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A sampling of reviews from the current issue

ORCHESTRA BAOBAB Tribute To NDiouga Dieng World Circuit WCD092
Orchestra Baobab
Photo: Judith Burrows
Orchestra Baobab
Nearly 50 years since their creation, Senegal’s iconic dance band are still able to pull the ultimate sultry set of classic Afro-Cuban swing out of the bag – both live and in the studio. With its dedication to Ndiouga Dieng, one of the band’s original vocalists who sadly died last November, these “specialists in all styles” prove they have lost none of their sensuous dancefloor mastery.

Comprising a core of veterans – the commanding and charismatic voices of Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis, showman sax player Issa Sissokho and Thierno Koite, Balla Sidibe on timbales, Charlie Ndiaye on bass and Mountaga Koite on congas – their reign is looking pretty secure. New kids on the block offer some innovations within the lilting son/rumba/mbalax soundscape, with the sparkling kora playing of Abdouleye Cissokho, the crisp guitar chops of René Sowatche, and his fellow Beninois Wilfried Zinzou adding warm trombone to the wall of smoky horns.

Everything about this latest release is uplifting, joyous and vibrant, from the velvety harmonies to the tightly rolling rhythm section. Traditional standard Mariama, stripped down to basics of kora and voice, expansive and emotive, sits at one end of the spectrum, whilst Foulo sees them at their sultry hip-swaying best.

International treasures, that’s Orchestra Baobab for you. | Buy from

Sarah Coxson

RHIANNON GIDDENS Freedom Highway Nonesuch
Rhiannon Giddens
Photo: John Peets
Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens’ debut solo album successfully propelled the Carolina Chocolate Drops founder-member into mainstream consciousness, but there was, one suspected, even more to come. It’s title – Tomorrow Is My Turn – even suggested as much. “Based on slave narratives from the 1800s, African-American experiences of the last century and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and headlines from streets of Ferguson and Baltimore today,” the twelve songs on its successor, Freedom Highway (nine of which are Giddens originals) constitute a coherent and brilliantly-realised statement. 

Giddens’ “minstrel banjo” (entirely absent from Tomorrow…) is well to the fore on the opening statement-of-defiance At The Purchaser’s Option, and throughout. Arrangements range from Dirk Powell’s solo acoustic guitar accompaniment of Mississippi John Hurt’s The Angels Laid Him Away (aka Louis Collins), to full band-with-horns and rapping (credited as “spoken word”) on Better Get It Right The First Time. Several songs feature Giddens’ regular stage sidekick Hubby Jenkins on mandolin and banjo, and Leyla McCalla contributes typically sublime vocals and cello to Baby Boy. Powell’s piano and Eric Adcock’s Hammond organ anchor a particularly effective setting of Birmingham Sunday – a recounting of a 1963 terrorist attack by members of the Ku Klux Klan, set to the traditional tune of I Once Loved A Lass by Richard Fariña.

Already recognised as a performer possessed of a voice that elevates everything she sings, Giddens’ emergence as an astute and memorable songwriter enhances her reputation still further. By turns heartbreaking, inspiring and uplifting, Freedom Highway is both a political and profoundly personal record that everybody needs to hear. | Buy from

Steve Hunt

LES AMAZONES D’AFRIQUES Republique Amazone Real World CDRW217
Les Amazones D’Afriques
Les Amazones D’Afriques
Gender equality is on all our minds in this new era of institutionalised misogyny, right? And, as we’ve seen with the women’s marches earlier in the year, there’s nothing more empowering, and profile-raising than finding connections, building bridges and communities with a common cause… and then making a loud noise about it.

One such community – impossible to ignore – is the supergroup of Malian musicians, Les Amazones D’Afriques. And I mean supergroup! Kandia Kouyaté, Angélique Kidjo, Mamani Keita, Mariam Doumbia, Marian Koné, Nneka and Rokia Koné for starters. The collective brings together a powerhouse of elder stateswomen and young firebrands, musical innovators, campaigners, activists and UNICEF ambassadors in their campaign for gender equality and to raise funds for the Panzi Foundation, who support and treat women with gynaecological injuries in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the majority of which are the result of sexual violence.

Musical diversity is the key here – from the gritty plucked string and né-drenched Anisokoma from ‘La Dangereuse’ (Kouyaté), to the dirty grunged-up anthem Dombolo from Kidjo or Nneka’s soulful R&B. That said, there is an attitude and power to each of these performances and the gritty, industrial production, courtesy of Liam Farrell, reflects the grit and strength of those. Long may their voices effect positive change. | Buy from

Sarah Coxson

TWELFTH DAY Cracks In The Room Orange Feather OFR005
Twelfth Day
Photo: Elliott Hatherley
Twelfth Day
Arriving hot on the heels of the Rachel Newton-hosted panel debate ‘Exploring Music and Gender’ at this year’s Celtic Connections (and the ensuing brouhaha in some Scots trad social media circles), Orcadian fiddler Catriona Price and Peebles harpist Esther Swift gleefully confound both gender and genre expectations on their wonderfully resolute third album. 

A marked progression from their previous releases, their self-description as “a two person quartet,” is well justified here. Always impressive instrumentally, there’s a real confidence and and authority to their singing on songs like the thrillingly unnerving Great Green, and the fairytale-princess-fantasy-skewering Gold And Swilling – “I’m supposed to let my hair down, wait for you to clamber up it / I’m supposed to act all helpless while you save me / But look who’s doing the lifting.”

By turns playful, provocative and powerful, the songs here reveal influences as dispar­ate as post-punk and Kurt Weill alongside their familiar classical and traditional roots (showcased to blissful effect n the instrumentals False Electric and Another Phase In History).

Supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland, and produced by Chris Wood, Cracks In The Room is a boldly brilliant record, suffused with dark humour and wildly inventive musicianship. | Buy from

Steve Hunt

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…

Fendika: Birabiro (Terp 718752234528)
If you think you know what Ethiopian music sounds like, this will give you an entirely fresh perspective. It is folk music, with modern compositions and purist instrumentation; call and response vocals, claps, the single-stringed Masenko violin and the Kebero hand drum.

Guy Clark: The Best Of The Dualtone Years (Dualtone 803020178229)
The music is marvellous but a two-CD compilation from such a short part of his career is pushing it. Why not buy the complete works? It is only four CDs.

Alan Bell: The Cocklers (Greentrax CDTRAX394)
Fresh collection of “songs from a time and place” from north-west’s veteran songwriter, revisiting old successes and adding some recent compositions. Affectionate, nostalgic and displaying old-fashioned craft, though band arrangements possibly dated, arguably bland, for today’s tastes.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: Young Brigham/Bull Durham Sacks And Railroad Tracks (Morello WMRLL 69)
Two albums from 1968 and 1970 reissued on one CD. Time has not been kind to this music that would have been better left alone. Contemporary songs of the day are destroyed. Tim Hardin may turn in his grave.

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