New Reviews: July 2008

Reviews by Matthew Forss

Heidi Talbot
In Love And Light
Compass Records

Ireland’s Heidi Talbot’s fluid vocalizations and classic instrumentation gives us a splendid set of tracks to ponder. First of all, it is important to begin by noting this is not another album of familiar traditional Irish jigs with a modern spin. However, Heidi does incorporate her own renditions of a few Irish-tinged songs, notably “Bedlam Boys”, “Glenlogie”, and “Blackest Crow”. When she is not singing traditional Irish melodies, her songs are sweet, fun and straight from the heart. If you want to know how she sounds vocally, just combine the voices of Shawn Colvin, Trish Murphy, and Beth Orton. The instruments include strings, accordion, drums, bass, guitar, harmonica, mandolin, banjo, auto harp, fiddle, and others. Each track’s musical background is rooted in folk music, rather than rock or pop. The upbeat odes, “Music Tree” and “Everything”, are definite toe-tappers. The opening, “If You Stay”, is a heart-felt proclamation of love for the one closest to you. “Cathedrals” is a pleasant song about old churches, statues, and artwork. “Whispering Grass” is a slow, but classic tune. Overall, Heidi’s voice shines as bright as ‘light’, which will make you ‘love’ every word she sings.

Emmanuel Jal
Sonic 360

The lyrical prowess of Emmanuel Jal’s rhymes is the result of years of being a child soldier in war-torn Sudan. After his exile to Kenya, he released his first album, Ceasefire, which quickly rose to success. On this album, Emmanuel raps in English and battles with his past and wrestles with thoughts of sin on “Forced To Sin”, his forced survival on “WARchild”, and an uplifting spiritual message on “Many Rivers To Cross”. Emmanuel’s mode of expression is in melodic rap, but he also delivers soulful odes with a rock/hip-hop element. From the title track, we quickly realize why he wants to share his experiences with us, as he says, “I believe I’ve survived for a reason. To tell my story, to touch lives.” He also fights demons on “Shadow of Death”, Black-on-Black crime on “Hai”, and the negative image of rap music on “No Bling” and “50 Cent”. The most poignant track is “Emma”, which was the woman who saved Emmanuel by rescuing him from life as a child soldier and bringing him to Kenya. The content of the music is somewhat graphic and always to the point. You will soon find yourself humming the melodies, as the beats and choral sections are quite infectious. Overall, fans of Ceasefire may be disappointed as he sheds his more traditional elements and languages as he does not sing in Kiswahili, Nuer or Arabic on this new release. However, Emmanuel’s looking forward to the future and will develop another fan base with WARchild.

Lila Downs
Shake Away
Manhattan Records

Mexican-born and Minnesota-educated, Lila Downs brings us a set of mostly original songs. She sings in English and Spanish and includes guest appearances by La Mari, Raul Midon, Ruben Albarran, Mercedes Sosa, and others. The songs draw upon contemporary musical cultures of Mexico. The results are a passionate and lively mix of jazzy, Latin tunes with blues, soul and folk not far behind. “Perro Negro” is the result of speedy accordion and brass instruments with Klezmer-Spanish melody! Overall, the tracks are contemporary and probably nothing you have heard before. On this note alone, you should try Lila. Lila sounds good at a nightclub in Mexico City, Bismarck, North Dakota or in the comfort of your own home. Start shaking with Shake Away today!

Anoushka Shankar & Karsh Kale
Breathing Under Water
Manhattan Records

The daughter of Ravi Shankar and half-sister of Norah Jones, Anoushka Shankar, is a pre-eminent sitar player. Her skills are also in piano, keyboards, and synthesizer on this album. Karsha Kale, a New York-born Indian producer and electronica guru, lends modern stylist beats and ambient tones to the predominantly Indian influences. The Bombay Cinematic Orchestra Strings add a classical edge to the songs. Even Sting sings on “Sea Dreamer”. There is something for everyone here. None of the tracks are boring, over-produced, or tacky. There is also more to the music beyond sitar and beats. In fact, the Bansuri flute, morsing, santoor, nay flute, tabla, tanpura, sarangi, and kanjira are also present. The track, “Breathing Under Water”, sounds like a perfect intro to “Sea Dreamer”. Overall, Anoushka and Karsh know how to make beautiful music. Breathing Under Water will gently blow you out of the water!

Marta Topferova
Flor Nocturna
World Village

Czech-born vocalist and cuatro player, Marta Topferova, seems at first a rather unlikely purveyor of South American music. However, South American music is Marta’s specialty. She performs Spanish songs with the addition of marimba, viola, cello, percussion, violin, clarinet and bass. The result is an acoustic experience that is playful, bright, and laid back. You will not find jazzy brass or techno/dance beats on this album. Her childhood fascination with South American music has paid off on Flor Nocturna, which means, “Night Flower”. Perhaps this music is great to listen to at a lounge club at night or during the day. Marta’s classy voice and sultry, enchanting rhythms stick with you long after the songs have finished playing. In other words, Marta’s voice ‘blossoms’ on every track. Liner notes include English and Spanish song lyrics.

Moddathir Aboul Wafa

From the onset, we are treated to instrumental Arabic music. The oud is a very central part of Arabic music, especially classical music. In this case, the music not only includes the oud, but a string section, dumbek, flute, accordion, and tambourine. You will not hear vocals on this album. The lively music is a fresh approach to classical Arabic traditions without straying too far into unfamiliar territory. The music is very danceable and upbeat without losing its Egyptian roots of authenticity. 6 long tracks and nearly 50 minutes of music complete the package. Also, liner notes are included in English, Spanish, French and German.

Abed Azrie

Born in 1945, Abed Azrie’s musical traditions revolve around Arab classical music. A native of Syria, Abed performs vocal accompaniment to oud, violin, accordion, contrabass, and percussion. His voice is mature and sincere. The instrumentation has an acoustic feel to it. The instruments pass down a terrific tradition of Arab classical music. Though, Abed tends to incorporate other related rhythms, while not adhering to only one specific mode. He brings us ancient texts and stories from the Sufi mystics. Moreover, the appropriately title of Mystic is a, “celebration of the spiritual dimension of religion.” Liner notes in French, English, and Arabic.

Al Andaluz Project
Deus Et Diabolus

The historical music of Moorish Spain is reinterpreted by today’s Al Andaluz Project. The group is made up of three female singers from other groups, combined with instrumentalists. The album incorporates Mediterranean and Middle Eastern instruments, including the kanun, oud, saz, rebab, flute, hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa. The sprightly rhythms and vocals remind one of the contemporary female folk groups coming out of Scandinavia. In fact, the hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa instruments are fairly common accompaniments in Scandinavian music. Though, Al Andaluz attempts to reinvent old songs steeped in Andalusian culture and religious diversity. Moreover, the songs draw upon Sephardic, Christian, and Islamic traditions that were present in Moorish Spain around the 10th and 11th centuries. Overall, 12 songs and over 1 hour of music leave the listener amazed by the incredible depth of musical creativity. The album’s title, Deus Et Diabolus (God and the Devil) describes two strong and opposing forces. However, the Al Andaluz Project is truly divine. Liner notes are included in Arabic, English, Spanish, and German.

Miquel Gil
R Temps Record

Miquel Gil was born in Valencia, Spain. The diverse musical region of Valencia is showcased on Eixos (Axles). Of course, Miquel has his own creative take on the music and does not shy away from flamenco rhythms, classical jazz, Mediterranean and Balkan tunes. Miquel sings traditional and original songs in Catalan – the language of Valencia. You will hear the piano, accordion, tabla, darbouka, cajon, tuba, trumpet, cumbus, and other instruments. Miquel’s rough vocals provide the perfect tone for the instrumentation. All in all, Eixos is a very good album.

Gong Linna
Chinese Folksongs

Gong Linna’s musical studies in Chinese traditional music began at the age of 16. Though, she was on the stage several times many years prior. Born in 1975, Gong hails from the Guizhou province of Southwest China. She explores various folk, classical, and pop music styles. Some of the songs she sings come from various geographic areas and traditions, including the North Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Gansu, Fujian, Anhui, and Hebei. 22 tracks and nearly 65 minutes of music make this an impressive collection. The contemplative orchestral arrangements, soulful winds section, and heavenly voice of Gong Linna makes Chinese Folksongs come alive. Moreover, the liner notes are in English, German, French, and Spanish. Song titles in English and Chinese.

Matthew J. Forss graduated from Lakeland College-Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 2005 with a B.A. in Biology. He will graduate with an M.Sc. in Exercise Science in May 2007 from Northern Michigan University-Marquette, Michigan. He is pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Goddard College-Plainfield, VT. Since 1998, he has collected numerous musical instruments and CDs from around the world. In 2000, he wrote a paper on Mongolian ethnomusicology, entitled: How Does Music Play An Important Role In The Life And Culture Of Mongolia? Currently, he has collected over 400 CDs that represent over 180 different countries. His general interests include ethnomusicology journalism and researching the traditional/contemporary ethnic music of various cultures from around the world. His specific, geographic areas of study include the traditional and popular music from Central Eurasia (especially Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan), North Africa (especially Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Libya and Morocco), Scandinavia and Pacific Islands (especially New Zealand, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia). He also enjoys studying Uzbek, Tamasheq, and German linguistics. In November of 2000, he accepted the position of writing World Music CD reviews for this site.