Archived Reviews J-L
James Hunter - Kick It Around
A bluesman in love with 50s R&B;/pop, with a voice that sounds like the late Sam Cooke after a heavy night on the tiles. It makes for an intriguing combination, especially since Hunter also seems to have a knack for writing some very authentic-sounding songs - "Mollena" in particular is a standout. What makes it all the more remarkable is the fact that he's British, although you'd never know it from his singing or inflections - this is someone completely steeped in the music. Retro it might be, but done so well that it seems like some lost classic that's finally been reissued. Top marks for style and content.
Jane Siberry: Hush
An interesting take on American traditional music, seen through the eyes of a Canadian who's a true artist. The most fascinating part is that she can take these songs and remake them as something entirely personal, teasing out elements that had never seemed apparent before - "Streets Of Laredo" as a folk song? It is here - while giving them lush vocal settings that show how her voice has developed over the years. She can still turn the emotions in a heartbeat, as on "The Water Is Wide," but not quite everything works here. Both "Ol' Man River" and "O Shenandoah" simply don't work well with a female voice, by their very nature. But overall, this is that rare thing - a work of art.
Jessie Legé & Edward Poullard: Live!
Wonderful set of raw Cajun music, featuring accordion and fiddle. If some of the recent Cajun music has been too polite, then this is definitely for you. Two steps, waltzes, a wonderfully cracked voice, and a cover of Clifton Chenier's classic "Zydeco Sont Pas Sale," which transforms it from the zydeco beat into Cajun (a nuance, perhaps, but still there). Legé is a true star, emotive, powerful, while Poullard conjures up the ghost of the late, great Canray Fontenot is his style and runs. They have musicians behind them, but really don't need any - the magic this pair create is strong enough alone.
Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops: One More in the Cabin
Great original bluegrass from this Pennsylvania-based band. They may not have the virtuoisty of Earl Scruggs or Bill Monroe, but the band is tight, the vocals wonderful, especially on the harmonies, and the songs are outstanding, especially "My Grey And Fading Dream" and "Mourning Dove." If you thought the genre couldn't extend beyond already established artists, you need to hear this - a giant leap to the top of the class.
June Tabor: Rosa Mundi
It's a simple idea for a concept album - songs about the rose. But English singer Tabor brings some stunning depth and diversity to it, pulling from World War 1 pieces ("Roses Of Picardy"), traditional folk ("Barbry Ellen"), nursery rhymes "The Rose Is White, The Rose Is Red"), and sacred music ("The Crown Of Roses," with music by Tchaikovsky). To draw all that into a whole isn't easy, but Tabor succeeds because of her focus and vision - and, of course, that deep, velvet voice. The stark accompaniment by three longtime colleagues, has the rich resonance of chamber music, while the whole record is pushed by a quiet passion, transforming it from something good into a tour-de-force, the most fulfilling work Tabor's released in some time, which is high compliment indeed.
Kate Rusby: Little Lights
Kate is that rare English folk talent, one who can take a traditional lyric and make it seem personal. To hear her sing "Playing Of Ball" or "Some Tyrant" is to have the songs sparkle alive in front of you. She's also developed into a writer whose sense of tradition heavily permeates her own material, another rarity. And the loose, casual feel of the accompaniment that was there on her first two records happily remains, adding to the intimacy of her performance. Is it a coincidence that the three women doing most for trad. English folk - that's Rusby, Eliza Carthy, and Kathryn Tickell - all come from the North? You have to wonder...
Kevin Crawford: In Good Company
Lúnasa's (and Moving Cloud's) flute whiz steps out alone, and it's very good company indeed that he keeps on this record, with a strong bunch of fiddlers (including Tommy Peoples, Martin Hayes, and Frankie Gavin), as well as accompanists of the quality og Arty McGlynn. While the accent is very much on fiddle-and-flute combinations, all of them magical and showcasing the range of traditional styles, Crawford lets the music itself shine, rather than hogging any kind of spotlight. It really doesn't matter whether it's jigs, reels, or airs, Crawford is such a master of tone and intonation that everything sparkles, the duets glistening things, with some stunniing subtle interplay. Highly recommended.
Kim Wilson: Smokin' Joint
Smokin' indeed. The former Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman captured live - the best way for what he does - on a set of Texas-style R&B;, some originals and a lot of covers, all delivered with plenty of fire and sweat. In Richard Innes he has the heartbeat of the music, a drummer who can really swing, while veteran Larry Taylor proves to be, of course, a sublime bassist, underpinning everything so subtly you barely notice his presence - but it's be a massive hole if he was gone. Possibly a little guitar overkill, but it works, especially when Rusty Zinn takes off on a solo. The focal is the song, however, and Wilson can sing 'em, in addition to still playing one of the meanst mouth harps since Sonny Boy. The man's still got it.
Kristi Stassinopoulou: Echotropia
Coming across at times like a Greek version of Hedningarna, Stassinopoulou waves her voice in and out of beats and some remarkably well laid-out (and very forward-looking) arrangements. While it's her name on the album, in the overall sound she's just a part of a team, since it's impossible to envisage how the songs would stand completely alone and naked. Not that it matters - from the near-punk raggedness of "Don't Say I Regret" to the almost classical beauty of "Rain Is Falling," everything is filled out and mesmerizing, and the two traditional pieces, including the Persian "Majnoun," which brings in music that references both the Middle East and Gypsies (admittedly close relations), which is a tour-de-force. A singer with an interesting future.
Kultur Shock: FUCC the I.N.S.
Imagine that you'd parachuted the Clash into the Balkans, and a couple of years later you picked them up and had them play a show. It might sound a little like Seattle-based Kultur Shock, who mix punk attitude with superb musicianship and Balkan beats and melodies, adding a healthy dose of humor and cynicism about American pop culture. It's not always easy listening, but every second brings a reward, as the horn section performs the kind of twist and turns that seemingly went out with early King Crimson or jazz-fusion, and the guitars and drums roar. Brilliant stuff.
La Boum!: Global Warming
A record to make you ask just where the hell they're from, and never guessing that it's Scotland. A fabulous mix of pan-African music, reggae, and pop for a real global sensibility. Leader Tom Salter (who at times sounds disconcertingly like David Byrne) studied guitar with Ali Farka Toure, and it shows. The band also includes members of the Peatbof Faeries, the Pozzies, and Eliza Carthy's band, and the backing singers manage to sound credibly like both the Mahotella Queens and the I-Threes. So who cares if it all seems unlikely - it works brilliantly, with a fabulously warm vibe, some great dub touches, rich songs, and it deserves massive exposure.
Compiled from the Nigerian band's three releases in 2000, this is the sound of a band heavily grounded in Nigerian music, from the traditional to highlife, Afrobeat,and juju, but they've also spent a lot of time listening to 70s/80s funk - "Me And You No' Be Enemy" has touches of the Gap Band, while elsewhere the vocoder influence of Roger and Zapp makes itself known. Sung in English, pidgin, and Yoruba, this all makes for a heady brew, danceable, a real modern transatlatic fusion that burrows both into the past, but also is very much of the now. There's a good chance they could become a major force on the international scene on the basis of this. They have the power, the mystery, and the talent to cross over.
Les Yeux Noirs: Balamouk
Remarkably interesting and diverse album from a band named for a Django Reinhardt tune. There's gypsy and klezmer music (which, to be fair, are closely related), but also stirrings of jazz, chamber music, and various places beyond. That they can play is beyond doubt, and that their roots in Central Europe run deep.And they can also sing (in several languages). It's good, sometimes even virtuosic, but only at times does it seem to hit a deeper level that encompasses the heart as well as the ears. Enjoyable, but ultimately not a keeper.
Los De Abajo: Cybertropic Chilango Power
Los de Abajo had made their name as part of the Latin alternative movement, and the frenetic, ska-influenced arrangements of their debut and shows. Yes, they could kick it, and they did, but it gave no indication of the ambition and socpe behind this sophomore release. Found sounds mingle with music, sometimes songs, sometimes snatches to create a Latino world. Some of the songs are superb, like "Sr. Judas" and "Vuelvo A Comenzar," but everything pushes them far outside the music box they seemed penned in for a long time. But it's not only a great record on its own terms, it's also one of the most adventurous Latin alternative discs to come down the pipe. A triumph of both music and imagination.
Lúnasa: The Merry Sisters of Fate
Quite possibly the best band in Ireland today, these lads carry the mantle of the bothy Band very well. What makes the sets, which are a good mix of the traditional and contemporary, sparkle is the playing, which is not only uniformly excellent, but also done completely without ego. Everyone is supporting everyone else, making for a remarkable ebb and flow in the playing that delights. The fact that they're all brilliant musicians doesn't hurt one bit, either, with a very strong sense of melody propelling things along in whistleable fashion. The chances they take are there, if subtle, but it's the empathy between the players which truly sets them apart from all the competition - never mind the Vulcan Mind Meld, it should be the Lúnasa Mind Meld on the basis of this disc. Glorious, even when pensive.