This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
KATERINA TSIRIDOU Aman Katerina: A Tribute To Panayiotis Toundas Protasis PR1173-2
Composer Panayiotis Toundas, 1886–1942, grew up and began his musical career in Smyrna until that multi-cultural paradise was destroyed in the 1922 tragedy. Like many Greek refugees from Asia Minor, he relocated to Piraeus, one of the two cradles of early 20th Century rembetika, and soon became local director for international record labels of the day like Odeon, Columbia and HMV. His songs were recorded by major rembetika artists like Stelios Perpiniadis, Roza Eskenazi and Rita Abatzi.
This Toundas tribute record of Katerina Tsiridou’s – perhaps best known out here for her work with the group Kompania (previously reviewed in fRoots) and her appearance in the Rosa Eskenazi film My Sweet Canary – is an absolute gem of real, proper-job ensemble rembetika. Top flight musicians, schooled as tight at it gets, provide those swelling waves of bouzouki, baglama, mandolin, guitar, violin, accordeon, kanoun and percussion, and on four of the seventeen tracks she’s joined by guest singers, notably the marvellous young Areti Ketime. The playing is uniformly exciting, superbly directed by Nikos Protopapas, to a standard which would rival any top jazz players, while as lively and uninhibited as you’ll hear in any living tradition.
But the best instrument of all is Katerina’s voice: expressive, heartfelt, flexible, smoothly negotiating all the dynamic decoration inherent in the West-meets-East historic roots of classic rembetika.
Of course, cut off as I am from the tumble of everyday Greek music developments and inevitably hampered by using the wrong language and alphabet, I can hardly make any sort of stab at an authoritative pronouncement (how I miss being able to wander into Green Lanes’ much-lamented Trehantiri shop to consult the late Aki Pattalis, my Greek music oracle), but if this isn’t one of the best new old-school rembetika records you’ll encounter this decade I’d be very surprised.
• www.tsiridoukaterina.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
LEYLA McCALLA A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey Jazz Village JV5700116
Photo: Sarah Danziger
This album, released on the Jazz Village label, arrives with a press release bearing the instruction: “File under Classical.” When loaded onto my iTunes library, it became “genre: Country & Folk”. Leyla McCalla plays cello, tenor banjo and guitar, and sings in English, French and Haitian Creole. This is clearly not an artist who can be easily pigeonholed!
Raised in New Jersey to Haitian parents, McCalla lived in Ghana for two years and studied as a musician in New York before settling in New Orleans, where she currently resides. The twelve tracks are a roughly equal mix of traditional, self-penned and other writers' material.
McCalla has a real talent for sparse yet effective arrangement, as evinced by the insistent, percussive cello riff that underpins the title track, the fiddle, cello and ti fer (triangle) on the Creole waltz Les Plats Sont Tous Mis Sur La Table, and her solo guitar with atmospheric backing vocals from Sabine McCalla on a powerful performance of Abner Jay’s Vietnam.
She’s no slouch as a vocalist either, wringing real emotion from a beautifully-sung arrangement of Ella Jenkins’ Little Sparrow, while a duet with her erstwhile Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmate Rhiannon Giddens on Manman – a song by Haitian musician, activist and former politician Manno Charlemagne – may well be one of the most memorable things you’ll hear all year.
A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey is a musical exploration of McCalla’s cultural identities which delivers on all the promise shown by her 2014 solo debut Vari-Colored Songs. Like its predecessor, it connects to the past and honours her forebears, but also confidently asserts her singular personality as an impressive and important artist for our times.
• www.leylamccalla.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
VARIOUS ARTISTS Why The Mountains Are Black Third Man Records TMR334
R Crumb, who provides the cover illustration to this double CD package, likes to call this stuff “Goat Herder Music”, a label wryly borrowed from scornful fellow 78rpm crate diggers. This is niche, even within that world of dusty shellac. Herein we find 28 sides of rural Greek traditional music, recorded largely in 1930s Athens, and remastered as well as these things can be. This, in all likelihood, is all the information you require to decide whether you will give it a listen.
Polymath collector/producer Christopher King is deeply invested in the material he has arranged here, as his extensive liner essay/manifesto makes clear, but he is not out to make converts. Indeed, the lead track on the collection, a dance tune performed on gaidas (bagpipes) and drum, feels like it was placed there to ward off casual listeners. It is glorious, riotous, unrestrained and beautiful. It also sounds like a free noise exercise performed on duelling stylophones.
Make it past this bracing start and the road gets a little less rough at times, but only a little. The material varies widely: full-throated performative songs butting up against humble shepherd’s flute ripples, reflecting the range of social functions this music served in a world before recorded sound had left its mark. Even the most restrained and reflective moments in this collection, haunting fiddle taximia and hypnotic clarinet laments, are alien, hard to pin down. And then along comes another berserk bagpipe number, in case your attention had wandered.
The whole listening experience fizzles with the refreshingly punk rock sense of a compilation daring you to enjoy it.
• www.thirdmanrecords.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
9BACH Anian RealWorld CDRW214
Photo: Judith Burrows
Masters of light and shade, 9Bach’s follow up to their BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning Tincian
is bellyful of bittersweet juxtapositions. Anian
wears its heart on its sleeve: a brooding, tormented series of songs with uneasy and dystopian themes. Yet there is a balance, offering up a hopeful patch of blue in an overcast, slate-grey sky. It suggests a sense of connection, community and revolution – change within our grasp. The (mostly) live recording captures the symbiosis in the 9Bach musical family, intensifying the ever-raw emotive delivery.
Anian means ‘nature, the natural order, natural morality, the natural world, creation. What you are made of, your soul and bones, and how you connect with other people’. Here, singer Lisa Jên’s songwriting explores troubling contemporary themes: she rages and lashes out at injustice and cruelty. On Yr Olaf, rumbling, rolling bass and drum, dub-delayed dulcimer and guitar underpin a three-part vocal harmony about a poacher and the last white rhino in Sudan. Ifan is inspired by the heart-rending tale of a Russian boy raised by, and then separated from, wild dogs; the desolate piano and vocal melody leaving no doubt about the tale’s poignancy.
But despite the disgorged pain, the defining feature of Anian is its artful beauty. The yin is the gossamer-layered harmony vocals of Lisa Jên, Mirain and Esyllt; the cascading other-worldly, kora-like harp; the 9Bachian piano motifs (check out the archetype in the apocalyptic apology, Deryn); the beguiling and lucid melodic lines. The yang is Martin’s trademark dirty guitar riffs and effects; Dan’s pulsing dub bass lines and Ali’s intuitive drumming.
Some songs are rooted in North Wales – Llyn Du a homage to dark mysterious, watery depths with its tumbling waterfall voice and harp – but horizons stretch in every direction. Cyfaddefa has a meandering Eastern Mediterranean-infused vocal hook, bluesy bouzouki-esque guitar, clattering hammered dulcimer, driving clap sticks and crashing drum refrains. Si Hwi Hwi, an anti-slavery song learned from the late lamented Merêddydd Evans, is sung with an instinctive inhale and exhale, redolent of the Australian outback. “Celebrate the richness and variety of culture,” as Evans puts it. (The second CD finishes with a fantastic Goldfrappian club remix tribute to Merêd in Crêd, featuring samples of the great man’s speech about language and identity, with a maybe more than a wink tipped to Josh!)
Owning trad arr with style, there is also a melancholic Ambell Hiraeth and even a deconstructed cerdd dant in their setting of Gerallt Lloyd Owen’s poem, Heno, “a lament for the dying of the Welsh nation”. But even more ambitious, is second CD companion piece Yn Dy Lais (In Your Voice) in which writers, actors, poets and singers – including Peter Gabriel, Maxine Peake and Rhys Ifans – offer up original spoken-word pieces to convey the essence of the songs to non-Welsh-speaking listeners. The diverse and captivating word of mouth interpretations paint vivid pictures.
Now that’s tradition in the making!
• www.realworld.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
AND THE REST… The albums - good, adequate and plain bad - which didn't get the full-length treatment, contributed individually by a selection of our various reviewers cowering under the cloak of collective anonymity. For example…
Various Artists Folk Awards 2016 (Proper PROPERFOLK17)
Annual signature double-CD presenting selected tracks from BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards nominees – mixing usual suspects and newer names in a more stimulating collection than previous years. Four bonus tracks present artists nominated for the Young Folk Award. www.propermusic.com
Various Artists The Quietened Village (A Year In The Country ATA #2)
Electronica, found sounds, twangy things and ambience-a-go-go as folks like Rowan Amber Mill, Sproatly Smith, Straw Bear Band, bits of United Bible Studies and lots of other people with improbable names pay largely instrumental tribute to vanished hamlets and Midwich cuckoldry. Limited edition, so move fast. ayearinthecountry.bandcamp.com
Buika Vivir Sin Miedo (Warner Music Spain 825646–070459)
Sad to hear a rare talent subjected to London-Miami Beach sound machine processing. This insipid, narcissistic title (original material sung in English and Spanish) marks Buika’s unqualified makeover as a wholly unremarkable international pop singer. Eject. warnermusic.es
The Furrow Collective Wild Hog In The Woods (Furrow Records FURR0011)
New single from the Anglo-Scots fantastic four, joined by Alex Neilson and Stevie Jones for a gleeful, old-time, freak-folk stomper of an A-side, with a beguilingly atmospheric slice of English trad on the flip. Flipping marvellous. www.thefurrowcollective.co.uk
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down