Category Archives: CD Reviews

Second Generation, First-Rate Reggae

Morgan Heritage – Three In One
Morgan Heritage

Three In One (VP Records VPCD 1656, 2003)

After bringing reggae to the punk rock massive with their participation in the Warped tour, Morgan Heritage now offer up their most wide-ranging and best album yet. These offspring of reggae singer Denroy Morgan deliver roots consciousness with just enough touches of pop and dancehall to occasionally lighten the load.

The disc opens with “Jump Around,” a bopping dance tune reminiscent of Third World, before the more serious stuff starts kindling the righteous flame. Potent tracks like “Ah Who Dem,” “Rebel,” “Falling Race” and the acoustic “Anti-War Song (Someone Knows)” speak of religious hypocrisy, government corruption, personal responsibility and other such topics to wrap your mind around, demonstrating the sharpness with which the band have developed not only as singers and players but as insightful cultural observers.

There’s also a rousing ska number (“Everything is Still Everything”), some soulful love songs, spiritual reassurances and more, all tied up in a lengthy package of modern roots reggae rhythms characterized by by solid drums and bass laced with tightly tasty bits of guitar, keyboard and harmonies.

Morgan Heritage are consistently outspoken regarding their commitment to keeping the spirit of reggae pure and heartfelt, and Three In One shows how well they’re keeping the faith.

Buy Three In One


Pedaling tabla beats

Autorickshaw (Tala-Wallah Records)

The word autorickshaw sums up this Toronto quintet’s musical repertoire. When I used the search word
autorickshaw, I found a handful of sites that sold just that, motorized rickshaws. We forgot sometimes that
India despite it’s ancient traditions does also have a contemporary side. On one hand, visitors of the country
can still partake in the old way, by riding in a rickshaw that is pedaled by a human or take a ride in a more
modern vehicle. The Canadian group Autorickshaw, not to be confused with modern Indian transportation
reflects on the musical diversity that a city such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver have to offer. And part of
that musical diversity includes musicians trained in both jazz and classical Indian traditions. You would be
surprised how many similarities these two genres share. For instance, jazz and classical Indian music both
rely heavily on improvisation, syncopation and the analytical mind. I first encountered Autorickshaw performing a set with Harry Manx and Tantra at the Vancouver Folk Music
Festival. Vocalist Suba Sankaran had pulled out a steamy jazz standard in which she added a few vocal tricks
of her own. To say that she left me speechless is an understatement. In the past, she worked with her father,
the mrdangam master, Trichy Sankaran and she trained as a classical singer and pianist. She eventually took
up jazz and working with choirs or contributing to a film soundtrack. This eventually led her to work with tabla
player Ed Hanley (an exceptionally talented musician). Also appearing on the recording are Dylan Bell and
Rich Brown on bass as well as, percussionist Debashis Sinha.

The first track, Ganamurthy hails from south India and represents the Carnatic tradition with the exception of
the bass guitar and tabla that embellish the song. Ganamurthy which praises Lord Krishna is a raga originally
composed by the 18th Century saint composer Thyagaraja in Adi tala (8 beat cycle). Kapi-Wallah translates
to either raga or coffee merchant. And the musicians drank lots of coffee when recording this challenging
piece. It is also a Carnatic raga that was commissioned by choreographer Natasha Bakht, thus marks the first
musical collaboration for the ensemble of musicians and the birth of Autorickshaw. Cloudscape/Monsoon
ventures into jazz territory and features Suba on piano and vocals, Ed on percussion, Debashis on drums and
Dylan on bass. Cloudscape/Monsoon shows off Suba’s jazzy vocals and piano chops while recalling the work
of Charlie Parker.

Sammi Ninne, a traditional varnam composed by Karoor Devudu (Sree raga) again features the 8 beat cycle,
but brings in the tabla thus marrying the north and south Indian classical styles. Ikat highlights Ed’s tabla
prowess. And the final track, Sunrise fused Indian and Indonesian music using the 8 beat cycle. The
recording features tabla tarang (a set of three tabla tuned to different pitches), kanjira, bass and vocals.

Autorickshaw brings in all their musical influences from classical Indian, classical and jazz music without
succumbing to creating Asian fusion music or chill out music like their UK contemporaries. The music on this
recording possesses an organic quality that emphasizes the musicians’ talents and passion for different types
of music. This CD marks the debut of a group that has only been around a year or so, but if it is any indication
of future projects, Autorickshaw will be leaving listeners speechless for years to come. Hailing from Ontario,
the home of the late Glenn Gould, Autorickshaw might also be called virtuoso and certainly unique.

Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music.


Two by Shweta Jhaveri

Shweta Jhaveri  - Anahita
Shweta Jhaveri – Anahita
Shweta Jhaveri

Anahita (Intuition, 1998)

Avishkar (21st Century Cosmos, 2003)

I enjoy serendipity so I play a game with myself that involves sifting through the world music CDs at the library and choosing artists unknown to me. Two years ago while I was seeking musical treasures, I discovered a stunning recording by North Indian vocalist Shweta Jhaveri. At the time, I knew little about world music and nothing about Indian music, yet even as a novice, I allowed myself to be swept away by Ms Jhaveri’s mesmerizing vocal talent. Even an absolute beginner realizes the years of mastery required obtaining vocal mastery and as I recently learned, Shweta began training at the sweet age of six.

As time went on, Jhaveri studied North Indian classical vocals with the master Pandit Jasraj. By the time she turned 19 (she’s now in her 30’s), Jhaveri became the first female vocalist from Gujarat, India to perform North Indian classical music in India and abroad. Besides her performances in India, she has performed in the US, Canada, Bangladesh and was the first Indian vocalist to perform in Argentina. Her first recording, Anahita (1998) which was recorded in San Francisco and produced by Lee Townsend has been considered a pioneer of world music by some critics. Anahita which featured Jenny Scheinman on violin, Will Bernard on guitar/dobro, Bill Douglass on bass and Jim Kassis on drums/percussion seamlessly blend Eastern modes and scales with Western instrumentation. Instead of hearing the drones of sitars or the power beats of tablas, the musical atmosphere is enhanced with rolling thunder drums and a wah wah guitar.

This approach might come across as a bit shocking to connoisseurs of Indian classical music, but would be at home with fans of Susheela Raman. However, do not mistake Anahita for a world pop crossover recording since, “the music presented here is composed in traditional North Indian rags, in the form of Drut Khayals,” according to Jhaveri in her liner notes. She also adds that this is the most innovative of the North Indian classical vocal forms and its rhythm is based on Teental or 16 beats. Her six rags that appear on Anahita are not conventional khayals, but she composed the lyrics in traditional North Indian rag to give the impression of North Indian Drut Khayals.

Invocation starts out with the drone of a tamboura and then Shweta’s unwavering voices enter and are then followed by the unconventional drum beats and bass notes as well as, Jenny’s wailing violin (actually performed in the Indian tradition). Wah wah guitar adds a distinct flavor to the seductive, yet sacred mix. To a Beloved again marries Jenny’s Indian style violin with fluttering and soaring vocals. The rag reflects on longing for a loved one. Amidst A Mist begins in the same fashion as Invocation with the tambour drone pairing with mesmerizing vocals that could lull anyone into a meditative state. Drums come in slowly and soak into the dissonant atmosphere created by the other instruments. And Jhaveri’s vocals evoke powerful emotions that grow more passionate throughout the rag.

No More, a song composed in the serene mood of Rag Bhairav (CD notes) features lilting violin alternating with dissonant drone. The lilting and even playful violin continues into the next track, To the Spring, (composed in the style vibrant mood of Rag Shuddhakalyan) and which resembles a Bollywood classic. The final track, A Nosy Dawn is based on a poem that reflects on the (Gopies) or lovers of Krishna and of a nighttime of lovemaking. Krishna’s main consort, Radha curses dawn as it arrives and spoils the moment. (A Nosy Dawn was composed in the haunting morning Rag, Lalit).

Shweta Jhaveri - Avishkar
Shweta Jhaveri – Avishkar
Shweta’s self-produced follow-up CD, Avishkar forges a different musical path. This time around, Shweta is backed by traditional Indian instruments including, Ramesh Bapodara on tabla, Jayant Bhalodkar on harmonium, and Parul Kapadia on tanpura. The songs are composed and performed again in the khayal or North Indian Classical form and sung in Hindi. Shweta composed the six compositions that appear on the recording that features two kinds of khayals, Bada khayal (elaborate version) and the Drut khayal (brief and fast version).

Dream, Saanvaro and Abhogi reflect on Krishna’s many facets. 14 Beats possesses a vibrant mood and is set to Ada Chautaal or 14 beats as the title implies. The raga Call of Spring and Night Fever are both set to 16 beat cycles. Although the vocalist is obviously the same on both recordings, the two albums will interests a different set of listeners. Anahita will excite a westerner with a growing interest in classical Indian music, while Avishkar will most likely attract dedicated classical Indian students and sophisticated listeners. Both recordings however, point to Shweta’s dedication to composing and singing khayals. It is unfortunate however, that her vocal talents aren’t matched with other top classical Indian musicians and put out in a more accessible format. Shweta possesses a stunning vocal talent and when put in the right setting could excite an appreciative audience of Indians and world music fans alike. For more information visit


A Cure for them Blues

Martina Sorbara - The Cure for Bad Deeds
Martina Sorbara – The Cure for Bad Deeds
Martina Sorbara

The Cure for Bad Deeds (Nettwerk America, 2003)

Before I begin the review of Martina Sorbara’s debut CD, I would like to mention that I haven’t lost my mind or purpose promoting world music. And I am not going to start reviewing pop music for this site. The review of Martina’s CD, The Cure for Bad Deeds is the only exception to the rule. Why? Well, we all have our guilty pleasures and this 23 year old ballsy Canadian singer-songwriter crafts songs that get under your skin and move things around.

Her gutsy tunes possess candor, street wisdom and soulfulness often found in veteran performers who have been around the block a few too many times and this is just a debut release. We haven’t heard anything yet. If Martina refuses to cave into music industry demands, she’ll soon be joining ranks with Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell and any blues diva, you fill in the blank.

So who is Martina Sorbara, other than the resourceful girl who grew up in rural Ontario and attended the alternative Waldorf School, who learned how to build guitars and design clothing? Who is this young woman who has been around the block a few too many times, sexually speaking and lived to tell her tales? She’s brazen and she can knock you dead with her well aimed words.

She is the fresh face girl next door with a few dirty secrets. In many ways, she has joined forces with the Ani Difranco’s of the world and she’s gonna tell you how it is, not how you wish life to be. You can read her lyrics and listen to her womanly gasps, sighs; croons that appear on her CD and you’ll still be left with an insolvable mystery.

Most of Martina’s songs that appear on the cure for bad deeds revolve around sorrowful events that reflect on errors of judgment. Sometimes these reflections prove painful to listen to since the lyricist comes off as a coyote that keeps setting its tail on fire. She longs for adventure losing her love interest (Undone), she blows up at the one she is suppose to love (Call Wolf) or she ends up on the wrong side of a sleazy proposition (Better Man).

The songs might be called folky laments backed by piano or acoustic guitar. The laments provide well crafted chord progressions and vulnerability, but I prefer the bawdy blues numbers in which Martina belts our her lyrics. You can see older women sitting in the room with her, yelling out, “yeah, ain’t that right, sister. You tell ’em. Hmmhmm.” With the bawdy tune, Eggs over Easy, Martina heats up the kitchen and she’s not frying those titular eggs. Sadly, there aren’t enough of those blues tunes to go around on this CD. Which is a shame since blues is what Martina does best. This Ship features a Latin jazz piano solo that comes out of nowhere and again, I can’t help but wish for more of this musical treatment on the CD.

With so many female singer-songwriters clogging up the radio airwaves these days, one needs to find her niche and carry out her uniqueness. If Martina stays authentic while delving deeper into blues and jazz, she will be a talent to be reckoned. In the meantime, let her music act as a guilty pleasure or a cure for your bad deeds.

(compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).


Chill out

Compilasian, The World of Indipop
Compilasian, The World of Indipop

Compilasian, The World of Indipop (Narada World, 2003)

The release of Narada World’s Compilasian (The World of Indipop) comes as more of a sign of changes to come in the record industry than as the cutting edge music it boast.

For those readers not aware of the Indipop label, it is a cottage industry label created by producer Steve Coe who is also Sheila Chandra’s husband. Narada World recently licensed Indipop catalogue, including Sheila Chandra’s Indipop releases. And with the release of Compilasian, itself a compilation of unreleased tracks of the groups Monsoon, Sheila Chandra, The Ganges Orchestra, Jhalib and East West, comes with a piracy protection device, called Copy Control.

Only time will tell if this device actually puts more money in the hands of recording artists or acts as a trigger for more paranoia in the world.

The Copy Control actually comes with its own player and a symbol reflective of the big brother that is watching you. This could cause discomfort in even the most innocent record buyer, especially coming at a time when people believe that the government too is watching their every move. And by the way, as a journalist, I am here to get the word out on musicians and I do not condone piracy. However, I will also say that there is too much fear in the world and I am disappointed that so many establishments succumb to fear instead of spreading love on the planet. Trust is a derivative of love.

Protection and security are derivatives of fear (a gentle reminder).Now that I have released my reservations for this technology, I will get on with the review of this compilation.

According to the CD liner notes, Steve Coe, small, but influential label has enjoyed three decades of fun and independence while introducing the world to its most popular vocalist, Sheila Chandra. Indipop receives credit for being the forerunner of the Asian fusion music fostered in the UK.

Steve and the musicians who recorded on his projects modernized Indian music so that Western ears could relate to it and Western feet could dance to it. However, having grown up in an extremely mainstream community where I heard and appreciated Ravi Shankar’s ragas it’s difficult for me to understand why anyone would need to modernize Indian music.

Fortunately, the musicians on the recording also chose to explore new musical territory that married studio wizardry with the essence of Indian music. And these musicians have a lot of fun blazing musical trails and taking advantage of the liberation provided to them when working with a small and experimental label. And in fact, Chandra’s innovative songwriting and lush vocals matured out of these experiments.

The tracks feel more like a musical laboratory than actual songs. Phrases are often repeated similar to mantras, on the track, Strange Minaret, Sheila sings backwards recalling the Beatles White album. Outtakes for Crescent Silver Scythe and Ever So Lonely have been rehashed and a few other surprises crop up on the compilation. 11 (a number with spiritual inclinations that comes up a lot in my life), provides nature sounds, a moody organ and Sheila’s lovely vocals.

In the end, Compilasian will take its listeners on an unusual inner journey, complete with a soundtrack that promises to expand frontiers.

Buy Compilasian, The World of Indipop


The Scottish Harp

Wendy Stewart

Standing Wave (Greentrax CD TRAX242)

This is quite a sombre selection of Scottish harp music with the occasional equally sombre vocal track. The opening tune, Flowres O The Forrest, sets the mood, spare and melancholy, which the traditional, All Things Are Quite Silent, continues. A tale 0f press-ganging and break up of domestic life it has a memorable melody delivered with clarity by Stewart.

If the lamentation of the opening track needed further depths of melancholy then there is a track about the terrible foot and mouth crisis which devastated lands and lives in the UK recently. Rather than use words to convey some of the suffering Stewart lets Fires At Midnight tell its tale through musical imagery.This is perhaps even more effective.The leaving of a homeland has long been part of any nation’s lyrical tradition and her rendition of a clearance song, Now Draw Up Close And Hear My Song, draws on Gaelic words which in translation describe some of the feeling of loss:

From croft and glen down to the sea, those that I love are going.

The homes they leave are cold and cleared and under sheep run lying.

Notwithstanding the mournful nature of many tracks her various harps are also put to good use on traditional tunes and dances where there is both restraint and robustness in her playing. Try Down The Hill/Annan Polka or the final track which employs the delicate bohemian harp to good effect. She also uses the gut harp which has a slightly more powerful tone on her own composition, Jean Stewart Of Moniaive.

Overall, it is an attractive set of songs and tunes, encouraging reflective listening, which ought still to appeal to a wide audience.


One for the Road

Harry Manx - Road Ragas
Harry Manx – Road Ragas
Harry Manx

Road Ragas (Salt Spring Island, Canada, 2003)

I have found that there is
little safety to be found from paint by number artists even in the world music or folk roots genres. Fortunately,
Harry Manx doesn’t paint by numbers and instead, he boldly leaps into the unknown. Equally at home in an
ashram or performing on a blues stage, he is the first musician that I have encountered who plays a raga (The
Gist of Madhuvanti) on a 6 string banjo and then classic blues on a Mohan Veena. Harry gives his listening
audience an earful of soulful blues which is evident on his live recording, Road Ragas.

Then again, you can’t contain some folks in a box. Among us, exist prodigal sons and daughters who flee
abroad to a foreign locale before the heavy weight of adulthood catches up to them and they busk for a living in
these far off places. A lot of folk or blues musicians get discovered this way, Harry on the other hand,
discovered himself in Europe, Japan and in India. In India, he succumbed to the temptations of the Indian way
of life and spent five years studying the Mohan Veena from the master and inventor of the instrument Vishwa
Mohan Bhatt. Eventually, Harry reinvented the blues while acquiring classical Indian flavoring to spice his
repertoire. Road Ragas distills the Canadian blues musician’s travels, life experiences and musical inventions into
transcendental blues. Harry who resembles a bohemian sage with his goatee and serene disposition, wheels
out traditional tunes from the American South including, Take this Hammer (he’s backed by the gospel choir,
Heavenly Lights), Sitting on the Top of the World, Reuben’s Train (which he performs on a Mohan Veena)
and he pays tribute to Willie Dixon (Spoonful) and Riley King (The Thrill is Gone). Among his favorite blues
classics, are original songs from his other recordings, including Wise and Otherwise, including, Bring the
Thing, Don’t Forget to Miss Me, Coat of Mail, Nat Bhariau, Sunday Morning Ascension (about the death of a
friend) and the love song, Lay Down My Worries.

Road Ragas goes beyond providing insightful cathartic moments that are normally associated with the blues
and instead the musical moments here allow us to transcend our troubles. Similar to an Indian raga, these
songs, delivered with a lot of soul would cause anyone’s heart to swell with universal love. But you need to ask
yourself if you are ready to soar above the mundane and sprout wings.


East Meets East, North Meets South

K. Sridhar combines traditions from both sides of his family

By Teed Rockwell
India Currents Magazine

April 2001

K. Sridhar has lived his musical life by an important principle: If you’re true to your roots, you will be respected for what you are. One of the reasons this principle has worked so well for him is that, in his case, the roots extend very deep and far. His mother had trained her children in Karnatik classical music, and Sridhar’s brother, K. Shivakumar Shringar, became an accomplished Karnatik violinist. But Sridhar also received training in Hindustani Dhrupad music from the age of five, and eventually devoted his life to playing Hindustani music on the sarod. With a background that was both multicultural and traditional, he acquired both a respect for tradition and an open-mindedness that gave him the courage to be innovative.In his most recent purely classical album, Food for the Soul, Sridhar exhibits both his traditional and his innovative side by performing a Karnatik raga in a very pure Hindustani style. Raga Charukeshee is built on a scale that is not part of the Hindustani Thaat system. The top half is minor, containing komal Sha and Ni (flatted sixth and seventh degrees). But the bottom half is entirely major, which means that it changes radically in mood depending on where you play in the scale. Ali Akbar Khan created a raga in the same scale, which he called Alam Malaya, but the scale is all that the two ragas have in common. Alam Malaya had a five note arohi (upward pattern) and a seven note vakra avarohi (crooked downward pattern). Charukeshee permits any note to be played either upward or downward, which means it has to rely on other factors to give it its distinctive character.

Sridhar ingeniously starts his alap by only using the five notes, which create the top half of the minor scale. The impression he gives is that he’s going to be playing one of the Kanras, for he even uses some of the slow vibratos that are typical of that family of ragas. But when his alap has reached the upper register, he stays within the major half of the scale, and gives the impression that he is playing in a major thaat, such as Khamaj or Bilaval. Only when he picks up speed does he play sequences that include the entire scale, thus revealing its unique nature. The result is three distinct mood changes, which have an impact similar to the modulations from key to key used in Western music.

This effect however, is only a small part of Sridhar’s expressive palette. During the alap (rhythmically free opening), he uses a variety of quiet effects that create dynamic contrasts to the main melody notes. Sometimes he taps out four or five note phrases without plucking the strings at all. Other times, he uses slides that mark numerous distinct notes as they slowly decay, the vibrato varying in both speed and depth like a mournful cry. He uses a gamak technique (wide fast vibrato) during slow teental which actually seems to make the note get louder as it continues to vibrate. His sophisticated use of laya (variations in tempo against the underlying beat) requires the tabla player to do everything he can to simply hold the beat down. My favorite of these laya variations is a two minute barrage of amazingly fast trills, which are so perfectly controlled they seem paradoxically to be almost slow and stately, like the vibrating wings of a floating dragonfly. And he has one technique which I believe he invented: He keeps his fifth fingernail on his left hand almost an inch long, so he can actually play chikare (strums) with either hand.

Sridhar also has a history of working with an Arabian instrument closely related to the sarod — the oud. At first glance, the two instruments seem remarkably similar. Both have fretless fingerboards, and are played with flat picks. The main difference between the modern sarod and the modern oud is that today sarods have steel fretboards and metal strings, while ouds have wooden fretboards and gut strings. But even as early as a generation ago, sarods also had wooden fretboards and gut strings, and those sarods probably sounded very much like oud. Today, however, the sarod and the oud have both matured into noticeably different instruments that nevertheless share a common ancestry. Imagine a steel string guitar playing with a nylon string guitar (Andre Segovia and Leo Kotke, perhaps?), and you may get some sense of how these two instruments can highlight the differences in each other precisely because they are so similar.

Sridhar’s first collaboration with an oud player was a completely improvised album with Palestinian Adel Salemeh on Peter Gabriel’s Womad label. His second Arab fusion album, East Meets East, features a larger Arabian ensemble called Arabandi, that includes oud player Taiser Elias (who doubles on violin) along with vocals, Persian ney (flute) and Arabian percussion. There are many similarities between Indian and Arabic music that reflect their commingling during the Mughal invasion of India — the unusual time signatures, the emphasis on monophonic melodies that rely heavily on microtones. But the similarities are most obvious on Bint Elshalabia, the opening piece on East Meets East. It starts with a sarod solo, which sounds like an oud, until the real oud comes in and doubles the melody. When I compare the oud and sarod solos on that cut, I can only speculate as to who learned what from whom — the sarod sounds so natural combined with the Arabian drums and ney, and the oud playing has a rhythmic sophistication that I (perhaps falsely) thought was unique to Indian music. And without the liner notes I would never have guessed that the pieces Dawn and Hope are original compositions by Sridhar, and not traditional Arabian tunes.

Sridhar has clearly learned several of the traditional Middle Eastern melodies note for note, for he plays them in tight unison with the violin, the oud, and the ney. And when he solos on those melodies, the techniques he learned from his Karnatik and Hindustani teachers blend in so naturally that he seems to have been playing this style of music all of his life. Given the long history of cultural exchange between the Arab and Indian cultures, in a certain sense, he has been. But it is inspiring to see the process of separating and recombining continue into the next millennium — refreshing both traditions, as it has so often in the past.

For more information, please visit Sridhar’s website at

Article submitted with permission from the author, Teed Rockwell.


Party On!

Maxwell Street Klezmer Band - Old Roots New World
Maxwell Street Klezmer Band – Old Roots New World
Maxwell Street Klezmer Band

Old Roots New World (Shanachie, 2002)

Hailing from Chicago and named after the infamous Maxwell Street, (an area compared to New York’s Lower Eastside) and where Russian Jews immigrated during the last century, the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band ignites a party mood. However, I don’t know if I would use the word band to describe this orchestra size unit. One photograph that accompanies the CD, Old Roots New World sports 17 musicians that amounts to lots of strings, horns, woodwinds, percussion, two vocalists and a non-stop celebratory mood.

Most of the compositions included on the discs were written during the heyday of American klezmer music and during a time when swing was the newest trend in jazz music. Many of the songs are short in length with the exception of Klezmer Rhapsody that last 17 1/2 minutes and it plays more like a frolic than a rhapsody.MSKB, although larger and hailing from Chicago, draws comparisons with their New York counterpart, The Klezmatics. However, singer Lori Lippitz who founded MSKB in 1983 leads this band and along with her troupe of musicians has played stages throughout Europe and across America. I am not an expert on klezmer music, but I imagine that it’s rare to find a klezmer band of this size and importance led by a woman. Obviously Ms Lippitz is one extraordinary woman and musician.

The songs on the CD for the most part portray optimism and originate from films, weddings (Leah’s Saraband was composed by Artistic Director Alex Koffman for Lori’s wedding) and other celebrations. The actress-acrobat-dancer-songwriter Molly Picon is honored twice on the recording on the tracks Play Fiddle, Play/Yidle with the Fiddle that derives from a film that Molly appeared back in 1937 and the song You Should Only Be Well, written by Molly. The words to the song might offer hope to those folks currently struggling with their lives, “The air is free the whole world over…the sun shines just the same for the rich or poor…have a little fun, a little laughter, sometimes with friends.”

Springtime marks a Jewish tango that doesn’t speak of sexual longing, but over the anguish of losing a loved one. A woman mourns the murder of her husband. Ironically, the musician, Avrom Brodna who wrote the music for the tango, died in a concentration camp in 1943. On a lighter note, Live to Enjoy features Ralph Wilder’s spunky clarinet solos embellished by frenzied horns and snazzy percussion. Musicianship in general is highlighted here with plenty of clarinet arpeggios, sparkling horns, weeping strings and crystal clear soprano vocals. The musicians bring their love for klezmer music to this disc and they have a rollicking good time sharing their music with a deserving audience.


Taj Mahal’s Hanapepe Dream

Taj Mahal

Hanapepe Dream (Tone-Cool/Kan-Du Records, 2003)

For those feeling a little listless and slothful in the grip of summer’s dog days, let me suggest Hanapepe Dream, the latest from Taj Mahal and The Hula Blues found on Tone-Cool/Kan-Du Records.

The follow up to their 1998 Sacred Island, Hanapepe Dream liquefies the Hawaiian, West African, Blues and Caribbean influences and pours them out perfectly blended. Heavy with lilting Hawaiian steel guitar, bright ukuleles, the slick wah wah of slack-key guitar and saxophone, it slides down cool and frosty like some exotic drink on a hot summer’s day.

But it is Taj Mahal’s voice that intoxicates – that voice that is smooth and silky one minute and rough and rich the next. “Black Jack Davy,” the charming duet “Moonlight Lady” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Creole Belle” are testaments to Mahal’s powerful command over song lyrics. Set to a shuffling beat and playful sax, Taj Mahal entices the listener with a playfully naughty vocal seduction on “Baby, You’re My Destiny” that culminates with some scat vocals. Mahal even gets in a version of “All Along The Watchtower,” proving that Mahal refuses convention.

I do have to mention the liner notes for Hanapepe Dream. I don’t know who was responsible but – shame, shame, shame! There wasn’t a single mention about the musicians or any of the production staff. The musicians behind The Hula Blues include Carlos Andrade on slack-key guitar; Fred Lunt on Hawaiian steel guitar; Kester Smith on drums; Rudy Costa on saxophone, flute, kalimba and clarinet; Pat Cockett on liliu ukulele; Wayne Jacintho on tenor ukulele; Michael Barretto on baritone ukulele and Pancho Graham on acoustic guitar. These guys are just too good to not mention and proof is in the instrumental title track.

All-in-all Hanapepe Dream is a delightful elixir for those summer doldrums



TJ Nelson 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.