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Miscellaneous Review Archive 3


Various
Vedic presents "Rhythmic Intelligence"
Sub-Rosa (distributed in North America through Dutch East India)

As the year comes to a close, several critics have heaped praises upon Talvin Singh's Anokha, a groovy mixture of trip hop electronica and traditional Indian themes. When I first came upon this sound a year ago, I wanted to call it Bhangra, but this sound is cutting edge funky cool. Bhangra seemed to be back in the Deee-Lite disco age. This sound is Asian Dub, and it's born out of the dance clubs of London. With the exception of Anokha, most of this "sound" is still on dance room vinyl, and difficult to find (with a tip of the hat to Bally Sagoo's Rising from the East).

What many do not know is that an excellent companion piece to Anohka was released this past fall on a little known Belgian label, Sub Rosa, noted not for it's world music, but rather it's trendy DJ danceteria electronics. Which is where I found the album, in the Techno section. Like Talvin Singh's collection, Rhythmic Intelligence features various studio artists (primarily Vedic) electronically sampling Indian voices and instruments. However, Rhythmic Intelligence steps just to the outside of the dancehall jungle rhythms of Anokha, instead layering many of its samples for chill room listening. The album builds from this beautiful and mysterious wash of vocal layering in Vedic Sound's "Sweet Omkara," culminating to a dancefloor cacophony with Lelonek's "Rashanki." Taken together with Bally Sagoo's recent release, and Cornershop's When I was born for the 7th Time, music of post-modern India has finally begun it's ascent into the Western world. –Wayne Whitwam


NAWANG KHECHOG
Karuna
Domo Records (lugop@domo.com)

A Tibetan flautist makes a recording of intense and beautiful music for flute and other acoustic instruments that is occasionally marred by trivial synth sound effects and unnecessary "nature sounds" that take away from what is an otherwise wonderful recording of deeply moving music. - CF


BADAWI
Jerusalem Under Fire
ROIR

The vast majority of the dub-reggae-ambient scene leaves me bored with its endless reliance on the same tired cliches and over-worked rhythm patterns. So hail Raz Masina, AKA Badawi, for coming to the rescue with not only a whole new bag of trippy studio tricks but an intense talent on various middle-eastern percussion instruments. What a joy to hear electronic dance music that has rediscovered insinuation and subtlety, and mixed it with a sense of place and time so lacking on most dance club menus. - CF


Voices
(Alula Records / alula@aol.com) This celebration of the human voice is an electic, but successful collection. Several tracks of the Bulgarian women's choir (now called Angelite) set the overall tone for this heavily spiritual, moody and hypnotic album. The performers are from all over the world and explore both ancient traditions as well as contemporary experimentalism, but their commonality is showcasing the compelling beauty of humans in song. - Marty Lipp


Ned Sublette / Lawrence Weiner
Monsters from the Deep
Qbadisc

Just when you believe even "world" music has become generic, along comes "Monsters" -- a cast of underground characters trying to make some musical sense out of the hallucinatory lyrics of Bronx-born artist Lawrence Weiner. Orchestrated by Ned Sublette, "Monsters" rambles through torch-song ballads, Jamaican dancehall and Texas-style country shuffles (sometimes all in one song). As crooked and bizarre as "pink Texas lipstick on slightly buck teeth," Sublette and Weiner have created the ultimate art-house movie soundtrack without the film. - WTD


Earthlan
A Beautiful Collision of Nations
Shanachie

Following Blue Note Records' success with turning back catalog jazz master tapes over to outside parties (Us3), Shanachie has attempted the same in world music with producer Floyd Fisher. A cut-and-paste patchwork of various artists, Fisher has castrated any relevance the recordings once had. The musicians, most of whom I seriously doubt had any say in this project, are mashed together into a slick, mall-friendly drone. Think Deep Forest and Enigma -- "exotic" shopping music at its crass-commercialized worse. - WTD


JAPONIZE ELEPHANTS FROM ZORLOCK! LAND OF THE LOST
Bob's Bacon Barn
Secretly Canadian Records, 1703 North Maple Street, Bloomington, IN 47404

In a world gone mad, madness is the only cure, and this mid-west band has gone completely over the edge. They are an old-timey string band in the loosest sense of the word. Sure, they know the catalog of Americana folk roots inside out, but try to imagine how they find connections to their bluegrass, blues and string band roots and the music of Indonesia, the middle east and other sundry locations on a music map more skewed than the house of mirrors on the boardwalk.

The instruments: banjo, guitars, glockenspiel (a major player here!), flute, fiddle, bass, accordion and "junk." The musicians: talented, twisted, irreverent and witty. The songs resemble some sort of concoction of Holy Modal Rounders, dangdut, Spike Jones and Philip Glass. They are at once stupid and brilliant, a fine line indeed, but one they can walk back and forth across because of their high musicianship. Loosen up for a few minutes and say, "Fuck the Farmacia" on "Bob's Bacon Barn Train #2." Discover the "Evlisinsideus." - CF


BILL LASWELL
Sacred System Volume Two
ROIR

It takes a tough guy to get through my techno-phobias, and Laswell is often the man to do it. Here he has teamed up with cornet player Graham Haynes, the Material gang and engineer/recordist Robert Musso. What they have produced is bottom heavy, Miles inspired techno-dub. It's not chained to the dancefloor, but rather rambles from foot work to ambient noise to ethereal washes of sound. It's these last moments where Haynes really shows his stuff, as he drifts through a cloud of electronic vapor, casting notes about long, rolling notes and then surprising you with sharp attacks. Various real and imagined world percussion grooves emanate from Bill Buchen, and Nicky Skopelitis adds his coral guitar, sitar and guitars, but they are way back there, holding things together for the relentless bass and horn. - CF


Various Aritsts
Coal Mining Women
Rounder

"If you can't stand by me, well don't stand in my way..."
In her inimitable style, Hazel Dickens manages to bring together old time music, hard work and a feminist political viewpoint in a song about good work for good pay. It sets the theme for a fine collection of modern songs about an old occupation. The bulk of the songs come from Guy and Candy Carawan productions now out of print, They'll Never Keep us Down and Come All You Coal Miners, with some more recent recordings added to complete this new collection. Dickens is joined by Reel World String Band, Sarah Gunning, Phyllis Boyens and Florence Reece (who's version of "Which Side Are You On?" is still the definitive one). - CF


THE GIBSON BROTHERS
Spread Your Wings
Hay Holler Records

Up-state New Yorkers Eric and Leigh Gibson are a rare breed. The harmonies these brothers create are of the type that only family members possess. Tight, high, lonesome bluegrass harmonies that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. They will make you think of the Louvin Brothers, maybe even the Everly's. With all the drive of classic older bluegrass recordings, they will surprise you with musical accents which are tastefully progressive. Moments such as the ending to 'Two Hours Down', are more akin to something you would expect from the Seldom Scene. The Gibson Brothers possess drive, and good taste. Those are qualities that don't always come in the same package. The focus is definitely tradional bluegrass, and even renditions of songs from folks such as singer-songwriter Greg Brown with 'Early'. Bluegrass standards 'I'm Gonna Love You (Like There's No Tomorrow), and Darling Corey balance nicely with the slower songs that showcase the brothers' sweeter harmonies, such as on 'Wondering'. Fabulous instrumentation from regular band member Junior Barber on dobro, as well as special guest Aubrey Haynie on fiddle. Mike Barber rounds out the lineup on bass. It's a nice solid work of the type that will always stand on it's feet in the bluegrass circles. - Jonathan Colcord


RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOT
Kerouac's Last Dream
Appleseed Recordings, folkradicl@aol.com

There's no explaining the mystique of this man. His nasal drone was Dylan's model, his western American style was acquired both by real living and vicariously through his association with names like Carawan, Guthrie and Kerouac. Like many American folk heroes, he went through a period where he was more legendary in Europe than America, and in 1980 he recorded this album in Germany. It was a collection of brilliant American gems like Roy Acuff's "Blues Eyes Crying In The Rain, Ernest Tubb's "Soldier's Last Letter" and Woody Guthrie's "1913 Massacre," along with a string of what over here would have been referred to generously as "chestnuts" of American folk tradition like "Buffalo Skinners," The Cuckoo," and "Freight Train Blues." Was he influential? Just listen to him tear into Dylan's "I Threw It All Away." Chicken or Egg? - CF


Mickey Hart's "The World" series returns after a bit of an hiatus with Utom: Summoning The Spirit (Ryko). These field recordings were made in the southwestern reaches of the Philippines in 1995, and they present the music of the T'boli people, an indigenous group of about 80,000 people. It reveals the music of their work, their rituals and their play time in clear recordings with no obvious interference by the recording process. It opens with three pieces for a lute called hegelung. They are nature related songs that mimic the insects, the birds, and in the last piece, a dancers shuffling feet. There are bamboo zithers, shaman's flutes, bowed and plucked strings, gongs and epic voices. If there's a standout track, it comes late in the set with "The Harp Of Heaven," a swinging solo on a vibrating bamboo mouth harp. Well recorded, with a well documented and illustrated booklet, this is the way "ethnomusical" adventures should be. - CF


TRILOK GURTU The Glimpse
Silva Screen (silvabop@aol.com)

Percussionist Trilok Gurtu has been one of the less known but more innovative of the "world fusion" artists on the scene in the 90s. He was the backbone of a number of CMP Records' releases, including a few that carried his own name, each one a mix of mainstream jazz and new music edge. The Glimpse is a clear tribute to the worldly grooves of Don Cherry and a nod towards the more outside edge of Ornette Coleman (including a vibrant, bluesy version of his "Law Years."). There's an instinctive blend of north African, Indian and Latin music here as in his other works, but there's also a headlong rush to groove oriented jazz. "1-2 Beaucoup" probably best draws it all together as the band of standard jazz tools (bass, drums, guitar, horns and bass) slams head-on into a Indian scat/konnakkol vocal riff, with underpinnings of bells, harmonium and Eastern strings. It's not so far out on the edge as to become precious or contrived. It always comes back to the beat, always hangs on to the rhythm. The Glimpse takes a look at possibilities in jazz that transcend the usual without becoming experimental. It's solid and adventurous in equal measure, and crashes through the boundaries of both jazz and world music. - CF


The Rebirth Brass Band Here To Stay
Arhoolie

Back in 1984 The Rebirth Brass Band made a record for Chris Strachwitz called Here To Stay, and now after a number of successful records on Rounder they have proven the title to be true. Here To Stay is the band when they were fresh, young (very young!) and looking for a sound to latch on to. Reissued on CD, this live recording is still one of the best introductions you could have to the New Orleans brass band tradition, alive, growing and just fun. - CF


Bonga
Angola 72
Tinder

It's always been a fascinating mystery, this incorporating the oppressors music into what ultimately becomes the revolutionary music. There's a logic to it, to be sure, using the colonial culture to protest their rule in a language they understand, but there is always the nagging question as to why people so often identify culturally with some of the very things they despise.

In the early seventies, Angolan Bonga Kuenza was doing just that, assailing the ruling colonial power by integrating his message into a music that was distinctly Portuguese in sound and instrumentation, then putting a message about the hopelessness of colonial life and the fury of the oppressed in urban Angola into the lyrics. Now we have a reissue of Bonga's classic Angola 72 . That it holds up so many years later is testament to his soulful singing more than anything else. He is still heartrending and clear. Recorded in Holland during his European sojourn of exile which included a stint as a record-holding athlete in Lisbon and a time in Paris, Angola 72 is bittersweet folk music that has aged very well. - CF


RAY LEGERE AND ROGER WILLIAMS River Of No Return
Strictly Country (Rienk.Janssen@ttp.nl)

Here is a recording should be receiving more attention than it has. This is not the first time Ray and Roger have recorded together, but it is the first CD that has shared their names. Together they are an incredible bluegrass team. Ray Legere's almost flawless work on mandolin, fiddle, and guitar is complemented by Roger Williams' creative approach to the dobro. The songs range from up-tempo bluegrass instrumentals, to country balladry soulfully sung by Roger Williams, such as the track 'Little Man'. 'River Of No Return', the title track, brought back memories of the later period New Grass Revival vocal harmonies, and sharp instrumentation.

The standout cut on the CD was the Ray Legere composition 'This Lonesome Fiddler', which lives fully up to it's namesake with nice vocal harmonies provided by Darren Farrell and Jean-Marc Doiron. Roger Williams, while mainly influenced by masters such as Josh Graves, adds a more emotional beauty to songs like 'Contemplation'. The focus of the recording seems to be instrumental, which makes vocal tracks, such as Roger's 'Snowy Afternoon' welcome respites to Ray's hard-driving bluegrass selections such as 'Cruisin' The Autobahn'. Other musicians showcased on the disc are Frank Doody who plays some great banjo, and Brian Arsenault on the bass. Not a CD that should be missed if you like bluegrass. - Jon Colcord
(This review originally appeared in Crossroads Magazine)


EINSTEIN'S LITTLE HOMUNCULUS Don't Ask
Accordion School Music (lynda@pobox.com)

Here is a CD that is a real treat, and probably the funniest thing I've heard in quite some time. Balance that with some highly capable instrumentation, and you have an extemelely well-rounded recording. What is it? It's mostly traditional Irish-style and a healthy dose of Klezmer- at the same time. Picture well-played Celtic music running through lyrics pertaining to anything from leather and whips (the title cut 'Don't Ask'), to it's polar oppostite in 'Celibacy'. The humor might make you think of modern pop-icons such as Bare Naked Ladies, but the treatment of their delivery is absolutely original. Take for example 'Mit an Spong' (With A Sponge). A delightful nonsense song all about the various uses of the squishy-mass, sung in what I assume to be ELH's purely invented Germanic/Eastern-European sounding language- Frulgarian. The humorous is of course balanced with nice Irish traditional numbers that are a nice respite to the humorous cuts. After a few listens, I realized that the Klezmer undertone is also running through nearly everything on the CD as well. If you were wondering where they got the name Einstein's Little Homunculus? 'Don't Ask'! - Jon Colcord
(This review originally appeared in Crossroads Magazine)


James McMurtry it had to happen
Sugar Hill
Eddy Lawrence locals
Snowplow

These recent recordings by two very different American singer-songwriters have little more in common than their lower case titles. James McMurtry's it had to happen is a refreshing improvement over his last Columbia recordings, in which he seemed locked in to both musical and narrative sameness. He's tweaked his writing back to the high level of his early work, and the change to an indie record label and to a great, roots-oriented producer like Texas' Lloyd Maines haven't hurt one bit. The essential fact of McMurtry's songs is that most of them are like short stories set to music, not just because they tell a story, but because they accumulate events and images the way modern short fiction does. The narrator is generally laconic, weary, jaded, cynical - but very perceptive and to the point, no wasted words here. Stories and characters flesh out instantly, from very little raw material, as in "12 O'clock Whistle":

the boys were chasing the city truck spraying DDT
it kept the mosquitoes down
"that stuff won't hurt'em none" I heard the neighbor lady say
"encephalitis, now that can ruin your day"
In terms of arrangements and production work, it had to happen is a treat. McMurtry, who relies heavily on a solid rock-based groove to underpin his stories, has managed to vary those grooves just enough, and to throw in some memorable choruses and hooks to avoid sameness. Lloyd Maines' production is flawlessly in touch with the essence of the songs, and a huge improvement over McMurtry's past Columbia producers. The band sounds like a band instead of an ear candy overlay. Lisa Mednick plays accordion or keyboard on most tracks. Maines plays slide guitar and lap steel on a couple tracks, and Charlie Sexton, mandolin and bouzouki on a few. It's great to see James McMurtry back and going strong again.

Eddy Lawrence's locals is, like Lawrence himself, defined more by what it is not than by what it is. It is a sort of renegade/outsider manifesto, recorded on a 4-track Tascam cassette machine connected to 12-volt deep cycle batteries charged by photovoltaic panels at his homestead in New York state, nine miles south of the Canadian border. Locals makes Springsteen's Nebraska seem contrived by comparison. The music is spare, just Lawrence's very plain voice and straightforward guitar playing. The lyrics are the same, and the delivery quite understated. Lawrence gets straight to the point in the opening title track:

The jokes I tell, the clothes I wear
The work I do, the car I drive
The books I read, the beer I drink
Tell everyone that I am not a local
"Used to be the End of the Line" follows, reinforcing and filling out the picture of who and where this man is. Its chorus goes "This used to be the end of the line/ Back when there was a line out here." The third track "Indigo" is the story of a man whose property has been confiscated after the sheriff has caught him growing marijuana. He now lives on state land with his teenage daughter Indigo. In "Back Home":
I went back home,
I drove 2 million yards
Just to listen to the radio
and drink coffee in the car
Just to follow some tail lights
all night around an endless curve
I rode into town just to turn around
And do the whole thing in reverse
There's always humor, implied or explicit, in Eddy Lawrence's songs. "How I Met My Wife" details the events of the evening a man met his wife. The song begins: "I was out drinking with a dead guy/ I mean he wasn't then, but he is now," and goes on to relate how everyone "except for Muddy Waters" was out "in the parking lot, wearing just our shoes." In the blues "3% Sugar," the mundane process of tapping maple trees to make maple syrup is cast in metaphoric terms that make the trees involuntary blood "donors." There are dark overtones of moonshiner ballads, blood-letting, even vampirism, mixed in with the obvious humor. Eddy Lawrence has always been and always will be at the edge, on the outside - but, isn't that where some of the most striking, unsettling perceptions usually come from? No tourists need apply, travelers only. - Dwight W. Thurston
(You can read an interview with Eddy Lawrence and listen to some of his music)


Norman & Nancy Blake Hobo's Last Ride
Shanachie

The problem in reviewing a new recording by people with a readily identifiable sound and a long string of high quality releases is that after a while, one might begin to take them for granted. Even a long time fan might tend to skip purchasing the new album in favor of something else if they have a lot of their stuff on hand already. So the question becomes, "Where does this one fit in? What distinguishes it and how does it stack up against the rest of their catalog?"

This one does very well, thank you. It is made up of mostly old songs and traditional material, well chosen, well paced, and well played. The song selection forsakes the overly familiar, for the most part, and even some of the better known pieces ("Tying A Knot In The Devil's Tail", "Starving To Death On A Government Claim"), use different tunes than are usually associated with them. They're in good vocal form and only one instrumental, the remake of "Thebes", succumbs to their occasional tendency to play on for too long.

So, could this one serve as a good introduction to the Blakes for the uninitiated? Would this be one of the few of theirs to own if you were only to own a few? Would this be one not to skip over even if you own a lot of their material? The answer is "YES" on all counts. Not as strong as Fields Of November and it lacks the flashy picking of Whiskey Before Breakfast, but for material, flow and listenability, it's one of the Blakes' best. - Severn Savage


3 Mustaphas 3 Bam! Big Mustaphas Play Stereolocalmuic
Globestyle

They practically invented their own genre when they made these two recordings. Here are the boys of Szegerely at their weirdest in these two albums of yore: the "Local Music" sessions for John Peel, and the infamous "Bam! Mustaphas Play Stereo" with its wondrous Turkish Bath echo and its 'played at the wrong speed' (due to a mislabeled vinyl edition) radio history. Hear the roots of Fezmania in rich digital splendor including two unreleased bath-tub tunes. They were irreverent, confusing but musically always right there, wherever that was. - CF


The World on Disc

I am sitting looking at a stack of 10 CDs and hardly know where to start to describe the collective work called Music of the Earth (Multicultural Media / mcm@multiculturalmedia.com). My first impulse is to hope the series stays a secret, so that the plunder-samplers never find these field recordings and loop them into more dance floor tripe. But of course, there's no sense in that. It will be up to you hear the power and glory of this music, unadulterated and full of energy.

The series is collected from the phenomenal 80+ CD collection released by Japan Victor Company in 1992. These are all field recordings, made by various musicologists over an extended period of time to capture the contemporary essence of the world's traditions. This first offering includes recordings from Uganda, Mongolia, The Solomon Islands, Zambia, Hungary, Roumania, Peru, Bolivia, Egypt, India, Afghanistan and Georgia, each focused on a specific style or region rather than broad overviews of the entire nation.

There's no room to review them all here, but a few stand out after a few months of listening. India: Traveling Artists of the Desert looks at the itinerant musicians of the Thar Desert of Rajasthan on the pakistani border. Here you will hear shades of the qwawall and early resonances of what would travel west as the sounds of the Gypsies. Vocals accompanied by strings and instrumentals on reeds, strings and jew's harp are well recorded, displaying the essential power and beauty of the music in a way not heard often enough outside of the region.

Zambia: The Songs of the Mukanda looks into the music associated with secret religious societies of the Luvale people, whose kingdom spans what are now parts of Zaire, Zambia and Angola. What may be most impressive is the way the researcher approached his work. Ken'ichi Tsukada tells of his first visits to the Lavale, of his year of learning the language prior to doing serious research, and of the time he took to establish friendship and understanding rather than use the hit and run approach so common to modern ethno-musicology. It was through this period that he learned of and about the mukanda, the schooling society that brings boys into manhood. It is to his credit that he took the time and personal energy to finally be trusted to observe and record these remarkable tapes.

The rest of the series follows this path of careful research and good quality recording and documentation. - CF




Sacred Steel
Arhoolie Records

Miles Davis once described the inspiration for his landmark record "Kind of Blue" as a return to spiritual memories of his youth walking alone on dark, pebble-strewn roads in Arkansas. His surroundings, including himself, were practically invisible in the dark. From around the giant trees echoed gospel music from distant churches; filling his adolescent ears with a serpentine drone of rhythm and voice.

Gospel music is well known for hypnotic rhythms and intense spirituality, but rarely has it been heard through a medium like Sacred Steel. Central to country and Hawaiian music, the pedal steel guitar has found a unique home in two Florida churches (Keith and Jewel Dominion) – an unusual form of blues-rich gospel aptly named "black gospel steel."

With ample access to volume control, the pedal steel guitar has a remarkable ability to groan, cry and scream like a human's voice; lending itself perfectly to gospel music. Aubrey Ghent, one of five astounding slide guitarists on Sacred Steel, says he attempts to make his guitar sound "like a female opera singer."

Sacred Steel opens with Sonny Treadway's eerie "Don't Let the Devil Ride" – a hair-raising journey down Davis' back roads where the steel guitar's low, earthy vibrations lament for shelter against the shadowy forest. Mid-album, the distant church comes into view, swinging its doors open and offering a seat for the roller-coaster ride already in progress. Drums and tambourines punch the rhythm in "This is a Holy Church," while a warm, massive tone creeps out from the steel guitar providing lyrical response to the congregation's calls of spiritual identity.

Upping the ante is Aubrey Ghent's "Praise Music" with Ghent slashing away on the guitar like Jimi Hendrix returning for some unfinished business. Blistering notes scream out over the revival, reminding everyone that God is not always peaceful. - W. Todd Dominey


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