Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Geoff Berner’s Pyrrhic Victory Party – One of the Year’s Best

Cynical, insightful, hilarious and iconoclastic, Canadian klezmer rocker Geoff Berner comes off as sort of the Eugene Hutz of current-day Jewish music. After wrapping up his Whiskey Rabbi trilogy, Berner made this ferocious, fearless latest one, Victory Party, with Canadian Jewish music maven Socalled. Berner is ironically more of a throwback to oldschool klezmer than any of the klezmer revivalists: in the days of the pogroms, klezmers (Jewish musicians) tended to be hellraisers, outcasts not only in society as a whole but often within their own culture as well, and Berner seems to embrace that fate as he calls bullshit on pretty much everyone who deserves it. This is a hell of an album, and ironically, though the music is more retro, less punk than his previous stuff, his vision is more fearlessly punk than ever.

The album gets off to a low-key, cynical start with the title track, a pyrrhic victory where the narrator journeys through a nightmare past “the charred remains of the orphanage, past the dogshit and corpses” to what poses for a party. “I knew we were right on the brink of our best years,” Berner remarks flatly. At his site, he explains that the song was inspired by the true story of a death camp survivor who “returned to Berlin to reclaim his bar. He paid German musicians to play klezmer tunes while he slowly drank himself to death.” Michael Winograd’s sarcastically blithe clarinet lights up the bouncy Jackie the Pimp, which offers an Iceberg Slim-style look at the downside of the profession. Wealthy Poet chronicles the ways the guy will help his girlfriend escape the oppressors, finally by giving her some matches so she can burn off her fingerprints at the border, the violins of Diona Davies and Brigitte Dajczer snarling and smoldering overhead.

The famous Yiddish-American protest song Mayn Rue Platz is transformed into a gorgeous duet with otherworldly vocals from Chinese-Canadian siren/erhu player Lan Tung. I Kind of Hate Songs with Ambiguous Lyrics is self-explanatory, and an instant classic, a song that needed to be written; Dalloy Polizei – a reworking of a hundred-year-old Russian Jewish folk tune – commemorates the murder of Ian Bush, shot from behind in police custody in Houston, British Columbia after being arrested for having an open container of beer. And with Berner’s accordion driving a cruelly amusing, deadpan, rustic shtetl-style cover of Canadian girlpunks the Sluttards’ I Am Going to Jail, he finds the commonalities between centuries of persecution of Jews, and centuries of persecution of nonconformists of all kinds.

A brutally sarcastic techno song, Oh My Golem explores the cruel irony of how the original, idealistic concept of Zionism was appropriated by genocidal, anti-Palestinian wingnuts in Israel. There’s also a plaintive, sad version of the waltz Cherry Blossoms, and a woozily slinky epic titled Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religous Agenda that pokes fun at religious cults. Savagely aware, catchy and contemptuous, this is refusenik rock at its best. Watch for this on our best albums of 2011 list at the end of the year if any of us are still alive to compile it.

March 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble in Tribeca, 2011 Style: Sanda Weigl, Razia and Very Be Careful in Concert

It’s about fifteen minutes on foot from Tribeca to the West Village. After the first few times, those fifteen minutes turn into twenty. At which point it’s probably time to call it a night. We made the hike between the 92YTribeca and Bleecker Street more than a few times Friday night and still managed to catch a lot of the first night of Winter Jazzfest as well as the high points of booking agency Trouble Worldwide’s annual showcase further downtown. This marks our third consecutive year at their annual shindig. Why? Because their acts are so consistently good. The most entertaining one of the night, surprisingly, turned out to be the first. Seeing Romanian gypsy singer Sanda Weigl backed by an all-Japanese band might seem incongruous, but until the last artists and musicians here are displaced by hedge fund traders and their “luxury” condos, sights like that will still resonate as New York moments. Weigl is tiny, Edith Piaf-sized, with a similar contralto that if anything is just as subtle: she worked the corners of the songs, holding back until she really needed to hammer a point home, and then she’d cut loose. Her band was phenomenal. Whether prowling the upper registers of the piano with a menacing gleam, hammering out perfect, lightning-fast Balkan horn lines on the keys or supplying eerie washes of accordion, Shoko Nagai stole the show. Five-string acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi played fluid, melodic lines in the style of a great lead guitarist when he wasn’t gently but forcefully hammering out a rhythm of his own, while percussionist Satoshi Takeishi pulled a surprising amount of rattle and whoosh out of the woodblocks and single, big crash cymbal he’d set up on the floor.

With a wink in her eye, Weigl would begin each song with a brief explanation of what the Romanian lyrics meant. “You liked me when I was young, but now I’m old, I’m a pain in the neck,” she explained over Nagai’s horror-movie cascades. The madness of the music made a delicious contrast with the steely, often stoic intensity of Weigl’s vocals. One of the early numbers in the set sounded like a cocek dance; a lost-love lament (one of several, it seems) had more of a Weimar blues/noir cabaret feel. The rest of the set included another Balkan dance, the tale of a woman who loves her children so much that she leaves her Prince Charming and returns to an abusive husband, and a song whose protagonist thinks that the ideal death would be during sex. After less than forty minutes, the band was yanked offstage: the crowd wanted more but didn’t get it.

Malagasy-American chanteuse Razia was as subtle as Weigl and her band were dramatic, and was every bit as compelling. Backed by an incisive, terse acoustic guitarist and a tight rhythm section, drawing deeply from her excellent new album Zebu Nation (just out on Cumbancha), she ran through a similarly abbreviated set. Her voice has a gentle, reassuring resilience, perhaps unsurprising coming from a woman whose musical journey led her from her native Madagascar, to Paris, and ultimately to New York where she assembled this band. A couple of the songs circled with trancelike polyrhythms that lent an Afrobeat feel. Another built to surprising intensity, anchored by a series of increasingly busy bass riffs. An attempt to start an audience clapalong with those polyrhythms met with mixed results: her own crowd was game, but the rest of the room was rhythmically challenged. They wound up the set with an undulating dance tune based on a hypnotic two-chord vamp.

After a break for jazz a few blocks north and then back, it was time for Very Be Careful, who are sort of the Colombian Gogol Bordello. When they were based in Brooklyn, they were notorious for raucous rooftop parties, so seeing them in such genteel surroundings was a bit of a shock, albeit a sort of heartwarming one, especially for a band whose crazed live album is titled Horrible Club. This set featured a lot of material from their latest one Escape Room, among them a couple of hypnotic classics from the 1960s along with the bouncy cumbia La Abeja (The Bee) and the acidically swirling La Alergia (Allergies, a song written by the band along with Deicy Guzman, mom to accordionist Ricardo Guzman and his brother Arturo, who got a tastily booming, slinky pulse out of his shortscale Danelectro reissue bass all night long). It would be nice to be able to say that they got the whole crowd swaying, but the truth is that they basically separated the kids from the oldsters. The younger people, for whom cumbia is what reggae was to the generation before them, moved toward the stage; the older crowd hung back, seemingly oblivious.

Sharply dressed bell player Dante Ruiz took a couple of stabs at seeing how much energy he could wring out of a room which by now had been on their feet for several hours and seemed to be feeling it, then backed away and concentrated on the band’s hypnotic sway and clatter. In a sense, it was as surreal as watching the Pogues on the BBC: if there was any time to be randomly making out with someone, this was it, but nobody went for it.

January 13, 2011 Posted by | concert, folk music, gypsy music, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 11/28/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #793:

Gogol Bordello – Gypsy Punks

It’s only fair that we’d follow one great party band (P-Funk) with another. Gogol Bordello may not have been the first gypsy punks, but they took the sound gobal. This is their most punk album and the closest studio approximation of the pandemonium of their live show, the guitars roaring like the Clash on Give ‘Em Enough Rope. As usual, frontman Eugene Hutz alternates between English and Ukrainian when least expected; this time out, he adds Spanish to the mix. It’s got some of his most direct songs, especially I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again, an anthem for a million kids (and old kids) to sing along to. Not a Crime never identifies the specific act which, back in the day, used to be legal, but it doesn’t have to – it’s a classic for the paranoid post-9/11 world. Think Locally, Fuck Globally is self-explanatory, and it’s a classic. There are also plenty of surreal stories here: the bizarre East Village bathhouse scenario Avenue B; the crazed wedding narrative Dogs Were Barking, and a far more punk version of Start Wearing Purple than the one on the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack. Toward the end of the album, the songs stretch out, with reggae and dub on Undestructable and Mishto and latin on Santa Marinella. Everything Gogol Bordello did is worth owning – they’re a band everybody who would never wanna be young again should see at least once in their lives. Here’s a random torrent.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | gypsy music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mick Rock Puts His Diversity On Display at Morrison Hotel Gallery

Legendary photographer Mick Rock has a new book out, Mick Rock Exposed: The Faces of Rock n Roll and accompanying exhibit up at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery space just south of Bowery and Bleecker. It’s a must-see: the book is out just in time for the holidays and ought to do just as well if not better than his previous Bowie and glam-themed collections. As he explained before the show’s celebrity-packed opening Tuesday night, this is an eclectic book: he’s never been swayed by popular trends. Although Rock will forever be associated with iconic images like the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer and the Stooges’ Raw Power, his portraiture over the last forty-plus years is extraordinarily diverse, ranging from Japanese kabuki theatre stars, to a somewhat notorious, self-referencing show featuring Kate Moss in all kinds of provocative poses, to bands as dissimilar as German proto-punks Can, current-day blues belter Shemekia Copeland and gypsy punk stars Gogol Bordello.

As much as Rock has an eye for drama, he often goes for understatement. The best of the most recent images here are an absolutely hilarious Snoop Dogg, looking old yet ganjifically defiant in a George Clinton kind of way (Rock and Snoop seem to have a great mutual appreciation), and a considerably clever spin on an otherwise cliched PR shot of Lady Gag “passed out” in a dirty, trashed bathtub. That shirtless guy standing over her, face out of view? That’s Jack White.

Fans of Rock’s legendary glam-era photography won’t come away disappointed. A Ziggy-era David Bowie is captured in black-and white, pensive and shirtless in an empty room; on the train to Aberdeen with guitarist Mick Ronson; onstage performing “guitar fellatio” as Ronson solos, and in an absolutely brilliant if worrisome 1972 shot where he joins Lou Reed (hiding behind his shades) to support a completely trashed Iggy Pop, who has a pack of Lucky Strikes stuffed in his mouth.

Iggy and the Stooges also figure prominently. A black-and-white shot from 1972 captures the band looking particularly young and vulnerable, a skinny Ron Asheton taking a stab at trying to appear menacing behind his innocuous wireframe glasses (this was before he discovered aviators). The most wrenching of all the photos here is a color headshot of Iggy onstage in 1977, dripping with angst and longing: it’s the visual equivalent of Gimme Danger. There are also a couple of vividly sad Syd Barrett black-and-whites, one where he strikes a karate-like pose in an empty room – he alone knows what it means, if anything – and another with him reclined haggardly on the hood of a battered old Buick convertible (look closely – it’s parked in front of a sparkling new MGB-GT coupe) somewhere in England. By contrast, Rock had the presence of mind to capture Madonna in black-and-white in 1980 (wearing a 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates World Champions tee, licking her shoulder lasciviously – she already knows she’s a star). Everything here that isn’t sold out already is on sale at depression-era prices (a limited edition Transformer print signed jointly by Rock and Reed is three grand). The Morrison Hotel Gallery is open Wednesday-Sunday, noon to 7 PM: shows here turn over fast, go now if you’re thinking about it.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/25/10

Happy birthday Rama!

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #857:

Chopin – 24 Preludes – Walter Klien, Piano

We began this countdown last month not with single album but with a page full of obvious choices: Dark Side of the Moon, London Calling, Sketches of Spain and a whole slew of iconic, well-known ones that we figured needed no explanation. This one doesn’t need much of that either. There are a million Chopin preludes collections out there; we chose this one out of familiarity (admittedly, not a very good reason), the quality of the pieces (one classic after another) and the fact that Klien’s 1960 recording is truly excellent. For anyone who might be new to his music, pianist and composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was the godfather of gypsy rock, a paradigm shifter and the guy most responsible for jumpstarting the Romantic era (following the Classical era, of Haydn and Mozart) in western instrumental music. Much of his work is wrenchingly intense, dark, brooding and unselfconsciously anguished, as are many of these, notably the dirgelike C Minor Prelude and the otherwordly E Minor one, both of which have been in a million movies and which you will instantly recognize if you don’t already know them. More effectively than any other composer, he blended the austere, bitter minor key chromatics of eastern Europe with the simpler majors and minors of the west. Without Chopin, it’s hard to imagine Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff or for that matter Gogol Bordello. As popular as this particular album was, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything promising, probably because search engines mistake Klien’s name for “klein.” So here’s one for a well-known, solidly good Maurizio Pollini collection.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magnifico Gives Gypsy Punk a Kick in the Pants

Slovenian dance music maven Magnifico sounds a lot like Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, right down to the intentionally fractured English, the crazy beats and the more-subtle-than-you-think satire. A lot of his new album Magnification is completely over the top, but some of it isn’t. On the more disco-oriented songs here, he affects a lounge lizard persona that gets old pretty fast. But the rest of the album has a sarcastic, even savage punk edge. A lot of his lyrics are in English, yet one of the best, and most overtly hostile songs here, is a parody of corporate American pop – and those in the former Eastern Bloc who mindlessly imitate it. “Giv mi mani,” he asserts, phonetically, “And I will call you khhhhhoney.” As much as he tries, he can’t get the English aspirate “H” out.

Along with the insistent Balkan horns and the dancefloor beats, Magnifico blends in spaghetti western reverb guitar as well as train-whistle C&W pedal steel for extra menace – or for an extra satirical edge. The most iconoclastic song here is a cover of House of the Rising Sun done spaghetti western style, substituting the former Yugoslavia for the whorehouse in the original. The most striking one is a big orchestrated ballad, Ljuba, whose crescendoing chorus is suspiciously intense – like so much of what’s here, it could be a parody of a dramatic Balkan standard from the 1950s. Bosangero Nero, which seems to have political overtones, slinks along on a Mexican groove with surfy reverb guitar; the somewhat obvious yet irresistibly amusing Emily riffs on American girls and features a theremin solo. There’s also a warped country song taken straight to the Balkans; a bouncy song in Slovenian with a soca beat, bachata guitar and weepy pedal steel; a mystifying trip-hop song where the narrator seems to be saying that you can do anything to him except insult him (but maybe not); and a menacing, completely unrecognizable guitar-noir cover of the cheesy 1950s hit That’s Amore. Because this is dance music, these tracks go on for a long time: it’s a long album, fifteen tracks in all, something that gypsy punk fans around the world – and pretty much anybody looking for a good beat and a good time – will have fun with.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer’s new album Le Pop is pretty amazing, a strong contender for best of 2010. With their gorgeous harmonies, old-fashioned instrumentation and frequently lush production, the accordion-driven all-female Oslo quartet sound like the Dresden Dolls but better (more energetic, less cutesy and a whole lot darker as well). The self-styled “queens of sultry sound” balance an eerily rustic noir edge with tongue-in-cheek humor, and lyrics in English. On the new cd, multi-instrumentalist Solveig Heilo, accordionists Anne Marit Bergheim and Marianne Sveen and bassist Turid Jørgensen – who plays the largest four-string instrument in all of rock – bounce, scamper and blast their way through a mix of tempos and styles that evoke such diverse acts as the B-52s, Gruppo Sportivo and Gogol Bordello.

The album opens on a surprisingly pensive note with an instrumental “overture,” followed by the scurrying Keystone Kops vibe of A Bar in Amsterdam, which amusingly morphs into a Pat Benetar-style power ballad on the chorus. With its jaunty gypsy swing, Demon Kitty Rag evokes satirical New York trio the Debutante Hour. Tea with Cinnamon is an absolute delight, a vintage Toots and the Maytals-style rocksteady number with accordion and a surprisingly wistful lyric. The title track, a snidely exuberant Gruppo Sportivo-style satire of American corporate music is great fun, and the outro is absolutely priceless.

The darker material here is just as captivating. Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back sets charming harmonies and barrelhouse piano to a Nashville gothic arrangement with a funny but disquieting edge, and a series of trick endings. The big, anguished crescendo on the lushly orchestrated suicide anthem Wading in Deeper packs a visceral punch; the violin-driven To the Sea showcases the band’s harmonies at their most otherworldly, with an off-center, Icelandic vibe. There’s also the sternly tongue-in-cheek Mother Superior, with its eerie carnival organ; Der Kapitan, a macabre-tinged surf instrumental done oompah style; the coy country bounce of Play, My Darling; Ain’t No Thang, an oldtimey banjo tune; and Virginia Clemm, a sad, eerily atmospheric waltz. The depth and intelligence of the songs matches their good-time appeal: it’s been a long time since we discovered a band who could do that as consistently as Katzenjammer do. The group are currently on US tour (at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on July 3 and 4, opening for Elvis Costello), with a date at the Mercury Lounge on July 6.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Very Be Careful – Escape Room

Los Angeles band Very Be Careful have built a well-deserved reputation as sort of the Gogol Bordello of Colombian music, both for their delirious, hypnotic live shows and the snotty yet absolutely authentic attitude of their albums. No disrespect to Carlos Vives, but Very Be Careful take vallenato back to its roots in the north, to back when, just like roots reggae, it was the party music of the drug underworld – it doesn’t sound anything like him. Which makes sense: Very Be Careful’s slinky cumbia pulse has a lot in common with late 60s Jamaican rocksteady, the otherworldly swirl of the accordion is nothing if not psychedelic and so is the eerie insectile scrape of the guacharaca, the beat of the caja vallenata and clatter of the cowbell. Although if you asked this band for more cowbell, you’d probably get one upside the head – they bring a menacing, hallucinatory party vibe a lot like the Pogues back in the day when Shane MacGowan was drinking at peak capacity but still lucid. That considered, their new album Escape Room works equally well for the drinkers, dancers and stoners in the crowd. It’s all originals along with three rustic, boisterous covers, with the same resilient-bordering-on-aggressive feel of their 2009 live album, the deliciously titled Horrible Club.

The opening track, La Furgoneta (The Van) is a cumbia, its catchy descending progression carried by Ricardo Guzman’s accordion as his brother Arturo swings low with broken chords on the bass, way behind the beat in a style similar to great reggae bassists like Family Man Barrett. It segues into a hypnotic, two-chord number, La Abeja (The Bee), followed by the fast, bouncy, wickedly catchy La Alergia (Allergies), accordion playing major on minor, vividly evoking a horror-movie summer haze.

The first of the covers by legendary vallenato composer Calixto Ochoa, Playas Marinas (Sandy Beaches) is a party song, a staggering series of flourishes as the bass runs a catchy octave riff over and over. The other, Manantial del Alma (Springtime of the Soul) makes a sly attempt at seduction, the guy just wanting the girl to let him play for her. Another oldschool number, by Abel Antonio Villa, evokes a guy’s heartbreak, vocals on the verse trading off with accordion on the chorus – although it’s a party song without any real heartbroken vibe, at least musically.

The rest of the album is originals, and they’re great. El Hospital sounds like something the Clash might have done on Sandinista, wry and cynical. La Broma (The Joke) has the accordion playing minor on major this time, to equally ominous effect. The metaphorically charged La Gata Perdida (Lost Cat) has the poor critter going round in circles: “I think this killed me.” They end it with the upbeat La Sorpresa (Surprise) and then the aptly titled, psychedelic El Viajero del Tiempo (Time Traveler), bass playing three on four beneath insistent, trance-inducing minor-key accordion. You don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy this, although you won’t get the clever, often snide, pun-laden lyrics. But as dance music, it doesn’t get any better than this – it’s out now on Barbes Records. Another reviewer had problems with this cd, calling it unsubtle and complaining about being blasted by the accordion, to which the only conceivable response is, who wouldn’t want to be blasted by an accordion? Very Be Careful play Highline Ballroom on May 23 – also keep an eye out for their annual Brooklyn 4th of July rooftop party (they got their start here, playing in the subway).

April 28, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Canteca de Macao at Highline Ballroom, NYC 2/17/10

An eclectic choice for this year’s New York Flamenco Festival, popular Spanish rockers Canteca de Macao played a deceptively sophisticated, dizzyingly multistylistic show that was impossible to resist. America doesn’t have anything like these guys: their closest relative, and obvious precursor is the theatrical Mexican band El Tri. Ana, their frontwoman shifted effortlessly between a powerful, dramatic, slightly smoky contralto and a more lighthearted delivery that she used when the intensity level dipped a little. With a rhythm section that included two percussionists (on timbales, congas or cajon) it was obvious from the git-go that Canteca de Macao are first and foremost a party band – within a minute from the time they took the stage, the front rows were bouncing. Most of the upbeat numbers had a gypsy rock feel, spiced with a lot of playful tug-of-war between flute and lead guitar. Chiki, their acoustic guitarist – who also took lead vocals on several cuts – got to take all of one solo all night long, on one of the more overtly flamencoish numbers, and it turned out to be the best one of the evening.

It was a carnival ride of shifting tempos, slowing down into reggae or speeding up into ska, as they did on a number that lept from merengue into a brisk one-drop rhythm, sung by Juancho, their conguero. He may be a small guy, but as it turns out he’s also a babe magnet – and he knows it, as he told the crowd. Another gypsy rock tune bounced along on a bachata basssline that took a crescendoing swoop to the upper registers on the turnaround out of the verse. They worked brief rap interludes into a few songs, including a rapidfire kazoo-fueled anthem for fashion misfits everywhere. As good and diverse as their musicianship is, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously in the lyric department: “It doesn’t matter,” Ana and the rest of the band hollered defiantly on one of the best-received dance numbers. The first of the encores featured a smartly terse, flamenco-flavored bass solo; as they wound up the show, they broke songs down into halftime, sped them up again and threw out a handful of false endings until that device had been used to death. The crowd – a pleasantly surprising mix of nationalities and demographics, kids and others old enough to be their parents – didn’t want to let them go. It was something like a Gogol Bordello show in Spanish – a lot of the same tonalities, a brighter, more carefree vibe but the same kind of energy.

And while we’re at it, let’s big up the sound guys: the Highline is a great-sounding room to begin with, but you had a tough mix to deal with, all those mics onstage, and you delivered.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tommy T – The Prester John Sessions

Prester John was a mythical medieval contradiction in terms, a benign despot whose apocryphal, abundant kingdom sparked many fruitless expeditions to locate it. One popular theory at the time was that it was in Ethiopia. Centuries later, Ethiopian-born Gogol Bordello bassist Tommy T has used the myth as a springboard for one of the funnest, most hypnotic albums of the year. If the snowfall of recent days has gotten you down, this utterly psychedelic, summery cd will get you up again. It doesn’t sound much like Gogol Bordello (though there is a deliciously fat reggae remix of that band’s song Lifers at the end as a bonus cut), but in its own way it’s just as good. It’s a groove-driven, unique blend of Afrobeat, oldschool roots reggae and classic dub. There are echoes of Ethiopian jazz, notably Mulatu Astatke of Broken Flowers fame, but the closest approximation is another groundbreaking album that came out about a year and a half ago, the sprawling Dub Colossus project.

The first track sets the stage for much of the rest of the album, a catchy reggae number with bubbly organ and tasty, melodic bass prominent in the mix, but also in tricky 7/8 time, with screechy massinqo (Ethiopian fidddle) playing what are often essentially lead guitar lines. If that isn’t original, you decide what is. The following cut is slinky, dubwise reggae with brief lyrics in Amharic. Then they go jangly with an almost Appalachian feel and minor key acoustic guitar: from a distance, it could be Tinariwen.

The Eighth Wonder kicks off with a hypnotic early 70s style funk/soul groove with Fender Rhodes piano and a blazing horn chart, massinqo sailing blissfully overhead. They follow that with a gripping, dark dub rearrangement of a couple of ancient folksongs. East-West Express is a juicy dancefloor vamp, sort of Fela gone further east. Cleverly nicking the hook from Marley’s Crazy Baldhead, the gorgeously eerie, rustically-tinged Tribute to a King segues into a bounding dance, practically a jig with massinqo, string synth and wah guitar. It works deliriously well. The album wraps up with a soulful dialogue between scorned lovers and then a strikingly contemplative, atmospheric number that finally bursts into flame when a bright, insistent horn section takes over. All the way through, the playing is inspired, and the production is far deeper and heavier than your typical digital recording. It works just as well on headphones as it does with a boisterous crowd. World music fans and stoners alike will be all over this one.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment