Lucid Culture


CD Review: The Rough Guide to Blues Revival

Every now and then we all go to a concert where the opening act blows the headliner off the stage. This is the cd equivalent of that experience. Forget for a moment that this is titled the Rough Guide to Blues Revival (a dubious concept from the get-go): what’s most exciting here is the free bonus cd by 40-year-old Malian bluesman Samba Toure, a protege of Ali Farka Toure. In a particularly smart marketing move, the compilers decided to sweeten the deal by including it in the package at no extra charge, and for fans of the desert blues pantheon (think Tinariwen, Boubacar Traore, Vieux Farka Toure et al.) it’s a treat, ten sun-baked, trance-inducing tracks of eerily snaking guitar enhanced by fiddle, bass and percussion. By comparison to his mentor (no relation), Samba Toure delivers his vocals in a low, growling style in his native dialect.


Stylistically, Malian desert blues most closely resembles the Mississippi hill country style with few if any chord changes, instead building dynamically with a typically hypnotic feel. To call this stuff blues is sometimes a stretch, although Ali Farka Toure was influenced by American electric guitarists, an effect that translates to a certain extent here. Here, the instruments swirl and whirl around each other, stark sheets of fiddle mingling with the staccato ring of the guitars, the occasional flight of a flute line and the ever-present, persistent eight-note beat of the percussion. One of the tracks is happy, upbeat, tersely produced Afrobeat pop; otherwise, the songs aptly evoke the “cameraderie of the cigarette,” as Tinariwen’s Ibrahim Ag Alhabib has characterized the casual but impoverished nomadic milieu, passing a single smoke around a circle of conversation. The best cut here is the last, Foda Diakaina (called an instrumental but it’s not), dizzying flute spinning around the guitar, bass eventually climbing to the heights with the rest of the band.


As far as the rest of the anthology goes, the selections here seem absolutely random, like the kind of cd that you find at the counter at the druggist or off-license for a fiver or less. For apparently no rhyme or reason (other than the label telling the compilers that if they want the rights to the hit, they’ll have to also take a couple of duds along with it to seal the deal), this mixes choice cuts by the Blind Boys of Alabama (You Gotta Move rearranged gospel-style), a quiet, Hendrix-inspired number by Deborah Coleman and tracks by Irma Thomas and Shemekia Copeland along with possibly well-intentioned but ultimately cold, cliched, stale stuff by baby boomer faves like Robben Ford, Eric Bibb, and Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown. There’s also some more recent material including an utterly bizarre Pipeline ripoff by CC Adcock. The cd is out now worldwide except for the UK where it will be available May 5.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Rough Guide to Gypsy Music

Like the books, the Rough Guide albums can send the unsuspecting adventurer careening down the wrong path, but this one’s a keeper. As an introduction, it’s smashingly addictive, a pathway drug leading ultimately to the delirium and ecstasy that comes with discovering the entirety of the gypsy music spectrum. It must have been a blast to put together. For the more experienced fan, it still makes a great anthology. With the music business in disarray, the smarter labels are doing all they can to make their products attractive and World Music Network, no dummies, have included with this a free, first-rate bonus cd by Bela Lakatos & the Gypsy Youth Project.


What’s most impressive is how broad a net the compilers have cast. Gypsy music has become a truly global phenomenon, and this does as well as anything else as a snapshot of some of the best acts out there at the moment. For purists, there’s Taraf de Haidouks’ Waltz from Masquerade, a swaying, orchestrated string-driven theme and variations, winding up with whispery violins boiling over into a big crescendo. For fans of Balkan brass, there’s the intricately arranged Voz by Boban I Markovic Orkestar, and representing the new generation, Ya-Ya by Slavic Soul Party, kicking off with an amusing old doo-wop melody before going all dark and haunting. The Bosnian Mostar Sevah Reunion are represented by the hypnotic, horn-driven Guglo Kafava. Biav by Austrian “urban gypsies” Dela Dap reminds of Manu Chao with its bouncy, catchy minimalism (speaking of which, where’s Manu Chao? Nowhere to be found).


There’s also a roughhewn track by Acquaragia Drom that reminds of acoustic Gogol Bordello (no Gogol Bordello either), the stomping, latin-flavored More Love! Money Mate! by Czechs Terne Chave, a big bright Romanian dance vamp by Fanfare Ciocarlia feat. Kaloome and a haunting, cimbalom-and-vocalese-driven number credited to gypsy film director Toni Gatliff along with genre-bending cuts by Son de la Frontera, Musafir, Bela Lakatos and Stochelo Rosemberg. Gypsy music fans being what we are, there’s bound to be plenty of debate about what’s missing here, but taken for what it is, it’s as good a place to start as any.


The Lakatos/Gypsy Youth Project would be worth owning as a stand-alone album. Their expertise is the rustic, guitar-based acoustic style found in rural Hungary, rich with vocal harmonies, stomping along on a dance beat. Lakatos, founder of the popular Kalyi Jag, started this band both to preserve the traditional repertoire as well as to find a younger generation of musicians to play it and the results are predictably bracing and fun. It’s amazing how far and wide these sounds have spread. The bouncy, catchy Del O Brishind reminds of Brooklyn Peruvian plunderers Chicha Libre; Bilako Na Zhuvau and Muro Shavo have the kind of snarky melody you’d find in an American ragtime hit around 1900; Autar Manca plinks along like a Mexican border ballad. This is the raw material that the other bands here have taken and run with and it’s absolutely essential to get to know if this is your music. 

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