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Spin the Globe reviews, July 2004

LILA DOWNS: UNA SANGRE - ONE BLOOD
Narada

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There's no escaping the allure of Lila Downs. If you weren't seduced by her role in Frida or her last two CDs Tree of Live (Arbol de la Vida / Yutu Tata) and Border (La Linea), this newest CD will do you in for sure. The smoky-voiced Mexican-American chanteuse gently incorporates electronica and hiphop touches - and really, only just deft touches - into this CD of tradition-rooted music. The CD
starts out with "Viborita (Little Snake)," its driving Afro-Latin groove, call-and-response vocals, and harp accents sounding not unlike Habib Koite's Malian pop. Then the slow reggae-tinged "Dignificada (Dignified)" gives Downs ample room to show off her vocal versatility through multitracking and even a rap.

Downs' new sound may be a result (or maybe the cause?) of the new musicians on this CD. Only husband/saxophonist Paul Cohen and Mexican string-multi-instrumentalist Celso Duarte remain from her last two albums. New players include Cuban bassist Yunior Terry Cabrera, Chilean drummer/percussionist Yayo, Brazilian guitarist Guilherme Monteiro, and guest musicians from Mexico, the US, and Japan(!).

The CD includes originals and traditional songs, including the very-well-known "La Bamba" and "La Cucaracha." The former she sings in her thin, traditional voice with cascading harp lines and a driving beat, a compelling version of a song that's been traced back at least to 1775. The soaring vocals and distorted guitar at the start of "La Cucaracha" sound like something from Cirque du Soleil, then the song settles into something more traditional. Well, not quite traditional, not with the rapping and the updated lyrics, some of which translate as:

The United Nations came together / From each and every place / No one agreed / About who and where to bomb.
The presidents sit at the top / From the high place they govern / Then they send to war / The workin' people of their land.

With a few songs in English ("One Blood," the bluesy "Mother Jones," "Brown Paper People") and translated lyrics and song notes, there's no reason not to appreciate the songwriting as well as the arragements and Downs' remarkably elastic voice. It's a pleasure to watch this talented musician develop her artistic vision, incorporating influences from her father's USA as well as her mother's Mexico. The more I listen, the more I like. Very highly recommended.

Not unlike: Grupo Fiesta

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

ENZO AVITABILE & BOTTARI: SAVE THE WORLD
Wrasse

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It's 1955. In the southern Italian port city of Naples, a boy is born. After taking up the saxophone at age seven, he becomes an accomplished musician, earning a degree in flute, recording more than 10 albums, and playing with Italian and international (James Brown, Tina Turner, Mory Kante) stars. Enzo Avitabile may not yet be well-known to world music fans, but Save the World (Salvamm'o Munno) may change that. Should change that.

Keeping the rhythm on this dynamic release are the Bottari, a group of musicians with a colorful past and highly unusual instruments. The rhythmic tradition started, the story goes, in the 14th century, with farmers who made noise with tubs and sickles to drive evil spirits from their cellars. They also "played" at harvest festivals and the festival of St. Antonio Abate (January 17). The Bottari on this CD scrape metal sickles and bang wooden tubs and kegs. It's not a gimmick - the rhythms blend seamlessly with the arrangements, and give them a solid, rooted foundation.

Atop this foundation, Avitabile draws on his musical experience and connections to build tunes reflecting a global outlook. Full artist credits and translated lyrics make the CD insert a valuable companion to the music. The CD opens with the driven "Dance With Me," featuring Khaled's voice, Simon Shaheen's violin, and Baba Sissoko's kamelengoni. Hugh Masekela contributes fluid flugelhorn on "This Is Africa" and Manu Dibango sings and doubles his sax with Enzo's on the title track "Let's Save the World." Among the softer tracks is "Sing Palestina," on which Enzo and Tunesian-born Amina implore the listener to "sing the hope / because who lives of hope / does not die hopeless."

And hope must live in Enzo's heart; he's assembled a magical lineup of musicians for this CD, and is donating part of the proceeds to Amnesty International for the cause of children used as soldiers. But that's just icing on an already delicious cake. Very highly recommended.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

VARIOUS ARTISTS: PUTUMAYO PRESENTS GREECE - A MUSICAL ODYSSEY
Putumayo

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A hub of the modern as well as the ancient world, Greece is again in the spotlight with this summer's Olympic games. And just in time, here's a collection of contemporary (1993-present) Greek music, complete with instructions for making Tzatziki! The music is tradition-rooted, nothing too experimental here (which perhaps explains the omission of Kristi Stassinopoulou and Savina Yannatou). Also missing without leave is star Notis Sfakianakis.

Except for the group Glykeria, there's not a lot of overlap between this CD and the artists featured on 2001's Rough Guide to the Music of Greece (which did include tracks from Stassinopoulou and Yannatou). Nimble bouzouki and breathy female vocals grace the opening track, Apenanti's "To Parelthon Thimithika." George Dalaras (according to the liner notes, "The Greek equivalent of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie rolled into one") contributes the sparse, moody, Lo'Jo-esque "Sou Axize Mia Kaliteri Agalia (You Deserved a Better Love)." Seattle's own Children of the Revolution made the cut with "Ragizi Apopse," from their newest CD Liberation.

Rhythms really step out from the shadow of the strings on just two tracks, Theodosia Stiga's "Ela Mia Nichta (Come By One Night)" and Kostas Makedonas' "Exinta Dis Dolaria (Sixty Billion Dollars)." Not to suggest that this CD lacks rhythm, it's just mostly provided by strings and the occasional accordion with subdued drums and percussion. If that sounds like your bag, then turn off the insipid TV sports announcers and watch the Olympics with this CD as your soundtrack.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

MIRIAM MAKEBA: REFLECTIONS
Heads Up International

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The sweet, strong voice of Miriam "Mama Africa" Makeba has been around the world and back. This 13-track collection of songs documents some of those travels. Her early breakthrough hits "Pata Pata" and "Click Song" are represented with richly orchestrated new versions. Her fondness for singing in many languages is apparent on the French "Comme Une Symphonie D'Amour" and the Portuguese "Mas Que Nada" and "Xica Da Silva." "Love Tastes Like Strawberries" gives a chance to show off her vocal range and power in English. She even covers a Van Morrison song: "I Shall Sing." A solid if somewhat conservative collection from a cultural icon.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

TE VAKA: TUTUKI
Spirit of Play

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This fourth CD from New-Zealand-based Te Vaka bubbles with positive cultural and social messages wrapped in upbeat music. It opens with a plea against Japanese corporate overfishing in "Samulai." Then the English-Maori heart of the CD, "Taule Mataki (Terrifying Disease)," a vocal song that grew out of the band's 2002 performance at an HIV/AIDs conference in Fiji. Also included are the expected high-energy log-drum pieces ("Lakilua," "Magalogalo" and others), love songs ("Tamahana" and "Iuliana"), even a tribute to Samoan warriors ("Manu Samoa"). There's not a weak link on this highly-recommended high-energy album.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

TAARKA: EVEN ODD BIRD

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Taarka is your basic Oregon-based Middle-Eastern/Indian instrumental jam band. No singin' (just a wee bit of scatting), so their playing better measure up. And it does, from the hard-edged violin on "Good Ribbonce" to the tight slow groove of "Dance for Impeachment." The dumbek-based rhythmic changes on "Semaii Aztlan" and "Augra's Machine" evoke a North African desert feel, while "Kudzu" swings and "Fat Chance" dives deep into funk. Some elusive element keeps this from being a great CD, but it's very solid and enjoyable, particularly if you're weary of words and guitars. Taarka tours the West Coast frequently, so keep an eye out for live shows.

Taarka is David Tiller (mandolins), Enion Pelta (violins), Jason Flores (bass), and Jarrod Kaplan (drums & percussion).

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

BARRY CLEVELAND: VOLCANO
ElevenEleven

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This CD is something of a departure from guitarist Barry Cleveland's prog-rock/jazz/experimental work. And for fans of world fusion, that's a very good thing. Highlights include "Secret Prescriptions of the Bedroom" with Lygia Ferra's wordless vocals floating above atmospheric guitars and a percussive groove of clave, bata and box drums. Also the Latin-rock "Rhumbatism" and the clashing, resolving, swirling vocals of "Dervish Circles." It's not worldbeat, but Volcano's diverse compositions may appeal to adventurous world music and new-age instrumental fans.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

COTTONBELLY: X AMOUNTS OF NICENESS
Wrong Records

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Grammy-winning producer/musician/songwriter Stuart Mathewman dives into the dub pool on his solo debut. If you can call a remix collection a solo debut. The mixes are solid and groovy, from artists including regge legend Gregory Isaacs, smooth diva Sade, Cirque du Soleil, Noiseshaper, and others. Little in the way of world roots survives the mixing board, but dub/dj/electronica fans will dig it.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

MASS HYSTERIA: MISTRESS AND MEN
Primary Voltage Records

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With tone and phrasings sounding like an early Gwen Stefani, Rachel Eliot's voice swoops over the fat horns of this Boston-based band. Billed as "reggae for the intelligentsia," the sound is more ska-rock. Not unpleasant, but don't expect Marley covers here. The band's first full-length release, Mistress & Men is a fun listen from a promising band, but I'm left waiting for that hook I can't get out of my head. CD includes two "bonus" dub tracks.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

Other recent arrivals of note:

GILBERTO GIL: THE EARLY YEARS
Wrasse

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In Gilberto Gill's 37 year career, he has recorded over 30 albums. This 22 track album from his first single “Procissao” to his first hit “Louvacao” from his most famous song “Aquele Abraco” to his famous rendition of Steve Winwood’s “Find My Way Home”, recorded while in Exile in London, covers the key creative early years of Gilberto Gil from 1967 to 1976. (From Wrasse website)

SOUAD MASSI: DEB (HEART BROKEN)
Wrasse

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Algerian Souad Massi has had the time to let her second album mature, meet other artists and tour extensively. Musically, she has blossomed, allowing her to pursue her dreams with even more intensity and verve. From the very opening chords of this new album, there is a world devoid of arbitrary borders. burbling tablas from Pakistan, gypsy intonations, the sobbing of cellos, ethereal lutes, cosmopolitan folk-rock, Andalusian flamenco… throughout this vibrant, generous album, her nuance-laden voice soars and swoops with a fabulous confidence and subtlety. (From Wrasse website)

 



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