in both Armenia and the U.S., the line this album walks is a fine one. It’s ultimately quite a good listen and leads me to believe that I must be missing out on a lot by not paying closer attention to the Armenian music scene.


Make Mine a Double

Habib Koite & Bamada - Foly! Live Around the World
Habib Koité and Bamada

Foly! Live Around the World (World Village 468021, 2003)

A live album by Habib
? Great idea. Making it a two-disc set? Even better. I saw Koité and his band Bamada in an outdoor concert on a summer night in Los Angeles a few years back, and there didn’t seem to be one person in the sizable crowd who wasn’t swaying to the sound. Koité was born into a musical family in the very musical country of Senegal and has lived most of his life in another very musical country, Mali.

Mali is arguably home to more great guitarists (Ali Farka Toure, Boubacar Traore, Djelimady Tounkara, etc.) than any other African nation, though it’s not
merely by geographical association that Koité is to be counted among them. His mastery of the acoustic guitar stems from how he brings shades of various playing styles and edifies them with a west African vibe in which every element feels right at home. Be it sounds of the Iberian Peninsula, the Arabic world or
transplanted blues, Koité never falters. His three studio albums–Muso Ko
(originally released in the U.S. by Alula Records and presently available on the
World Village label), Ma Ya and Baro (both widely released via
Putumayo)–show a growth of artistry and scope while retaining authenticity and

Foly! Live Around the World isn’t exactly what the title states- it was recorded in several European cities during 2001 and 2002. But Koité’s music does
indeed sound like it could move an audience anywhere. Each of the two discs is over 70 minutes long, giving Koité and Bamada ample time and space to stretch the songs into splendid jam sessions where layers of guitars, bala (played by the revered Keletigui Diabate), bass, drumset and percussion resound with wild
abandon and focused tightness.

The faster songs cook like Senegalese m’balax or Africanized flamenco, the slower ones allow Koité some expressive moments as a singer while still emphasizing the richness of the groove, and there’s not a dull or false moment to be heard. Koité’s best tunes are all here, including a stunning “Fatma” (love those ululations), a nervously beautiful “Sin Djen Djen,” the familiarly cocky “Cigarette Abana” and “Bitile” done lean and slinky.

Even if you have Koité’s previous albums, the way these songs are sent soaring into the African music
stratosphere simply must be heard. Very highly recommended.


A Little Brazilian Night Music

Katia Moraes and Sambaguru – Live at La Ve Lee
Katia Moraes and Sambaguru – Live at La Ve Lee (Kufala Recordings KUF0030, 2003)

Vinicius Cantuaria –  Live: Skirball Cultural Center (Kufala Recordings KUF0043, 2003)

Brazil’s music is as varied as that of any large country, and the land that gave us samba, bossa nova and countless regional styles is the object of many a global listener’s fancy. Throughout Brazil the sounds of African and indigenous rhythms are heard, as are melodies that originated with the Portuguese
colonizers who first laid claim to the vast region. Be they superstars or lesser-knowns, one characteristic of the finest Brazilian musicians is an ability to handle the complexities and nuances of the music not only in the studio but on the concert stage. Well, some very special elements are in harmony here, because we’re dealing with two double disc live releases by Brazilians who’ve got the feel righter than right and a label that specializes in recording hot performances and putting them out while they’re still fresh in people’s minds.

Vinicius Cantuaria is a guitarist and vocalist with a pensive, slightly brooding style that invites favorable comparisons to Baden Powell and Caetano Veloso. He performs some of the latter’s compositions on his live set, as well as songs penned by Gilberto Gil and Antonio Carlos Jobim and originals written
in conjunction with the likes of David Byrne and Arto Lindsay. Still, it’s not enough to have great songs at your disposal, and it’s clear from the excellence of the performance that Cantuaria knows how to make his mark.

His guitar work ranges from graceful to aggressive to evocative, his vocals suit the mood accordingly and he’s got a small but amazingly attuned band with him. The supporting players on violin, bass, drumset and percussion give the proceedings a celebratory air that seems delicate at times but often builds into bursts of pure musical poetry.

The music dazzles because of how skilled Cantuaria and co. are in bringing to each song a sense of soulfulness and rhythmic interplay that effortlessly conveys heartfelt joy from performers to audience. It’s a dandy mix of classic stylings, jazz and spirited looseness that adds up to one of the very best
releases (Brazilian or otherwise) of 2003. You’d be wise to get your hands on it as soon as possible.

But not so fast, because there’s still Katia Moraes and Sambaguru to deal with. Their double live has a few things in common with the Cantuaria album–great sound, tight rhythms,etc.–but it’s got more of a flat-out party feel. And that ain’t a bad thing, since this band has the chops to lay down sambas, bossa novas, songs flavored with salsa, reggae and funk, forro (a rootsy style from the north of Brazil) and more. They cool down the pace here and there, though for the most part the heat stays on. It’s pure bliss from the beginning of disc one to the end of disc two, all brought home with the fiery “Mae Africa” capping things off.

I’ve listened to both of these repeatedly since they came my way, and their freshness seems boundless. The Kufala label deserves high marks for these “authorized bootlegs,” which are not just a good idea in principle but in practice as well.


Murder, sex and glorious quests

Phonix - Pigen rengen
Phonix – Pigen rengen

Pigen Drengen (Go Danish Folk Music Productions, 2002)

When I first started exploring Scandinavian music, I discovered the Danish folk-rock group Sorten Muld and at the time, that group represented Danish folk-roots music for me. While I did enjoy the gothic lyrics gleaned from Danish folk tales and some of the acoustic instruments that the group touted, their techno-pop renditions of folk ballads left me cold. (Some groups are better at marrying
techno with folk music than others). However, now another Danish folk-roots group, of a different nature, Phonix (pronounced foon-icks) has crossed my path and the group’s lively acoustic-based tunes have piqued my curiosity.

With music this wonderful, I wonder what other Danish traditional groups are waiting in the wings? And will Denmark be able to hold its own against traditional groups from Finland, Norway and Sweden?

Phonix was born from a folk-roots revival that flourished across Europe during the 1960’s and 70’s because members of the group were first introduced to Danish folk dance music while growing up during the folk-roots revival hey-day.

Founding group member and clarinetist Anja Praest Mikkelsen accompanied her folk dancing parents to traditional events and accordionist Jesper Vinther Petersen can also boast a similar childhood, although taking place in a different region of Denmark. Although Phonix (originally named Fritterne with a name change occurring in 1995) has morphed a few times during the 1990’s and to the present
time, the current lineup includes traditional vocalist-composer Karen Mose Norgaard, bass clarinetist Anja Mikkelsen, accordionist Jesper Petersen, and percussionist Jesper Falch.

Phonix’s 2002 release, Pigen Drengen features an additional musician, Anja’s sister Katja Mikkelsen on flute, recorder and fiddle. While she penned many of the songs on the recording, she left the group in 2003 to pursue other interest. So essentially, I am reviewing a CD that portrays the group’s previous lineup. However, I feel that this group is solid enough to reinvent itself and
it has already done so many times over the years. And in fact, they might be called the phoenix that rises time and time again from the ashes leading to changes that force the musicians to stay on their innovative toes. And let’s not use the word innovative lightly here.

These musicians imaginatively recreate traditional folk music by marrying bass clarinet, flute, fiddle, accordion, percussion and emotive vocals. And they seem to have a lot of fun recording
these lively dance tunes laced with quests involving fickle marriage partners, murder, shape shifting and tales about trolls that would ignite the late fantasy author JRR Tolkien’s passion for Nordic tales.

The opener, Tyge Hermansen not only introduces listeners to the lively instrumentation they will enjoy over the course of listening to the CD, it also sets a dreamy atmosphere of folk tale characters pursuing heroic deeds. Of course, the songs are sung in Danish so if you don’t understand Danish, you will have to follow along with the English translations that accompany the CD. And it could get confusing if you don’t pursue the translations, since a lively tune such as Mangelus sports a tale about a troll that shape shifts into a beautiful maiden that lures her human prey to her mountain lair. In fact, most of the songs, with the exception of Drommen (Dream) are composed in a major key, yet many of the tales appearing in the songs, feature themes about death (usually avoiding it), sex, and murder. The same themes also appear in folk songs of other Nordic groups including,
Hedningarna (Sweden/Finland), Varttina (Finland), Garmarna (Sweden) and Sorten Muld (Denmark) just to name a handful.

Phonix offers a nice blend of instrumentals composed mostly by former member Katja Mikkelsen and songs with lyrics that are thoughtfully complimented by Karen Mose’s warm honeyed vocals. Accordionist Jesper Petersen’s instrumental Melgven showcases Jesper’s composing and performing talents. The song starts off with a dreamy accordion solo that is soon joined by Anja’s clarinet drone tones and Katja’s recorder then later percussionist Jesper Falch’s delicious beats. It’s a song that will change the minds of those that equate acoustic instrumentation with boring music.

This delightful recording will warm the hearts and bodies of its listeners. It’s the kind of music that will cause you to dance or cuddle up next to a toasty fire. Bring on another round of folk tales and dance tunes.


Omar Sosa and Adam Rudolph Present Pictures of Soul

 Omar Sosa and Adam Rudolph - Pictures of Soul

Omar Sosa and Adam Rudolph – Pictures of Soul
San Francisco, USA – Pictures of Soul is an improvised music collaboration between Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Los Angeles-based percussionist Adam Rudolph. These two creative musicians have enjoyed each other’s work at a distance for several years. Both share an appreciation of ritual trance music – music that lead the listener into altered states of consciousness.

In April of 2002, when Sosa and his Septet arrived in Los Angeles for a run at the Jazz Bakery, it was possible for these kindred spirits to meet and make music together. The result is Pictures of Soul, a poignant aural journey into the transcendent realms of the creative music process.

Sosa and Rudolph both experience their art as an interactive spiritual voyage. Their approach in the studio called simply for an openness to explore musical landscapes together – without charts, without rehearsal. In Pictures of Soul Sosa plays mostly acoustic piano, both on the keys and inside the instrument.

Rudolph is featured on an array of hand drums, including jembe, tarija, dumbek and tabla.Sosa has released ten recordings on the Otá label since 1997, including 2002’s Pictures of Soul. He performed recently with his Octet at the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new Zankel Hall, about which Alex Ross of The New Yorker remarked that Sosa has “a ferocious flair for rhythm and a keen musical wit”. Composer John Adams, who curated the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new venue, commented that “Sosa is a deeply creative musician with an extraordinary harmonic sense. His piano playing is sui generis: It has obvious roots in Cuban music, but he’s taken his approach to the keyboard into completely new regions.”

Mr. Rudolph, a native of Chicago, is known as one of the early innovators in what is now called “World Music.” In 1977 he co-founded The Mandingo Griot Society with Gambian musician
Foday Musa Suso, one of the first bands to combine African and American music. In 1988, he recorded the first fusion of American and Gnawa music with Moroccan sintir player and vocalist Hassan Hakmoun and jazz trumpet great Don Cherry. In the same year, Rudolph began his association with the legendary Yusef Lateef. He currently leads his own ensemble, Go: Organic Orchestra.


Bows and strings

N. Rajam  - Radiant
N. Rajam – Radiant
N. Rajam

Radiant (Sense World Music, 2002)

It isn’t often that I am able to review a woman classical Indian musician so I am quite pleased to share violinist N. Rajam’s Radiant  CD with you. I read in Rough Guides World Music (volume 2) that Indian women are not given the same musical opportunities as Indian men. While male musicians attend the various gharanas and have access to masters of various traditional instruments, their women counterparts are not given the same opportunities and usually study traditional singing. And in Southern India, women do study violin. However, the violin didn’t take the role of a solo instrument in India, until after the 1960’s when N. Rajam arrived on the scene.

She is responsible for introducing the Gayaki ang vocal style to the instrument. And you can hear N.
Rajam’s violin sing in a vocal style on this CD. In fact, it is uncanny how the slides and runs resemble the human voice, especially that of the Hindustani vocal traditions.N. Rajam hails from Southern India and her family boasts generations of talented violinists, including her brother T N Krishnan. She inherited her technique from her father Sr. Narayana Iyer who encouraged his daughter to
incorporate vocal music and the ancient veena into her playing.

Later, N Rajam would seek training in Benares, located on the banks of the Ganges River where she was tutored by the legendary singer, Omkarnath Thakur for 15 years. This intense vocal training would surface later in Rajam’s violin performances. She has incorporated various vocal styles into her playing including, khayal, thumri, tappa and bhajan. And her seamless performance makes a difficult task seem effortless. Her violin shudders, quavers and converses with itself while instilling longing and other moods into complex melodies. She alternates between slides and runs of a pentatonic or 5 note scale. According to the liner notes playing the pentatonic scale on a violin is a fete in itself. “Technically, it offers a particularly stiff challenge to violinists because it consists of only
five notes, and the gaps between the notes on the neck of the violin are sizable.”

Rajam performs the popular evening raga, Malkauns and tabla player Akram Khan provides the beats. The first track, Raga Malkauns starts out slow and eventually builds as it flows into Raga Malkauns (teental). Tracks 2 and 3 allow Akram Khan showcase his improvisational solos. There is some playful exchanges between instruments, but usually Rajam repeats a phrase a few times, while Khan ignites an explosion of beats. Their performance grows in intensity until it reaches a dynamic climax. Meanwhile, Rajam extracts amazing tones from her instrument and she rivals virtuoso violinists of the west. And in fact, she blows me away with her mesmerizing interpretation of the ragas.

Track 4, Raga Khamaj, Thumri moves into contemplative territory and is romantic in nature. Set to a 6 beat cycle, you can hear the violin mourning its broken heart. Next the performers flow into Raga Nilambari (ektaal) and they conclude with the melancholic Raga Bhairavi (an evening raga). And by the end of this recording, I am wondering why I haven’t heard of the talented Dr. N. Rajam until now. I look forward to hearing more of her recordings in the future and if I ever get the chance to see her perform in the Seattle, I will jump at the opportunity.

Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music.


Tunes From the Dunes

Various Artists – Oxfam Arabia
Various Artists – Oxfam Arabia (World Music Network RGNET 1121 CD, 2003)

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to the Music of Egypt (World Music Network RGNET 1114 CD, 2003)

World Music Network’s sprawling Rough Guides series has included two previous collections in support of the humanitarian organization Oxfam. They centered on African and Latin music, and were as solid an overview of those genres as any in the mid-priced Rough Guides lineup.

Oxfam provides what’s needed most where it’s needed most (health care, finances, protection from natural and man-made disasters, preservation of human rights, etc.), and since most folks who listen
to world music are also attuned to world problems, the Oxfam discs are a great way to get your global fix and have a hand in making things better as well.

Oxfam Arabia is 67 minutes of top notch sounds from across North Africa and the Middle East. It’s got the diversity you’d expect from such a region, be it classical and traditional pieces, rai, folkloric or fusion. So there’s diversity here, from the contemporary sass of Algeria’s Abdou to different approaches toward masterful oud playing courtesy of Rabih Abou-Khalil and Naseer Shama, Transglobal Underground’s controlled techno frenzy, reggae-like grooves by Sudan’s Abdel Gadir Salim and the in-concert zest of Warda Jazairia.

If you hold to the opinion that the Arab world is your enemy, you don’t deserve a disc like this. But if you refuse to believe the vile spewing of fanatics on both sides, this music will enrich and delight you in addition to bolstering a worthy cause.

Some of the same artists from the Oxfam disc are also in good form on the The Rough Guide to the Music of Egypt. Modern Egyptian music can’t exactly be traced as far back as the pharaohs and pyramids and all that, but it has deep roots anyway, particularly links to pre-Islamic musical poetry. It’s only in much more recent times, however, that the Egyptian capital of Cairo has become the center of the Arabic music industry. Influences from all over the Arabic realm and beyond have
found their way into Egypt’s music, which as a result can be supremely fanciful or funky. So feel free to be just as seduced by the jabbing rhythms that punctuate the voice of Nugat El Saghira as you are by Ali Hassan Kuban’s Nubian tartness, Amr Diab’s Iberian leanings or the lush simmering of pieces both grand and simple from such key artists as Hamza El Din and Mahmoud Fadl.

I could go into loads more detail here, but all you really need to know is that this is a deliciously good sampling of essential music from a fascinating place.


Singing the blues for Mother Earth

Where We Live, Benefit CD for Earthjustice
Where We Live, Benefit CD for Earthjustice
Where We Live, Benefit CD for Earthjustice (Higher Octave Music, 2003)

Musicians have proven time and time again their compassion by recording benefit albums or performing at benefit concerts. We have seen several compilation releases aimed at humanitarian causes in 2003, including Drop the Debt, Planet SOS and now a benefit CD for the non-profit organization Earthjustice, Where We Live which orchestrates a campaign for the universal right to clean air and clean water. The compilation boasts an array of well-known artists performing mostly blues and gospel tunes including, Norah Jones, Pops Staples with Ry Cooder, Maria Muldaur with Bonnie Raitt, Mose Allison, Tina Turner with Robert Cray, Bob Dylan and John Hammond with Tom Waits. However, this doesn’t surprises me since 2003 was both the year of the blues and a time of planetary awareness.

According to the press release, “In the United States alone, more than 70,000 people die of air pollution, and 40% of the nation’s waterways do not meet basic water quality standards.” It’s much worse in other regions in the world because in other parts of the world, you would be fortunate to find drinkable water. And in Cairo or Mexico City, clean air would be a high price commodity. However, as we all know, we can only tackle one problem at a time. Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to preserving wildlife and defending the rights of all people so that we can live on an ecologically sound planet.

I find this compilation enjoyable and I believe that protecting the planet is the best cause of all. Norah Jones delivers the soulful Peace. Pop Staples along with Ry Cooder (on slide guitar) contribute the rousing gospel blues tune, I Shall Not Be Moved. Los Lobos honor the earth and the late Marvin Gaye with their rendition of What’s Going On? (a song that never fails to bring tears to my eyes) and Bob Dylan proves he’s still in top form, performing a honky-tonk tune, Watch the River Flow.

While many of the songs fall into the blues and gospel genres,Rubén Blades croons the sexy Latino Estampa, Willie Nelson a country western song, Living in the Promised Land. Sweet Honey in the Rock delivers a traditional a
cappella song, More Than a Paycheck and Captain Beefheart performs his zany Happy Earthday. Most of the songs that appear on the CD are familiar covers and songs that provoke an emotional response. And certainly it is well worth your time to pick up this CD and support a good cause.

But for those of you who realize that every individual effort makes a difference in promoting sustainability, you can go many steps further in achieving this goal by doing one or more of the following suggestions:

Consume less meat or go vegetarian
Stop supporting the tobacco industry (do not smoke)
Use natural cleaners in your home and business
Eat organic foods & support organic farms
Drive your car less & seek alternative forms of transportation
Don’t buy or wear clothing manufactured from petroleum products
And elect progressive leaders that will protect the environment
Give your support to green businesses and corporations
Use your power as a consumer
Use your power as a compassionate human being
Invest your money with green companies

And for now consider the Native American adage of protecting the environment for the next seven generations (including animal and plant life). In the meantime, support good causes and join the musicians on Where We Live in preserving Mother Earth and celebrating the musical treasures presented on this CD.

CD Tracks:

1. Norah Jones, Peace
2. Pops Staples with Ry Cooder, I Shall Not Be Moved
3. Los Lobos, What’s Going On?
4. Bob Dylan, Watching The River Flow
5. Maria Muldaur with Bonnie Raitt, It’s A Blessing
6. Rubèn Blades, Estampa
7. What A Wonderful World, Dan Zanes with Lou Reed and The Rubi Theater Company
8. Michael Franti & Spearhead, Yes I Will
9. Willie Nelson, Living In The Promised Land
10. The Neville Brothers, Sister Rosa
11. Sweet Honey In The Rock, More Than Just A Paycheck
12. Karen Savoca, Two Little Feet
13. Mose Allison, Getting There
14. Tina Turner with Robert Cray, A Change Is Gonna Come
15. John Hammond with Tom Waits, I Know I’ve Been Changed
16. Happy Earthday, Captain Beefheart


Sweet, sweet showers of Blues

Knut Reiersrud - Tramp
Knut Reiersrud – Tramp
Knut Reiersrud

Tramp (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 1993) & Sweet Showers of Rain (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2001)

Norwegian blues man Knut
discovered Miles Davis when he was 10 then at age 12 Knut and his brother bought guitars after seeing Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters on TV. By the ripe age of 18, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush heard Knut perform and invited him to Chicago. Since that time Knut has played over 5,000 concerts and recorded over 100 albums, but only released a handful under his own name. He has mastered 10
different string instruments and tours with 8 guitars with different tunings. And I bet few readers of this site, outside of Norway and the Chicago blues community have heard of this phenomenal musician.

Knut is also an imaginative musician and it’s easy to see his curiosity of diverse cultures in a childhood photograph that appears on the Sweet Showers of Rain CD. A much younger version of Knut is dressed in a Polynesian grass skirt and an adult size sombrero; and he’s holding Mexican maracas in his hands. Well, not much has changed since that photograph was taken since Knut’s music
carries a childlike inquisitive nature and he’s still exploring other cultures such as West Africa, American blues, Indian (India) and traditional Norwegian music.

The 1993 release, Tramp features cora, soaring West African vocals, African percussion, cora along with blues gospel singers, Five Blind Boys from Alabama who accompany Knut on two songs by Blind Willie Johnson, Everybody Oughto Treat a Stranger Right and Let Your Light Shine.

The title track, an instrumental, features organ and guitar bouncing along a jagged path. No Problem and Fareslatten are instrumental tracks featuring guitar and African musician Alagi M’Bye on Cora. Jarabe takes the treatment a bit further by adding soaring West African vocals, talking drum, jembe and organ among other instruments. And the cover of Big Joe William’s Baby Please Don’t Go
and the African Tobakobe blends Gambian vocals (Juldeh Camara) with the blues classic.

Fast forward to 2001 and the release of Sweet Showers of Rain an album that points to Jimi Hendrix guitar, 1970’s funk, roadhouse blues and recall such performers as T-Rex, Sly and the Family Stone and legendary blues musicians. The cora has been replaced by sitar and the acoustic guitar has gone electric, but you’ll also find organ, harmonium, drums, ambient treatment, loops and samples played on turntables. Blues Power (Part 3) recalls Jimi Hendrix and American funk along side samples of Otis Jones, Lightening Slim, Howling Wolf and the Parchman Farm Inmates. The titular track features wah wah guitar, funky bass and unusual vocal syncopation that recalls T-Rex. And A Lovely Disaster also recalls T-Rex, but a sitar and a rap vocalist are added giving the song exotic and a gritty appeal.

Roadhouse blues Giving Up (by Van McCoy), the funky Jumpin’ Judy, the ambient Down on Me and The Old Man Still Sings (sounds like the Beatle’s Abbey Road album) also are worth a mention. However, the traditional songs, Motherless Children and Reap What you Sow and the original Epitaph (about a falsely
convicted felon awaiting his untimely death) send chills up the spine. Knut might be of Scandinavian descent, but blues courses through his veins and he’s able to deliver the musical goods as well as, America’s infamous blues men.

Technically, these albums do not fall under Norwegian folk-roots, but they do fall into international traditional music and are far reaching. I encourage viewers of this site to check out these recordings.  and you can find them at Kirkelig Kulturverksted.

Compliments of and happy holidays from
Cranky Crow World Music.