Favorites of '07
Give the Drummer Some
Audio samples are RealAudio
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| Moussa Doumbia|
Godfather of Soul wannabes sprang up like kudzu in the 1960s and '70s, and, outside of Chicago and Detroit, the most badass Brown imitators per hectare came from the gritty urban centers of East and West Africa. Anwar Richard and Matata ruled Nairobi, Geraldo Pino & the Heartbeats concquered Lagos, but the heaviest of heavyweight Afrofunkateers may have been Mali's sax-playing, leather-lunged soul belter Moussa Doumbia, who toiled in semiobscurity in the nightclubs of Ivory Coast's capital city Abidjan. Doumbia was a cool cat but no copycat. While others merely reproduced the James Brown sound, Doumbia seemingly conjured, on a nightly basis, the very soul of Soul Brother No. 1 itself. His massive funk workouts featured all the withering, from-the-gut grunts and squeals, but they were layered over a dense thicket of his native Dioula rhythms—along with, of course, skronking horns and skanky guitars. This French compilation of Doumbia's rare singles and one album may be the greatest single-disc trove of African funk ever released.
Listen to: Keleya (extended lp version)
Listen to: Yeye Mousso
Música Tradicional do Norte e Nordeste 1938
Give this astonishing collection seven hours and it'll give you the world of Northeastern Brazil as it sounded 70 years ago. Comprising six CDs presenting nearly 300 performances, this tour de force is a time-travel kit worthy of H.G. Wells. The brainchild of poet Mário de Andrade, São Paulo's municipal secretary of culture back in 1938, the Folklore Research Mission was a four-man team of music archeologists dispatched to record and preserve the incidental music of street peddlers, dockworkers, schoolchildren—virtually anyone they came across. It was a massive undertaking intended to document the region's culture just as Brazil was rapidly modernizing under the spell of radio and film. More than just a compilation of precious artifacts, this wondrous set captures the sound of the soul of a people.
Listen to: Boi Pai do Campo Teu Dia Chegou by José Antonio Castro and others
Listen to: an instrumental track by José Rocha (Zé Padre) and others
Listen to: Aboios a> by José Gomes Pereira (Zé Gago) and others
| Ernst Reijseger|
Requiem for a Dying Planet
(Winter & Winter)
And so it is written that Dionysus bestowed the power of the magic touch not upon King Midas but on the fingers of Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger, who over the course of a discography spanning more than 75 records has never bowed, plucked or thrummed a less than golden note. The stuff of myth perhaps, but the reality is that this man's music is uniformly breathtaking. Take for instance his collaboration with Senegalese singer Mola Sylla on the record Janna from 2003, or his 1999 disc Colla Voche featuring the otherworldly Sardinian polyphonists Tenore e Cuncordu de Orosei. These two legendary performances are the basis for this new collection of sounds—used by Werner Herzog in two of his films—which are presented as Requiem for a Dying Planet, a production that record label–head Stefan Winter calls an AudioFilm or "cinema for closed eyes." Simply indelible.
Listen to: Su Bolu 'e s'Astore
| Meic Stevens|
Sackcloth & Ashes: The EPs, Volume 2
Just as Karen Dalton was saddled with the ungainly nickname "the Billie Holiday of Folk," Meic Stevens has been dogged through most of his 40-year career by the unshakable moniker "the Welsh Bob Dylan." (Curiously, he taped some early tracks in the same Swansea studio where the real Welsh Dylan—Thomas—recorded his poetry.) Though his songs of social protest and guitar-and-harmonica rig have always invited the comparison, Stevens is sui generis, a national treasure in Wales for troubadouring in the native tongue and abandoning the more lucrative English-only music biz. Paired with last year's glorious collection of '60s rarities Rain in the Leaves: The EPs, Volume 1, this second compilation of heartstrong anthems and blustery ditties reveals Stevens the psychedelic folkie, spiking the punch with shots of calypso, flamenco, delta blues and other far-flung flavors. All of it is sung, of course, in (for nonlocals) an impenetrable and mysterious moss-covered language, which only heightens the thrill.
Listen to: Y Brawd Houdini
| Group Doueh|
Guitar Music From the Western Sahara
In the age of rock, the guitar god has held an exalted place in the firmament, bestriding prosceniums and plundering hotel rooms with a shredded Stratocaster in one hand and a groupie in the other. But sit you down mighty three-chord maestros and hear tell of a true colossus who hones his craft unhurriedly in the bracing elements, encamped at the edge of the world's greatest desert. It is there, in the crusty subregion somewhere between lo-fi and no-fi, that he toys with sound as a does a sabretooth a shrew. Shredding? Hardly. String-bender Baamar Salmou, Doueh to his disciples, takes the very soundpulse of life and wah-wahs, flanges and otherwise distorts it into a stupefying creation for his and, blessedly, our amusement. Rock of ages, cleft for we.
Listen to: Cheyla Ya Haluune
Listen to: Fagu
| Judee Sill|
Live in London
Judee Sill's metamorphosis from adolescent liquor-store bandit to spirtualized singer of exquisite pop epiphanies is a minor legend in the annals of the Laurel Canyon scene. The first artist to come out on David Geffen's Asylum label, she produced two albums filled with shimmering, quasi-religious, deeply romantic tales of angels and flying saucers. "Country-cult-baroque" she called them. Sill delivered her highly personal hymns in a clear, poignant voice and her arrangements—suggesting traces of Brian Wilson, Laura Nyro and J.S. Bach—were masterful. But the miraculous strokes of grace she hoped to divine through music eluded her, and first her career, then her life came to an abrupt and grotesque end.
Listen to: The Phoenix
| Rob Reddy's Small Town|
The Book of the Storm
"The storm puts its mouth to the house and blows to get a tone." So begins Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer's portentous "A Winter Night," which served as initial inspiration for this four-part symphonic work from Rob Reddy. Always a probing composer and deft improvisor, Reddy is finishing his second decade of making wise-beyond-his-years music with a magnificent flourish. On this, his fifth and boldest recording, he doesn't play a note. Instead of his sax, he puts his mouth to a 19-piece orchestra and blows a dense and emotional maelstrom of sound as transporting as anything you'll hear this year.
Listen to: God Damn
Si, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba
Since the days that young Oook banged a rock on the cave wall and pissed off his parents, teenagers have been boogieing to rebellious tunes. Skinheads in the UK left their mums gobsmacked; Japanese salarymen hung heads in shame as their kids bowed to the Gaseneta godhead. In '70s Cuba, as the Buena Vista Social Club generation began working on its middle-age spread, their niños queridos started upsetting the cocktail hour with revolutionary reworkings of the son and other standby songforms. But here's the twist: It was all subsidized by the Man! There's much to lament about Castro's Cuba, but the Ministry of Culture isn't one of them. Culled from dusty master tapes exiled in Havana warehouses, the fuzzed-out funk served up on this remarkable collection is as audacious today as it was 30 years ago. And most of these tracks haven't been heard since then.
Listen to: En Casa del Trompo no Bailes by Orquesta Riverside
Listen to: Baila, Ven y Baila by Los 5-U-4
| Ken Hyder's Talisker|
Dreaming of Glenisla
Sonic deluges of grandeur burst forth from this sublime record, first birthed in 1975 by the Scottish free-improv drum shaman Ken Hyder and blessedly resurrected this year by a new label out of Dundas, Ontario. Dedicated to reissuing long lost gems on disc, Reel Recordings is using pioneering techniques to infuse digital audio with the all the warmth and lifelike playback heard on original analog tapes. It's a noble effort, especially in the service of captivating works of beauty like Dreaming of Glenisla. Hyder's debut, it sounds for all the world like an Albert Ayler album released post-New Grass when the tenor alchemist was experimenting with a woodwind contraption called the chanter—the blown portion of Scottish highland bagpipes. The twin sax / twin bass lineup of Hyder's quintet creates a droning, cantatorial spiritsound one can imagine as the sound of Ayler's dreams.
Listen to: Drum Salute & Lament for Mal Dean
| Yaala Yaala Records|
Yaala Yaala Rural Musicians Collective is the heady name for an intriguing cultural experiment undertaken by Jack Carneal, a drummer and teacher from Baltimore. Back in 1999, Carneal spent a year-long sojourn in Bougouni, Mali. He hung out with and informally recorded local musicians who were making some of the most intense, inspiring and sophisticated sounds he'd ever heard. All these years later, after dubbing copious copies for friends, Carneal has formally released his recordings to wider distribution via Yaala Yaala, a label devoted to spreading the music and supporting the artists who made it. Much like the vital audiologues coming out on Sublime Frequencies (see Group Doueh, above), the natural, uncontrived music-making Yaala Yaala documents delivers a more vivid and authentic picture of an unfamiliar place than any dozen National Geographic spreads. Three Yaala Yaalas have pushed up through the loamy soil so far. Word is, the garden's about to get a bit more crowded!
Listen to: an unidentified track by Pekos & Yoro Diallo (from Pekos/Yoro Diallo)
Listen to: an unidentified track by an unidentified performer (from Bougouni Yaalali)