New Reviews: November 2008

Reviews by Matthew Forss

Aidan O’Rourke
Vertical/Compass Records

Scottish fiddler, Aidan O’Rourke, brings us some talented fiddling on this recording. Since Aidan’s playing abilities seem otherworldly at times, it is only fitting, because the album is named after the star, Sirius. This is not a solo fiddle recording, but rather a contemporary album of other sounds from instruments like drums, bass, piano, melodeon, trumpet, sax, and flutes. Many of the tracks are upbeat and similar in sound to Spain’s electric bagpiper, Hevia. Each song shines brighter than the star the album is named for. Moreover, Aidan’s years of fiddling and creative ingenuities pave the way for a great musical adventure. If you like modern fiddle music or classical, jazz, and folk infusions, then you should ‘sirius’ly consider Aidan O’Rourke’s Sirius.

Catriona McKay
Glimster/Compass Records

Starfish sparkles with twinkling tones of ear-pleasure from the specially-designed McKay harp. Scotland’s harpist, Catriona McKay, opens up a new world of music for fans of the harp. The harp is not the only instrument on this album; in fact, it is joined by the fiddle, guitar, double bass, nylon guitar, other strings, and computer programming. Overall, the music is crystalline and pure – never harsh or overtly polished. The instruments provide a transcendental quality without ever resorting to vocals. Ten tracks are included with short notes on the origin or inspiration of each song. Catriona’s delicate playing abilities tease the strings into a frenzied delight for all who hear them. Five out of five ‘stars’ for ‘Star’fish!

Karan Casey
Ships In The Forest
Compass Records

Karan Casey has worked as a singer for Ireland’s familiar bands: Solas and Lunasa. Now, she ventures on her own with her latest album, Ships In The Forest. Karan’s voice is delicate and beautiful. The songs are not upbeat and over-the-top, but rather, melancholic and ballad-like. Her charm shines through on each track and the piano is the primary instrument of choice, yet one track presents us with her vocals without the need for instrumentation. Though, the typical Irish jigs and reels are most certainly an influence on this recording. Some of the instruments include bodhran, harmonium, guitar, concertina, accordion, cello, and pipes. The material for the music involves two of the most frequent elements of music: nature and relationships. A sincere and accomplished vocalist for Irish music fans everywhere!

Compass Records

Beoga, which means, ‘lively’, is an Irish band that plays original, traditional instrumental and vocal tunes, and a cover by Steely Dan and Sidney Clare. ‘Lively’ is a very appropriate word to describe Beoga. The songs draw upon several types of styles, including big band, folk, jazz, and blues. In fact, one of the instrumental tracks resembles the combined effect of the symphonic music of Hooverphonic, the lounge sounds of Zero 7, and the jazzy outros of the Dave Matthews Band. Each track contains a short description in the liner notes. You will never find these tracks boring or uninspiring. In most cases, ‘mischief’ signifies some kind of trouble or tomfoolery, but Mischief in this case, is music to my ears. Toe-tap dancing fun for the whole family!

Annbjørg Lien
Waltz With Me
Grappa Musikkforlag/Compass

Norway’s fiddler Annbjørg Lien joins Bruce Molsky, Mikael Marin, Christine Hanson, and Kirsten Bråten Berg. The musicians play fiddle, guitar, cello, viola, zither, and provide vocals on four songs. Lyrics are included in Norwegian and English in the liner notes. The six remaining tracks are instrumental. The contemplative, nostalgic, and award-winning talents of Annbjørg Lien’s playing abilities add a ‘waltz’able joyousness to the music. I suspect others should ‘waltz’ with Annbjørg. This is one dance you don’t want to turn down!

April Verch
Steal The Blue
Slab Town Records

Canadian-fiddler, April Verch, presents us with another remarkable album of music. Her previous releases have focused primarily in the fiddling traditions of the Ottawa Valley. However, Steal The Blue is mostly an exploration through the folk fiddling traditions of America’s South, or Appalachian region. The only track reminiscent of the Ottawa Valley is track twelve (“Reels Tadoussac et Lindbergh”). Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter what type of music April plays – it is always a top-notch toe-tapping delicacy for the ears. Also, April lends her sweet and soft vocals on several tracks. Her voice and fiddle are joined by her husband, Marc Bru on bodhran/percussion, along with others on mandolin, banjo, bass, and guitar. Steal The Blue is an album of vocal harmonies, old-time fiddling, and good ‘ol stories that penetrate one’s soul and leave a soothing and memorable effect. I give it a standing ovation!

Various Artists
Rough Guide to Colombian Street Party
World Music Network

At the juncture of Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, Colombia’s rich musical scene is vibrantly showcased on Colombian Street Party. Of course, no album can capture all the sounds of Colombia, yet this recording does it quite successfully. The music is energy-packed and diverse with musical styles from polka, dub, soca, reggae, salsero, afrobeat, soukous, cumbia, funk, rap, electronica, rock, jazz, timba, instrumental and vocal. The rhythmic influences stem from Europe, Africa, and other regions of South America. This is contemporary music for the younger generation of Colombian music aficionados. Some of the groups you will hear include, Radio Cumbia, Grupo Retrovisor, LA-33, Dr. Krapula, Calambuco, Mojarra Electronica, and others. If you are feeling a little down, then pick up this disc for your listening pleasure. The party lasts sixty-five minutes, but you will find yourself playing this one over and over.

Introducing Dozan
World Music Network

Jordan’s Dozan carries on the tradition of Sufi-influenced folk songs with stellar vocals. The overall feel of the album is one of an intimate setting, rather than a full-blown Arab orchestra. For example, the instrumentation is sparse, and includes the daf, oud, viola and cello. The vocals cascade over the instrumentation with relative ease and fluidity. Vocalist, Shireen Abu-Khader, is also joined by singers and instrumentalists from Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. Dozan’s musical talents are most suitable for fans of traditional and classical Arabic folk music. The lilting vocals and melodies are as contemplative as they are beautiful. The absent orchestrations and fancy electronic wizardry is nonexistent on this album. So, lay back, and be prepared to be transported to the Levant.

Reveal/Compass Records

Scotland’s Lau is Kris Drever (guitar and vocals), Martin Green (accordion), and Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle). This album was recorded live at The Bongo Club in Edinburgh on December 17th, 2007. There is a mix of instrumental pieces and vocal tunes. Many of the songs were created by O’Rourke. Of course, fans of fiddle or accordion medleys will love this album. If you cannot see Lau live, then it is still nice to hear them on a live recording. Nine songs are played in all. Vocals are in English. The audience applauds at the onset and end of some of the songs, but for the most, remains quiet throughout the album.

For Love and Laughter
Compass Records

The ninth full-length release for Solas promises more toe-tapping, ear-friendly music. Of course, the traditional reels and jigs are here, as well as some new tunes to enjoy. Lead vocalist, Mairead Phelan, is joined by Seamus Egan, Winifred Horan, Mick McAuley, and Eamon McElholm. Additional guests include The Duhks – a folk music group from Canada. In a way, the Canadian fiddling traditions meet the shores of Ireland. There are about an equal number of vocal and instrumental pieces. A particularly catchy tune, “There Is A Time”, sung by Mick McAuley, showcases a blend of Irish folk and rock/pop. Solas fans will rejoice with this recording. The word ‘solas’ means ‘light’. In the same manner, I think Solas’ ‘light’ of energetic and timeless music will continue to get brighter – so bright in fact, there music will never flicker out. Shine on!

Dire Dawa
Me and My Other Records

Ethiopia’s songstress, Minyeshu, brings us songs of her homeland. Her vocals are accompanied by percussion, banjo, guitars, ngoni, kora, drums, piano, vibes, keyboard, bass, sax, clarinet, and masinqo. Dire Dawa is named after the city of the same name, which is also the place of her birth. Fans of Ethiopian folk or jazz music should find a wonderful set of tunes on this recording. In fact, anyone with an interest in the music of neighboring Eritrea or Djibouti should not ignore Minyeshu. One of the catchier songs, “Selam Lehtsanat”, tells the story of an orphan that loses his mother and father’s protection from war. “Like-neh” is a love ballad in the vein of a Central Asian melody. “Buna”, the coffee song, is a rather upbeat, almost calypso-infused song. Some of the songs have an intermittent woman’s vocal call that is a familiar sound in other North African, and Central Asian music. All in all, Dire Dawa is a pleasant album of rich musical textures and sounds likely to satisfy any ear.

Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat
I Am Eve
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Iran’s Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat and composer Atabak Elyasi perform musical poetry by Azar Khajavi, Layegh Shir Ali, Baba Taher, Rumi, Tabib Esfehani, Hoshang Ebtehaj, Mohammad Hoghoughi, and Tahirih Ghorratolein. Mahsa and Marjan’s tender and romantic vocals are accompanied by the ney flute, kemancheh, oud, setar, doudouk, daf, and bass guitar. This music covers centuries of classical poems from the Persian region. In addition, the album notes provide information on each song, as well as include pictures of historical symbols and sculptures. Contemplative, mystical, and classical melodies transcend centuries and cultures. I Am Eve is a magnificent musical journey that draws its influence from the peace of a tranquil garden or courtyard.

Kathleen Boyle
An Cailin Rua (The Red Haired Girl)

Glasgow-based musician, Kathleen Boyle, is a talented performer on the accordion and piano. She learned many of the tunes from her grandfather and father. Special guest singers, Julie Fowlis and Heidi Talbot, lend their vocals on two tracks. A familiar tune to many, which is nicely sun here by Heidi, is “The Banks of Red Roses”. The addition of the bouzouki, guitar, bass, flute, bodhran, and fiddle, enhance the overall sound. Fans of Scottish, Gaelic, and Irish music will certainly appreciate the charms of Kathleen Boyle. An Cailin Rua (The Red Haired Girl) is an appropriate title for the album and the song of the same name, because it connotes Kathleen’s presence on a remarkable release.

Various Artists
Absolutely Irish
American Focus/Compass Records

This recording was made from a live concert in April 2007 at the Irish Arts Center in New York City. The organization of musicians was guided by Mick Moloney and Paul Wagner. Nineteen musicians from around America and Ireland are represented on this album. The liner notes provide information on each of the nineteen musicians. Fifteen tracks showcase various reels, jigs, and dances of Irish musical history. This is an excellent recording for the person that loves everything ‘absolutely Irish’. No need to worry about electronica, rock, or ambient musical elements with these performances. This is purely traditional music that will satisfy Irish music aficionados.

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.