artists: Sesame Street Playground (Putumayo)
new CD/DVD combo from Putumayo shows how the culture
of Sesame Street has spread around the globe, with
13 songs from Tanzania, Brazil, France, Russia,
South Africa, India, China, Israel, Mexico, Palestine,
and the Netherlands. The inclusion of a DVD with
five music videos helps balance the relative brevity
of the music CD, weighing in at under 30 minutes.
is an extremely powerful medium... While musical
style is unique to different regions of the world,
music itself is something we have in common,"
says Sesame Workshop President Gary Knell.
of the songs are either unknown to me or forgotten
with other childhood details. Others are clearly
distinct to their own cultures, such as the "Traditional
Game Song" from Palestine and "Galli Galli
Sim Sim," the Indian show's theme song that
sounds like a kids' Bollywood tune.
would gladly have done without the USA version (or
any version) of "Elmo's Song," but the
Tanzanian "Don't Be Sad Song" really lives
up to its billing, with an uplifting rhythm and
honestly, who could argue that the album's highlight
is a Chinese version of "Rubber Duckie,"
sung by Zhima Jie? As kids' albums go, Sesame Street
Playground will stand up well to repeated listenings
by adults. Just skip over Elmo.
Cherga : Fake No More (Asphalt
got a lot of respect for Garth Cartwright -- he's
a great proponent of Balkan and Gypsy music, and
I highly recommend his book and CD compilation Princes
Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians. Yet...
we have our points of disagreement. Such as this
wrote a lyrical introduction in the album notes,
evoking an alternate universe in which Lee "Scratch"
Perry relocates to Tito's Yugoslavia, laying the
foundations of a Balkan dub style that culminates
in La Cherga's sound.
album drew me in at once with a great Balkan energy,
hot rhythms, and great horn riffs. Also enticing
is the very idea of a "pan-Balkanic consciousness"
that could help transcend the failed politics that
have bathed much of the region in turmoil. "These
musicians," Cartwright writes," all too
familiar with the insanity of nationalism and the
impotence of bombs and the bleak reality of refugee
visas, have created a temple of tolerance, one built
on subsequent listens, La Cherga sounds less fresh.
The little-girl vocals of Irina Karamarkovic start
to sound ordinary. She's got a nice voice, but seems
to be phoning it in, a sense that isn't aided by
the uninspired English-language lyrics. Maybe I'm
missing the irony, but on the opening track "Cooking
Dub" when she repeatedly sings "We are
going nowhere," it seems to set the tone for
the rest of the album. "Don't Go This Way"
similarly could serve as a warning away from the
song's insipid tag "Don't be braindead"
and the ersatz ursari vocals.
irony of La Cherga is that the English lyrics that
should have provided a point of entry for a broader
audience are what will likely be driving listeners
away. And that's a shame, because the band has a
promising start with its unique blend of dub and
Balkan flavors. And if you can get past the bad
apples, there are some gems on this CD, including
"Wedding Song," "Rembetiko 22,"
"Muki's Pub," and "What a Wonderful
got it half right, and so did La Cherga.
artists: Acoustic France (Putumayo)
first song on the new Putumayo compilation Acoustic
France begins with a bossa nova guitar riff and
cuica. Continental confusion? Naw...this really
is French music. What could be more French than
a breakthrough hit about unemployment? And the "cuica"
on the song "Assedic / Welfare" is in
fact a voice. Oh, those clever French! I'm a little
puzzled about Putumayo's definition of "acoustic"
however. Sandrine Kimberlain's poppy "Le Quotiden"
features some (admittedly tasty) organ and electric
guitar. But what the heck -- the "France"
part of the title is also stretched by including
New Brunswick singer Pascal Lejeune and San Francisco
group Rupa & the April Fishes. In any case,
expect some engaging tunes by great French-speaking
artists, and you can decide for yourself if maybe
it should be called "Mostly Acoustic French
Leverett & The Klezmer Mountain Boys: 2nd
Avenue Square Dance (Traditional
in the black mining hills of Donetsk, a group of
poor immigrants from Appalachia toils long days
to bring the black rock to the surface. But at night,
they grab their instruments and bring their American
bluegrass, country gospel, jazz, and rock music
to the town's dancehall, mixing it up with the local
musicians' klezmer and folk traditions. At least,
that's one possible explanation for the curious
musical mix offered on the second album by Margot
Leverett & The Klezmer Mountain Boys.
songs are fun and varied with "High Lonesome
Honga" and "Electric Kugel" brushing
elbows with Bill Monroe's "Stoney Lonesome"
and "Mississippi Waltz." The traditional
country gospel tune "Little Moses" is
played nearly straight, with just a touch of Leverett's
klezmer clarinet. Her instrument is much more prominent
elsewhere, and her crack team of collaborators makes
this a strong album all around, and a great listen
even if didn't know you were into Jewgrass music.
Binario (Far Out Recordings)
Yes on the beach.
That's not an affirmation
of where I'd like to spend my next vacation. It's
a reasonable description of the sound of Brazilian
band Binario. They've got something of the prog-rock
sensibility and rhythmic adventurousness of the
famed British group, while keeping things a bit
more melodic. It's really only when the group vocals
(more like drunken shout-singing, really) kick in
on the third track, "Balinha," that you
know your ears have strayed beyond the Anglo progressive
scene. It may not be the "world music"
we expect from Brazil, but Binario's fresh angle
on space-funk-psychedelic-jazz may have you thinking
of Ipanema in a whole new light.
Nina de Fuego (Warner Music Spain)
It's a disservice to
Buika that she appears half-naked on the cover of
this CD, like some tawdry aspiring pop star. From
the first note she sings on her sophomore album,
her breathy voice evokes the bittersweet nature
of life with a maturity that is belied by that photo.
The Spanish-only liner
notes may leave some holes in the monoglot's understanding
of the lyrics, but perfectly clear is Buika's craft
in creating a tasty album with courses including
traditional Spanish fare (coplas, flamenco, gypsy
rumba) along with a jazz/torch sensibility and a
sprinkling of Afro-Cuban spice. She also spent a
couple years in Las Vegas, sometimes doing Tina
Turner and Diana Ross impersonations. But, she says,
"Las Vegas is not like a normal city. There
is no humanity there."
A little digging reveals
that Concha Buika was born in Equatorial Guinea,
and grew up near a Gypsy community on the island
of Mallorca. As for her defiance of musical genres,
she says "“I don’t know what is
flamenco or what is blues or jazz or rock. I only
know what is singing and playing. For me the flamenco
of [Mexican singer] Chavela Vargas is the same as
Dinah Washington. It’s music that comes from
the depths, from the place where everything pure
comes from. For me [musical] styles seem like little
reality is so much more than the CD's cover can
convey, since Buika's voice and musical choices
convey a bare emotional richness much more engaging,
enticing, and satisfying than any titillating photograph.
Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media