This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
YO-YO MA & THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE Sing Me Home Sony Masterworks 88875181012
Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble
It was seeing the video of the recording of the track in which Rhiannon Giddens sings St James Infirmary Blues
that did it for me. An assemblage of top musicians gathered from across the world, giving their all with evident intensity, commitment and delight.
Now comes the album. Its panoply of styles and material, with a core group of more than 20 musicians joined by even more guests taking the lead in individual tracks might be perceived at first glance as a big, arty, overkill project, but that image of very fine musicians genuinely and luminously collaborating stays with me; it’s brilliantly arranged and performed and it has the surprise and variety that engages me.
It opens with Wu Tong’s solo bawu leading into a wild piece written by the pipa virtuoso and Ensemble member Wu Man, featuring the voices, from guttural throat-singing to high-pitch extremes, of a quartet from vocal ensemble Roomful Of Teeth. Straight into guest Martin Hayes leading on fiddle in the Irish traditional O’Neill’s Cavalry March. Sarah Jarosz sings the American trad Little Birdie, with scampering, twittering fiddle, and Yo-Yo Ma’s deep rich cello which appears splendidly in, but never hogs, most of the tracks.
Toumani Diabaté’s kora, Kayhan Kalhor’s kamancheh, Kojiro Umezaki’s shakuhachi and Balla Kouyaté’s balafon lead in the Malian traditional Ichichila. Macedonian folk song Sadila Jana is led by US Balkan vocal trio Black Sea Hotel, then a traditional Japanese song, a sweeping, exciting thing of shakuhachi, sheng, taiko drums, tabla and weaving strings, into the calm of the Indian Madhoushi with Shujaat Kahn’s sitar and vocal, Sandeep Das’s tabla.
Wedding by Syrian clarinettist Kinan Azmeh aims to evoke the spirit of a Syrian wedding party, with Dima Orsho’s wordless vocalese. Abigail Washburn plays cello banjo and sings (in Chinese and English) in duet with Wu Tong, the song Going Home, which takes its melody from the well-known largo from Dvořák’s New World symphony.
There’s a glorious treatment of the Galician song Cabaliño, sung, first soaringly slow then pandeireta-skittering uptempo, by Davide Salvado, joined by fellow members of Galicia’s Rústica – Anxo Pintos on hurdy-gurdy, Roberto Comesaña’s accordeon and gaiteira Cristina Pato. The aforementioned St James Infirmary Blues has not only Giddens’ passionate vocal but a wild klezmer clarinet solo from Kinan Azmeh. If You Shall Return brings together shakuhachi, sheng, tabla, soft bass and Bill Frisell’s chiming electric guitar.
The closer, Gregory Porter and Lisa Fischer duetting in the Carmichael/Loesser Heart And Soul, seems at first – though well done and fun – incongruous, but producer Johnny Gandelsman explains why it’s there and after a while it makes some kind of conceptual sense.
As the stick-on label advertises (shame on Sony for going for the profit-maximising cheapo jewel-case rather than the desirable packaging the music more than justifies), linked with the CD is the ‘making-of’ documentary The Music Of Strangers.
• www.silkroadproject.org | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
JULIAN GASKELL & HIS RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS Carvery Of Blight Carvery Of Sound CRV001
Julian Gaskell & His Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
Falmouth’s finest, Mr Gaskell and chums’ 2010 album Here The Brute Harpies Make Their Nests
was a solid gold delight, and here’s another splendid mess from them. The opening banger did make me momentarily wonder if they’d discarded the more left-field elements that recommended them to fRoots-land, but from there on the slightly unhinged mix of post-punk noise, rootsy accordeon, shouty bar-room folk, gloriously staggering grump-rock (check the vitriolic Somebody On A Laptop
), twisted marching band brass, scrapey fiddle, battered percussion and firmly twanked banjo is still there in force. When I reviewed that previous gem I gratuitously dropped names like Jaune Toujours, Blyth Power and The Dancing Did into the clutching-at-straws description and now I’m wondering why I didn’t obliquely reference Half Man Half Biscuit among the other submerged beasties turned up by this rustic ploughshare of a band as well. Though in truth they just sound like themselves.
Dolomite Spirit might get you briefly questioning whether they’ve had an unhealthy spell digesting Bruce Springsteen anthems, but they promptly follow it with the dirtiest, grungiest, Balkanised and most wonderful version of that knackered standard Poor Old Horse (simply Dead Horse here) that you’re likely to hear. Later, they offer a full-frontal, hyperventilating assault – equal parts Captain Beefheart and Jon Boden – on the traditional ballad Edward, re-titled The Murdered Brother, which is as exemplarly evidence that real grown-up folk songs should be forcibly kept out of the hands of safe, studious, floral-print musos as anything you’ll hear. Now, excuse me while I go off and strangle a stoat…
CHRISTY MOORE Lily Columbia 88985328192
You sorta know what you’ll get with a Christy Moore album. That warm, intimate voice, some nifty guitar accompaniments and tight production values from Declan Sinnott; and a well-balanced set that incorporates anger, sorrow, hurt, love, humour, nostalgia and philosophy. He’s not going to come out with a grunge album, that’s for sure.
Nothing earth-shattering here, then, although this does feel like one of his better collections. His voice seems to caress the speakers with a mixture of loving care and snarling disgust while the quality of the material he’s homed in on this time around is probably more consistently good than it has often been in the past. It incorporates the songs of Peter Gabriel (the bleak and scarily relevant Wallflower), John Spillane (the poignant Ballad Of Patrick Murphy) and Mick Blake (a stirring Oblivious berating Ireland’s leaders with its deadly opening lines “What does it take to make you angry, where is the line that can’t be crossed?”) alongside his own material and a tellingly fragile re-imagining of Green Grows The Laurel. Not entirely sure about the inclusion of Dave Lordan’s poem Lost Tribe Of The Wicklow Mountains over a tribal rumble, but he gets away with sentiment more convincingly than most and can be excused the brimming mood of reflection and nostalgia on Mandolin Mountain and The Tuam Beat.
The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the playing and it’s really only when we see him performing this stuff live that we’ll get a proper measure of the enduring strength of this album, but it certainly has the hallmarks of a good ’un and – a prediction here – it may be parochial but Oblivious must end up with a Best Original Song track nomination at the next Folk Awards. So there.
• www.christymoore.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
STEFANO SALETTI & BANDA IKONA Soundcity: Sounds From Border Towns Finisterre FT67
Photo: Fabiana Manuelli
Stefano Saletti & Banda Ikona
Soundcity is an enchanting and entrancing journey through the musical worlds that criss-cross the Mediterranean Sea. Much of it is sung in a language called Sabir, a centuries-old Mediterranean pidgin used by sea traders and pirates which incorporates Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabic, among others.
Like the language, the music is a wide-reaching reflection of the influences that can be found throughout southern Europe. The grand opening of Lempedusa Ampedeta sounds as if it is drifting across from North Africa on the breeze (it is actually sung in Swahili); Padri Di Noi has the bewitching sway and raw energy of a southern Italian tarantella; and then there is Berkin’e Bak, which is based on an Armenian melody but to my ears sounds like the climax of an epic Mongolian feature film, wherein two separated lovers walk towards each other on a lush meadow after they have both crossed their respective mountain passes. Much of the music on the album does indeed feel cinematic, and would make for good accompaniment to certain films.
The songs for this album were inspired by Stefano Saletti’s travels, during which he tends to keep a recording device to hand. As a result, there are snippets of soundscapes that colour the introductions to several of the tracks: an old man singing in an alleyway as a bicycle goes past; traffic and car horns; the sea.
Although at times grand with multi-instrumental arrangements and lots of percussion, it is generally a soft and dreamy album to listen to. This is exemplified by Gaza Beach, a ballad which tentatively draws you in with swelling accordeon chords, and unfolds into the beautiful melody of the chorus. By the same token, Azinhaga is just so overly sweet and soft that it is a little nauseating. Thankfully, this is counterbalanced by the urban edginess of Sbendout and quirkiness of Angeri.
There’s a multitude of textures provided by an incredibly wide range of instruments and musicians which feature on the album, all of which are arranged spaciously and sensitively. Special mention should be given to Stefano Saletti’s personal multi-instrumentalism – on this album he is playing the (wait for it) oud, bazouki, saz, guitar, ukulele, piano, bodhran, talking drum, tammorra, cabasa, darbuka, marimba, and vocals too.
• www.stefanosaletti.it | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Josh Coppersmith Heaven
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…
DelaParo, Stathis Koukoularis & Martha Mavroidi Deep Into The Light, Into The Sea (Violins 02.15)
Stately, sometimes sprightly and enjoyable traditional music group (laouto, bass, percussion, voices) from the Greek island of Paros, augmented by celebrated violinist Stathis Koukoularis and the wonderful Martha Mavroidi on politiko lauto (and voice too on one track).
Céu Tropix (Six Degrees 657036-123526)
“Storming into the Billboard charts, with four Grammy nominations”, Starbucks Hear Music™ Debut series darling – who are these putative taste-makers? – Brazil’s Céu slithers into the insipidly pedestrian navel-gazing airport muzak of global-beats-and-electronica. Just stop it. sixdegreesrecords.com
Cúig New Landscapes (Cúig)
Startlingly fresh and original takes on Celtic forms from a youthful and accomplished Northern Irish quintet. Lots of quirks and innovative twists and unusual ideas delivered with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Stellar musicianship and daredevil notions realise initial promise. cuigmusic.com
Mendrugo More Amor (Fire Records)
Josephine Foster’s distinctive warble (in Spanish) over guitars, tambourine, flute (by Japanese free-wind enthusiast Taku), handclaps and sundry musical wonkiness by Victor Herrero, Jose Luis Herrero and guest Lorena Alvarez. Joyful, unpredictable and fantastically invigorating stuff. Increíble cuerda banda! firerecords.com
If you follow the click through to Amazon from the links here and buy anything at their usual excellent prices, fRoots will receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you, and helps to support the resources on this web site.
There are lots more reviews in this month’s issue of fRoots. Subscribe!
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down