Music Reviews

Saigon Rock and Soul: Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968-1974 [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   7/30/2010   12-inch, International

No reason for Saigon’s to be bygones, not with the Sublime Freq empire of sound around. As usual stellar liner notes to match the sounds, lots of fuzz flying rock as caught on the first two tracks, but when the Viet vocalizing takes center stage, with its fragile flutter and soft break, that’s when this collection soars. To my ears, the language itself has a heartbroken beauty to it. Check out the strange angel with “Long, Uneven Hair” or Phuong Dung’s closing “Riddles” with its sort of English blues infusion that gains a burst of energy. The other tracks on that last side all bump some trumpet. Throughout the instrumentation is tighter than an ao dai. Dig the heartful of soul backing vox on “Magical Night.” Thai Thanh’s titanic “Dawn” is a pretty amazing exercise in composition and engineering, the song almost splits in two in parts, has a regal grand piano strut through. Often the slower songs really get me, the notes choked in the throat and heart like on “Starfish.” Even when love does lovers wrong, the Vietnamese do it right as on Giao Linh’s track (which may have a Dan Bau rattling in the bamboo with the village birds gossiping). I bet there are some other amazing tracks on cassettes in San Jose, hope those folks connect to Porest and more volumes follow. My oh Mai this is Viet Damn good!

-Thurston Hunger

Shrine Afrobeat, The [coll] – [Ocho]

Cousin Mary   7/20/2010   CD, International

Compilation of Afrobeat considered “funky” by three DJs from Fela Kuti’s nightclub, The Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria. One might argue about the relative funkiness of each track, but few would argue with the relative fun and energy. Selections by Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astatke, Tony Allen and more.

PGM: Track 1 is about why a woman holds her breasts when she runs.

Selda – “’71” – [Eggy]

Thurston Hunger   6/26/2010   CD, International

Selda pre-plugged. While this album has some electric bass,
and keys (#4), it’s mostly Selda’s powerful voice (often with
cavernous reverb) and some acoustic accompaniment. #9 includes
a flight of kanun I think… The last track adds light piano
and a sweet/sour nostalgic flute, this is the strongest I
feel the hurt that would be amplified and melded into anger
as time (and travail) wore on. Even if the words are sung
in Turkish, and lifted from poets long gone, their heart
beats true, especially in the hands and throat of Selda.
Later releases, rising over fuzzed guitar, would celebrate
her singing as the undeniable power of righteousness, w/o
knowing the language this albums seems more drawn from the
undeniable power of hope. Track 7 alone will lift you out
of whatever jail, real or imagined, and send your flying
through a field of poppies. Anatolian over totalitarian.

-Thurston Hunger

Ho! #1 Roady Music From Vietnam [coll] – [Trikont]

humana   6/20/2010   CD, International

The liner notes for this are a must-read, as they describe the traditional Vietnamese instrument of the dan bau and the handicapped street musicians (who suffered from Agent Orange side effects) performing the music on this CD. There are covers a-plenty (1, 13, 21) and raucous funeral marches. It???s like they bring out the horns and celebrate New Orleans-style when it comes to death. The traffic sounds create an interesting ambience and nothing on here isn???t worth listening to. Get a taste of the sub-culture of Vietnam.

Three Score & Ten : A Voice to The People [coll] – [Topic Records Ltd]

Thurston Hunger   6/2/2010   CD, International

A nice score for KFJC, and 3.5 score for Topic. The
label’s humble, anti-fascist beginnings 70 years ago
remain unvanquished. The book this comes with is
devotedly done as would befit and independent label,
and they capture pretty much everything from the first
release, Paddy Ryan’s “The Man Who Watered the Worker’s
Beer” onward. On that Ryan track though the tone is
solidy set, a good mix of distrust of the bosses and
a pint to chase it down. Comedy from Billy Bennet may
not unite the female workers of the modern world,
but surely there’s plenty on hear for one to dig.
If anything they watered down their true international
output, whence Topic traveled beyond the British Isles
for some excellent folk music, but Ireland and Scotland
each get a disk here, and county Sligo might come out
a wee bit behind. Mrs. Makem though makes her boys proud.
Watersons of all sorts are brilliant, especially Mike’s
“Tamlyn.” Pogue fans can kiss Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old
Town” and enjoy 3 othrers, including “Sixteen Tons.”
There’ll be plenty you and Paul Simon recognize here,
but plenty more to discover. Pipes from all over to
blend with your experimental sounds, American Seeger’s
and other truth seekers. A just some of the most
plain and powerfully so singing you could ask for. Raise
yer glass to another 70 years. A gift so good it’s nearly
a Crime!

-T’urston ‘unger

Souleyman, Omar – “Jazeera Nights” – [Sublime Frequencies]

lombard   6/1/2010   CD, International

On this new 2010 collection “Jazeera Nights” from Sublime Frequencies, we are presented with live recordings by Omar Souleyman from 1995 to 2009 that have been transferred from cassette.
Soleyman comes from northeast Syria and became a sensation as a wedding performer doing music in the Syrian dabke style of folk/party sounds. Sublime Frequencies has brought his music to the attention of the Western world in 2006 and the rest is history….

It’s fast-paced Syrian folk-pop music that retains the feeling of the live performances from which the sounds were taken. Often it feels like Omar is in direct conversation with his fellow musicians, as he sings or speaks and then is met with an appropriate musical response.

In summer 2010 Souleymann is scheduled to tour the United States, Canada and Europe.

Amanaz – “Africa” – [Normal Records]

Thurston Hunger   5/18/2010   CD, International

Just the fact that a record from Zambia circa 1975 survived is pretty cool (sadly three of the original members did not). I’m curious about the band members, it seems they had pretty significant exposure to Western rock (and one tasty fuzzbox). I’m curious if the decree that music on the state radio station be homegrown came with any kind of funding for artists? This album almost seems like some early rough tapes (so that will add to the appeal for some) as the band was hashing out numbers? Did they tour much? There are two instros, the unassuming opener and “Green Apple.” These could have been from anywhere, their rock approach is solid and studied. On many other numbers, the band sings in English, and it seems they are even thinking in English. The title track marries a nice call and response in Bemba (I’m guessing) and proud surging choruses, then it bottoms out for a nervous woodpecker and wah minute (way down in the mix, but beautiful). “Nsunka Lwendo” (another Bemba? bomber!) blends light High Life and Heavy Metal then ultimately goes for the Michael Schenker. “Making the Scene” has that disjointed swagger that rules wherever it comes from. They close the album with the du rigeur, albeit pretty, slow-dance make-out ballad of the
era; cool swaying falsetto back-ups. Then one of those cool voice-overs, back in Bemba(?). At times such great students of “rock” their more fervent independent sound is sadly downplayed. No silimba, no thumb piano (a la Konono), no kalimbu. Very nice liner notes…

Dara Puspita 1966-1968 – “Dara Puspita 1966-1968” – [Sublime Frequencies]

humana   5/10/2010   CD, International

In this second installment of the Indonesian Klasik Pop Nostalgia series, we hear the cute harmonies of Dara Puspita, the Flower Girls, whose career was closely connected with that of Koes Bersaudara. The liner notes detail the intrigue of how Dara Puspita had to travel to Bangkok in the place of Koes Bersaudara, who had been arrested for performing Beatles music at a party. These songs are characterized by sweet harmonies, adorable bass, peppiness, and an overall feeling of upbeat pop. Listen and see why Indonesia was wowed by these girls who could play their instruments and sing–apparently a rare combination!

Ethnic Minority Music of Northwest Xinjiang, China [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

humana   5/8/2010   CD, International

This ???collection of true, beautiful, and often technically sophisticated traditional tunes??? (liner notes) was recorded in May 2009 by Laurent Jeanneau and Shi Tanding when they traveled to Xinjiang, China, to get married. The notes describe political discomfort, but we are to focus on the musicianship and fascinating strummed and bowed instruments presented on this CD. Some tracks include singing, others are instrumental. 9 and 13 are meant to accompany dancers. All are worth trying.

Velasquez, Anibal Y Su Conjunto – “Mambo Loco” – [Analog Africa]

Cousin Mary   5/8/2010   12-inch, International

Anibal Velasquez pioneered the use of the accordion in Colombian music – elevating it from Campesino (farmer) music. These recordings from 1962 to 1978 spread in popularity, possibly due to their popularity in coastal cities such as Barranquilla and Cartagena. Velasquez combined styles such as Cumbia, Merecumbe, and Cuban rhythms in a new way. Leave it to Samy Ben Redjeb to find these neglected gems for Analog Africa.

Wonderfully played, these tunes will put you in a tropical dance mood.

Reportage: Spela Sjalv [coll] – [Expo Norr]

ArtCrimes   4/13/2010   12-inch, International

This is a quasi-official reproduction of a 1970 Expo Norr (Sweden) LP recorded and edited by Bo Anders Persson [Trad Gras Och Stenar member, among others] and Solvieg Bark. [The actual manufacturer of this reissue is not listed anywhere on the package.] The subtitle “Spela Sjalv” translates to “Play Yourself”, more or less. Locations vary from indoor recordings [the two “Ett Barn…” tracks featuring mainly children jabbering away] to outdoor communal gatherings with folk tunes on fiddle or flute, chanting, a variety of percusssion, and/or acoustic guitar-anchored jams. At times, it’s a bit like the rain chant from Woodstock (except in Sweden), or the Master Musicians of Bukkake, or the drunken neighbors upstairs. The titles seem to describe locations, or situations, but no artists’ names are shown on the insert, just descriptions [in Swedish] of what’s being played or whatever else is happening.
And to make things even more mysterious… every track fades in and out and is timed on the insert, but there are NO visible track divisions on the vinyl, so you have to preview carefully to find out where tracks actually begin. (( crimes ))

Astatke, Mulatu – “Mulatu Steps Ahead” – [Strut]

Cousin Mary   4/6/2010   CD, International

Astatke is an Ethiopian jazz vibraphonist – among his many claims to fame is that he was the first African student at the Berklee School of Music. This album, recorded in sessions from 2007 to 2009, displays his compositions and arrangements. Many of the tracks are performed with the Either/Orchestra. I hear influences from Africa, funk, blues, Latin, and big band jazz.

Big rich sounds with a variety of sounds, solid vibe playing.

Ghana Special [coll] – [Sound Way]

Max Level   3/15/2010   CD, International

This is some real deal stuff–a blast for fans of African music. 33 songs, mostly upbeat and energetic, with electric guitars, keyboards, horns, vocals, and incessant percussion, just the way it should be. The material was culled from a period of musical change in Ghana, when local dance-club bands were playing fewer covers of imported soul and pop hits, and more of an Afro-centric sound that represented their own culture. Extensive liner notes give info on the artists, the record labels, the nightclubs, the whole scene. When I saw bands listed with names such as The Barbecues and The Sweet Talks, I knew this was going to be good.

Jansch, Bert – “L.A. Turnaround” – [Drag City]

ArtCrimes   2/1/2010   12-inch, International

Nearly 10 years into his career by this point, and having just split from the folk/jazz Pentangle, Bert Jansch was enticed to sign with the prog-heavy UK label, Famous Charisma Label. The first of 3 releases for Charisma, this one is perhaps the most eclectic and interesting of them. At the time, Mike Nesmith of the Monkees was doing country flavored work with the First National Band, and he was brought in to produce this LP with Bert, using FNB steel guitarist Red Rhodes plus an LA-based rhythm section on some tracks. Jesse Ed Davis, sometimes sideman for Taj Mahal, brought his tough slide sound for a few tracks, giving a bit of a Little Feat or Ry Cooder edge on tracks like “Open Up the Watergate”. The result is a fuller sound than usual for Bert’s casual (and very Scottish) vocals and his always complex and driving acoustic guitar. Instrumentals “Chambertin” and “Lady Nothing” are more typical of his earlier solo work, and “Needle of Death” is a remake of one of his very first original songs, sounding a bit like Neil Young’s “Ambulance Blues” in this countryish re-arrangement. Outtakes from these sessions are collected on a companion CD along with a short Quicktime film of a British session for the album. ((( crimes )))

Mapfumo, Thomas & The Acid Band – “Hokoyo!” – [Water]

ArtCrimes   12/7/2009   CD, International

Thomas Mapfumo has long been associated with a type of music called “Chimurenga,” the Shona word for “struggle” or “uprising,” which gained prominence as colonial Rhodesia’s white minority rule began to crumble, leading to an independent Zimbabwe. The Chimurenga style bases its guitar parts on the sound of the mbira (thumb piano), and uses the Shona language. Although the name “Acid Band” might suggest some psychedelic aspects, this is in fact nothing of the sort… the music is upbeat in tempo (the drummer rides the high hat pretty relentlessly throughout), sometimes influenced by Western R&B and soul styles of the late 70s (particularly track 1) but mostly more obviously African with interlocking vocals and percussive guitar similar to the Jit and Zouk styles. The acid side of the story perhaps is in the corrosive spirit of the lyrics, which recast the struggle for independence in mythical terms, drawing from Shona legends. This music spoke directly to the Shona people while not seeming so obviously subversive to the ruling class. Mapfumo went on to become more radical with his later work, a sort of Zimbabwean Bob Marley. ((( crimes )))

Group Bombino – “Guitars From Agadez Vol. 2” – [Sublime Frequencies]

ArtCrimes   12/7/2009   CD, International

Volume 2 of Sublime Frequencies “Agadez” series focuses on a single group, Group Bombino, working in the Toureg style played by desert nomads. This music is guitar based and tied to the Toureg’s struggle for self-determination, with tempos matching the gait of the camel (in fact, a camel is one of the first things we hear on track 1). Bombino himself does most lead vocals. The first 4 tracks are studio tracks, played on acoustics with handclaps and sparse percussion, Tracks 5-9 are electric live performances recorded (with adequate-to-good sonic quality) in Agadez with full drum kit and the spiky electric guitar interplay we associate with groups like Terakaft. These latter tracks are far more Western sounding, although sung in the local language. Although somewhat intended as a call to action for Toureg independence, this is also potentially some party-down stuff, especially track 9.

PGM: Track 2 has a spoken intro to start. Tracks 3-4 segue with ambient desert sounds. (((( crimes )))))

Analog Africa No. 5 – Legends of Benin [coll] – [Analog Africa]

Cousin Mary   11/21/2009   CD, International

German Samy Ben Redjeb scoured African markets for these gems recorded by musicians in Benin between 1969 and 1981 and released them on his label “Analog Africa”. He also wrote the excellent notes in the accompanying booklet that tells a lot about the musicians and about how he found their music.

Wonderful African music with great instrumentals, vocals (some French), and driving beats. One hears influences of Latin, funk, reggae, and even an accordion (Track 2) reminiscent of Zydeco.

Note: Benin (I found 3 pronunciations: buh-NIN or be-neen or Bay-nahn?) is in West Africa between Togo and Nigeria.

PGM: Track 14 begins with a song that is about 7 minutes long, then silence, then another song that begins at the 9-minute mark (about 4 minutes remaining).

Highly recommended!

Kuti, Fela – “Best of The Black President, The” – [Knitting Factory Records]

Cousin Mary   11/4/2009   CD, International

Excellent 2-CD selection of Feal Kuti’s afrobeat classics, many long tracks up to 17 minutes. Liner notes give extensive background on his political activities, many relate to the music. Very energetic, good beats even when telling about tragic events in Fela Kuti’s life or Africa. Vocals are in pidgin, generally understandable to English speakers.

PGM: Language CD1-track 3, CD2-track 5. Also CD2-track 2 goddamn.

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