New Reviews: February 28, 2003

Reviews by Tom Orr

Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Gospel
World Music Network RGNET 1090 CD

No matter how much today's Christian music seeks to emulate the mainstream (with Christian rap groups, Christian boy bands and the like), you still can't beat the kind of gospel music rooted in slavery-era spirituals, blues and African call-and-response. This Rough Guide features many giants of the genre (Shirley Caesar, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, etc.) in an hour's worth of serious testifying that pulls no punches in putting Jesus front and center. The track selection and pacing of the disc are excellent, with momentum building from slower, bluesy songs to roof-raisers like the familiar "Go Tell It On The Mountain." Good for a jolt to your spirit, regardless of whether or not you've got that old time religion.

Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Rai
World Music Network RGNET 1100 CD

Rooted in the rural folk music of western Algeria and laced with increasingly modern elements over the last few decades, the style known as rai has fired up listeners and dancers across the Arabic world. Its popularity has infuriated Islamic fundamentalists to the point where rai has flourished as much among Algerian expatriates in Paris recently as in its country of origin. (The music's popularity only increased after Muslim militants murdered two rai notables--producer Rachid Baba Ahmed and singer Cheb Hasni.) Present-day rai can be as slick and empty as any modern dance music, but when its traditional underpinnings and rebel spirit are discernible beneath the surface (as on this collection), the results can be electrifying. Though Cheb Mami and Khaled are the best-known names here, the whole disc is bountiful. Contemporary techno-trance production textures prevail, and arrangements like that of Cheba Nouri's "Consulat," with its reggae-like accented offbeat and elastic buzzing bass line, are well served. Even so, the standout track is (arguably) the rootsy "Guendouzi Mama" by Cheika Remitti, a queen of rai still going strong at nearly 80 years of age. The rai compilations available nowadays vary considerable in quality, but you can't go wrong with this one.

Tom Orr is a Southern California-based freelance writer, actor, percussionist, 9 to 5-er, husband, daddy, and aspiring deep thinker. He acquires more music than he has time to listen to, and feels the only solution is to acquire even more.