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Spin the Globe reviews for May 2003

TFR8469 – Twisted Fiddle Music, PO Box 183, Kirkland, WA 98083

Guarneri Underground's latest effort rounds up a wide variety of musical styles, anchored as always by the electric and acoustic fiddling of leader Jeff Sick. The most obvious change from their previous work is the addition of Beth Quist on vocals. She's been guesting with the band for some time, and her lilting, sometimes soaring voice adds spice to the Guarneri mix. The first two tracks ("Liquid Silver," "Monsters") seem to prepare the listener for a Celtic experience. But the rest of Wander This World finds the band traveling far afield musically. The influence of Ghana-born Mohammad Shaibu shines on the guitar-led Afro-pop tune "Pami Music,"and his bluesy west African grooves propel "Garagajiya" and the delightful "Life Is Full of Surprises." Indian influences emerge on "Om Asatoma Sad Gamaya," though amid the Indian vocals inexplicably intrudes "April showers bring May flowers." Lyrics are also a weak link in "Monsters," which is anchored by the insipid pop refrain "All I wanna know / is do you really really love me / All I wanna know / is do you really really care." Fortunately, the musicianship (including Quist's amazing vocal instrument) overshadows this blemish. Rounding out the CD is a cover of Led Zepplin's "Kasmir" – anchoring the reality that G.U. is a rock band at heart, though one that is increasingly open to global wandering.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens

Onzou Records, PO Box 53030, 1222 Douglas Street, Victoria, BC V8W 3Z2, Canada

Originally released in 1995, Dounoukan is a wonderful buffet of West African rhythms from a master drummer. Originally from Mali and now based in Kentucky, Yaya Diallo is an advocate of music-particularly drumming-as a means of healing. This mostly instrumental CD includes traditional songs for occasions ranging from the death of an elder to the end of a harvest. The simple but rich track notes by Diallo help put each song in context. Diallo explains, for example, that in Africa each profession has its own music and dance. Just wait 'til the corporate motivators get ahold of that one! Examples on Dounoukan include Noumou Toun Toun" - a song for blacksmiths, and "Samba/Truckdriver" for, yes, truck drivers. The music is sparse and sometimes subdued but still powerful. In addition to his precise drumming, Diallo also sings and plays balafon and vibraphon. Backing musicians include Sylvain Leroux (also of Fula Flute) on flute and Daniel Bellegarde, Kwabena Owusu, Stuart Paton, and Aviva Vogel on various drums. Great recording quality and Diallo's lifetime of musical experience make this a CD well worth having for fans of African percussion.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens


Modibo Traore has a mission. Visit his website and you'll notice an emphasis on leprosy prevention as much as on his new CD. A dollar from each CD sold returns to Senegal for leprosy and sustainability projects. And the title track "Babu Casamance!" was recorded at a leprosy village in Teubi, Casamance. This CD completes a circle for Traore, who learned traditional songs as a youth by assisting with ceremonies, then pounding out the rhythms on his homemade tin-can drums with plastic heads. Now based in Seattle, Traore returned to Senegal in January 2003 to play and record with the people of Casamance and master bougarabou player Saikouba Badji of Gambia. Close your eyes and you'll find yourself under a shade tree in midday, or around a fire late at night, soaking in the rhythm, the clapping, the group singing. The recordings by Rebecca Zimmer are wonderfully clean and crisp, but the liner notes remind that the musicians are not professionals-special thanks are extended to the musicians who gave up valuable time away from their jobs to participate. Except for translations of song titles, no song details are included. But the titles alone convey a variety of real-life themes: "Father gave me a need to dance," "Man is tired," "She wants peanut sauce," and "Shake it!" An authentic aural slice of rural African life, this music will transport you to a village far away, where people make wonderful music about familiar concerns.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens

T&T Music, 2116 Whiteoaks Drive, Alexandrea, VA 22306

Aside from the cover art, which features a cartoon character who might be the long-lost tambourine-toting brother of Doonesbury's Mr. Butts, this is a very engaging CD. Virginia-based Tom Teasley is an accomplished and serious percussionist, who shares his knowledge of world rhythms in this jazz-world-funk release. It kicks off with "Dirt Road Dancin'," a funky drum-kit beat with vocal percussion and marimba adding color. Then the mysterious Indian-influenced "Tali for One" and the West African-flavored "Dreams of Ghana." In the course of the CD Teasley plays bodhran, marimba, electric tabla, dumbek, riqq, shekere, even glockenspiel. More than just a multitracked drum-circle groove or a series of (egad!) drum solos, this CD has engaging melodies, rich interplay, and plenty of variety and diversity in its sound, all held together by a unity of groove. Indeed, the liner notes make clear that unity is one of Teasley's interests in exploring and sharing world rhythms, including the connection in many cultures between spirituality and drumming. On this CD, this message won't hit you over the head; there aren’t even any lyrics to help convey a message. But Teasley's hands and sticks speak volumes.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens

OMM2031 – Omnium Recordings
Postbox 7367, Minneapolis, MN 55407
www.omnium.com www.horacex.com

I had no idea what was coming when I popped this CD in the player. The florescent/blacklight photo on the cover is fairly abstract, and the band and CD name don't evoke anything in particular. Sure, there's a vague recollection of "sackbutt" being a kind of mourning clothing mentioned in the Bible. But as the music started, it was clear this wasn't mourning music. Quite the opposite. Horace X, composed of classically trained musicians with a wide variety of experiences, is like nothing I've heard before. Or at least nothing I've heard in the same sitting. UK-based Horace X puts dancehall, punk, rock, Balkan, club, and other styles into their own personal blender, producing a highly spicy masala. Though peppered with electronics, the heart of this music is acoustic, including the unusual: clarinet and baritone sax by Pete Newman, fiddles by Hazel Fairbairn, and the unbelievably pumped vocal delivery of Simon Twitchin. Rounding out the band, and no less integral to the sound, are the funky bass of Fabian Bonner and the edgy drumming of Mark Russell. The enhanced CD includes a video of the band, bouncing and spinning in their Day-Glo attire like some Mummenschantz nightmare. But one you want to keep having over and over again. Horace X won't fit easily into any particular genre. But I can’t wait to fit one of their shows into my schedule.

Horace X will play in Victoria BC on July 3, as part of the 2003 ICA Music Festival.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens

MNTCD 1035 - Mantra Recordings / Beggars Group
625 Broadway 12th Floor
New York, NY 10012

Ethnotechno vocal queen Natacha Atlas opens her new CD with the richly orchestrated "Adam's Lullaby." The sweet, soft song with her pure, airy vocals belies what's to come on the rest of the CD. The second track, "Eye of the Duck," tells you what kind of ride you're really in for…it's an energetic ethno-dancehall-R&B number featuring a delightful call-and-response contrast between guest vocalist Tuup's earthy growl and Atlas's ethereal voice. The title track begins with anti-war chanting and segues into a catch hip-hop/pop with a hint of protest. "Janamaan" is a danceable, bass-heavy Bollywood-style duet with Kalia. Other guests on the CD – Atlas's first to include guest vocalists – include Sinead O'Conner on "Simple Heart" and Niara Scarlett on "Who’s My Baby?" Following up the Arabic-flavored cover of "I Put a Spell on You" featured on her last CD, Ayesteni, Atlas here takes on the James Brown-Betty Newcombe classic in her "Man’s World." The styles on the CD are amazingly diverse, without seeming scattered. If there's still a gap between ethnic and pop music, Something Dangerous bridges it confidently.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens

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