New Reviews: February 28, 2003
Reviews by Tom Orr
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.
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.