This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
KHAIRA ARBY Gossip Clermont Music CLE 011CD
LES AMBASSADEURS Rebirth World Village WVF 479113
Two veteran Malian acts showing that their music making is as exhilarating, feisty and punch-packing as it ever was.
Photo: Judith Burrows
Khaira Arby is an extraordinary powerhouse of a djeli muso, expertly dishing out adrenaline-injected, open-throated vocal lines,since the 1970s. Her first in five years, Gossip
is all sinew and bone, raw groove, tumbling circular guitar (Dramane Touré), rolling bass (Oumar Kounaté) and antsy percussion riffs (Mahalmadane Abbanassane) and, for the middle tracks, the funky horns of the Debo Band, a galvanising foundation for Arby’s gut-felt overdubbed lead and harmony vocals.
Forced out of her Timbuktu home by the destabilised political situation and Wahabi hostility, Arby now lives in Bamako and this CD was recorded in New York. She responds defiantly in song calling for tolerance and peace in Djamba and La Liberté, as well featuring praise songs to patrons and traditional gems (such as the wiggy guitar-driven Alouha Homolo and the hypnotic wedding song Al Jama’a Bisimillah which kicks off the CD). Hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 55 album.
• www.facebook.com/KhairaArby | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Photo: Judith Burrows
Losing nothing of their original potency, Les Ambassadeurs recorded this four-track EP in the wake of last summer’s reunion tour, raising money for Salif Keita’s foundation to help albinos in Mali. (Salif himself has famously risen above the indigenous fear and hatred felt towards albinos through his music making.)
Returning to some old classics, Salif delivers Mali Denou and the plaintive Seydo with such passion and conviction that it’s hard not to stop in your tracks. He is such an awesome singer, and not in the teenage sense of the word. Complete with the beloved fulsome wall of brass, the band sound is heady and nostalgic but also a great showcase of masters at work: the well-oiled machine, the lightness of touch, the sparkling riffs. The frothy funk of Idrissa Soumaoro’s Tiecolomba Hé feels somewhat disposable in their company.
• worldvillagemusic.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
RICHARD THOMPSON Still Proper PRPCD131
Photo: Pamela Littky
Another day, another Richard Thompson album and… well, it’s a cracker, actually. How does he do it? Where others of far fewer years and achievements appear merely to be going through the motions, recycling old ideas and relying on formula rather than inspiration, Thompson’s intensity, hunger and imagination seems to regenerate with painless ease. Even when he recorded a simple acoustic solo album of his greatest hits last year it still came out sounding fresh as a daisy.
This is Thompson in classic pose. Electric guitar firing on all cylinders. Vocals yearning and strong. Songs a little bit barbed, a little bit overwrought. Melodies that envelop you at will. A small band giving everything to the cause. Choruses that engage and uplift. At least half a dozen tracks sound like instant classics.
The closing track is especially glorious. It’s called Guitar Heroes and, from a standard rock’n’roll base, builds what is basically an elongated platform to allow him to pay homage/impersonate his seminal guitar influences – Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton, Hank B Marvin et al. Genius.
Indeed, this is very much an album for lovers of the guitar hero side of the vast Thompson canon – and when he cuts loose, as he does on the more aggressive tracks like Long John Silver, No Peace No End, Patty Don’t You Put Me Down and All Buttoned Up, the surge is electrifying and irresistible. Yet the constituent elements of his craft do still meet in the middle and balance one another up with sensitivity.
The album was recorded in Chicago with producer Jeff Tweedy of Wilco – he who collaborated with Billy Bragg on his Woody Guthrie Mermaid Avenue sessions – and he’s done a laudable job igniting the very essence of Thompson’s brilliance: that glorious rawness of touch which roughs up his finely-honed skills as a songwriter and musician, while the band (including Taras Prodaniuk on bass, Michael Jerome on drums and Tweedy himself adding guitar and vocals) presents an impressively committed barrage behind the great man.
• www.richardthompson-music.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
JERRON PAXTON Recorded Music For Your Entertainment Blind Boy Records 880074259524/JP 2015
Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton
Something’s been stirring in the US folk scene since the first Black Banjo Gathering was held at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina in 2005. During these ten years, the profile of a small coterie of African-American folk performers has risen enormously, with the Carolina Chocolate Drops winning a Grammy Award, Dom Flemons establishing his credentials as ‘The American Songster’, and Rhiannon Giddens’ star ascendant both as a solo artist and a basement-taping Mumford daughter. Otis Taylor captured and named the essence of this revival with his 2008 album Recapturing The Banjo
26-year-old Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton, it appears, is out to recapture everything. A virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, Recorded Music For Your Entertainment is a true solo performance, variously featuring Paxton’s voice, banjo, fiddle, resonator guitar and harmonicas.
The track listing reveals a true artist, unafraid to dig as deep as it takes to find where the roots lie – tackling material like (1850s minstrel song) Massa Am A Stingy Man, Stephen Foster’s The Glendy Burk (published in James Buckley’s New Banjo Book in 1860) and Irving Jones’ 1904 song I’ve Lost My Appetite For Chicken.
Appalachian balladry is represented by a fiddle-accompanied Pretty Saro (Roud 417); blues by Motherless Child Blues (which doesn’t appear to be based on either the Barbecue Bob or Elvie Thomas songs of the same name, but is a beautful blend of the guitar techniques of Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson) and the Blind Lemon-esque Trying To Make One Hundred; and old-time dance music by Soldier’s Joy and Devil’s Dream. Lutin Reel and Poor Beeny (Benny) – a version of the temperance song Come Home Father (Roud 839) – are unexpected delights.
Arriving through my door over the weekend of Kanye West’s grandiloquent Bohemian Rhapsody karaoke in a field in Somerset, Paxton’s joyful, evocative record feels like something more than a re-enactment of the past – exploring and affirming something timelessly essential in the common culture. Whether that’s the artist’s intention or mere projection is up for debate, but either way Recorded Music For Your Entertainment is a very fine record by a huge talent.
CUNCORDU E TENORE DE OROSEI Novarra Buda 4737042
"Cuncordu E Tenore De Orosei
Sardinia has a wide range of fascinating traditional harmony singing styles unique to the island. The name of this group shows that they are involved with two of these.
‘Su cuncòrdu’ is usually songs with religious themes, though they can be used to express rebellious thoughts. ‘Su tenòre’ brings us to a spine-chilling and compelling form of singing. These secular songs often derive their texts from distinguished local poets. A solo voice, the oche, leads off with a line and then he is joined by others singing nonsense syllables in tight harmony. They use a sort of guttural overtone singing that is said to derive from the bleating of sheep, the lowing of cows and from the wind. Once you get beyond the initial weirdness, this becomes utterly compelling and gripping.
The Tenore De Orosei differ from the other leading exponents of this wonderful singing in that their settlement is on the east coast whilst the others are all based in the small towns and villages in the highland centre of the island. There are also five of them rather than the traditional quartet. All these groups have something strident in the quality of their singing and this is perhaps most marked here, yet the certainty of the voices, the sure harmonies, the precise timing all show a commitment to stylistic correctness that is admirable.
Three adjacent tracks show something of the breadth of the music; Ballu A Passu Turturinu is for dancing with the glottal stops of the harmony singers providing a lifting percussive sound. This is followed by a Kyrie and a Sanctus. It does not say so in the booklet, but appropriately enough it sounds as though these glorious voices have been recorded in a church with lovely resonant acoustics.
• www.budamusique.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…
The Dovetail Trio Wing Of Evening (RootBeat Records RBRCD27)
Wiltshire singer Rosie Hood, guitarist Jamie Roberts and concertinist Matt Quinn, dovetailing (!) their respective talents to make fresh waves in presenting traditional English song; bold and confident, if arguably not entirely radical. www.dovetailtrio.com
Various Artists Cruinneachadh Chaluim: Field Recordings Of Gaelic Music And Song From The Highlands And Islands By Calum Maclean (Greentrax, CDTRAX9026D)
Between 1945 and 1960, MacLean collected a priceless audio archive of Scottish Gaelic songs and music. Here are the voices of ordinary people of various social backgrounds, performing traditional Gaelic material spanning from the late middle-ages to the 20th Century. www.greentrax.com
Ismaël Lȏ Best Of (Capitol 4720910)
Some implausible berk once dubbed Ismaël Lȏ the ‘African Dylan’, all because he played an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ. But not with Dylan’s danger and tension, qualities entirely missing here. Strictly regimented arrangements, ponderous melodies, no flash and crackle at all.
Kirsty Bromley Time Ashore (Kizzy Records KIZCD02)
Engaging, disarmingly assured (and nicely-packaged) debut from bright-voiced Sheffield-based singer who clearly knows all the right people and makes the right connections (a hand-picked host of musician accompanists) to help communicate her keen personal choice of contemporary and tradition-based songs. www.kirstybromley.com
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down