New Reviews: March 7, 2003

Reviews by Tom Orr

Various Artists
Restless Records/Ryko REST 73 753, 2002

The first thing you hear on this disc is a piece that begins and ends with some skillfully feverish work on the Arabic dumbek drum. Take it as a good sign, 'cause though this is clearly a set of modern Middle Eastern-inspired music, the modern elements coexist with the traditional ones in a way that is likely to please on both sides of the fence. There's programmed, sampled and processed sounds here, but whoever compiled this seems intent on seeing to it that the flesh-and-blood components stand out. Vocally, Natacha Atlas cuts just as deep with orgasmic elongations on "Kidda" as Rachid Taha does with clipped growling on the otherwise-soft "Valencia," and both succeed not only through their respective talents but through adept production as well. Similarly, cuts from the likes of Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Gnawa Diffusion and superstar Khaled conjure up mental pictures leaning more toward deserts than discos. There are some slick moments, but only "Cantamilla" by Tranquility Bass crosses the line into annoying. Good stuff.

Various Artists/UB40
UB40 Presents The Fathers of Reggae
Virgin 7243 8 12675 2 3, 2002

England's UB40 have long been in an odd position in reggae. Dismissed by some critics and listeners as lightweight (because their biggest hits were cover songs that may have had earlier reggae incarnations, for one thing), they have largely been overlooked when it comes to the strength of some of their original material. Fathers of Reggae takes great strides toward righting that wrong. Sort of the antithesis of UB40's Labor of Love series--on which the band laid down wide-ranging cover versions of songs from the pop and reggae realms -- Fathers of Reggae is a wall-to-wall sampling of vocalists whose connection to reggae can be rightly called patriarchal. The twist is that they're singing lead on some of UB40's most potent originals. The result is one highlight after another, with former Melodians frontman Brent Dowe perfectly attuned to the melancholy backing on "Silent Witness," Max Romeo soaring and scoring with "Watchdogs," Leroy Sibbles taking "Higher Ground" to the stratosphere, and John Holt easing forth the quiet tragedy of "The Pillow" as though the song was always his own. There's potential for a series here as with the three Labor of Love volumes, and it would likely continue to be fruitful if things went that route. This is one of the best collaborative efforts ever in reggae.

Change the World With a Sound
RebbeSoul Music/33rd St. Records 3314, 2002

As RebbeSoul, multi-instrumentalist and singer Bruce Burger toughens up ancient Jewish musical traditions with hip-hoppy globally rocking rhythms, makes certain his programmed beats and samples are laced with real instruments (lots of good guest players here) and for the most part comes up with a nicely deft mixture of the new with the very old. His musical works are dedicated to the pursuit of peace, and RebbeSoul's mosaic of sounds earns points for inventiveness and having its heart in the right place. As teched-up as Change the World With a Sound can sometimes be, it comes across in a positively earthy way, sending forth a balm in the form of music intended to unite and heal.

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.