By James Kelly
Contributing Music Editor
While most of my favorite music comes from right here in the deep south, I still have a real taste for the British Invasion, the one that’s been constantly going on since the early ’60s. But over the years I have also had the great joy of discovering music from many other countries and regions, so this week’s column s dedicated to what is commonly referred to as “World Music.” I’m sure I listened to lots of different things as a kid, since my dad was such a music fanatic, but my first real connection to “world music” was when I heard Ravi Shankar performing with George Harrison. It opened my ears, and my mind. So, from the corners of the globe, here’s what has been making my feet shuffle.
Most of the music on this fine compilation originates in Benin, a small country in South Africa bordering Nigeria. Pulled from archives, a lot of this has never been heard in years, or even played outside Africa. Recorded between 1970-1976, the band was mostly led by the late Moussa Mama, who reportedly was exposed to a variety of western music by his dad. There’s a lot of ’60s pop influences heard in the 15 tracks, and the steady groove throughout is a perfect example of classic Afro-Beat. Throw in some rumba, pachanga and some “Bariba Soul,” and you have a nonstop dance party! The rhythms are incredibly infectious, and there is something celebratory about the beat that makes me smile. Unfortunately, I cannot understand a word they say, but it sounds great, has lots of energy and deserves some attention.
I first became familiar with legendary flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía in the ’70s, after discovering an import copy of his amazing ENTRE DOS AGUAS in the cutouts at a record store in Memphis. Hearing the lightning fast playing, the intense rhythms and the start-stop precision for the first time was transformative, and Paco became a hero in my house. He later joined forces with noted Fusion Jazz guitarists John McLaughlin (Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra), and Larry Coryell, who was replaced by Al DiMeola (Return to Forever) in THE GUITAR TRIO. In addition to his own albums, Paco has recorded songs for films such as DON JUAN DEMARCO and more recently the beautiful soundtrack of VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Fast forward 30 years from ENTRE DOS AGUAS, and Paco’s newest release is a double live CD, featuring a nice retrospective of his own compositions, and one piece by McLaughlin. With a second guitarist, harmonica, bass and two singers, it’s a foot-stomping, mind-boggling display of incredible Spanish/flamenco virtuosity. I’m still blown away by his playing.
The combined talents of Israeli pianist Idan Raishel and Mali guitarist Vieux Farka Touré́́ take center stage on this unique and creative endeavor. These informally recorded jam sessions emerged over an afternoon, and the amazing improvisational collection is a celebration of rich musical culture and collaboration. Vieux displays an amazing and enchanting acoustic fingerpicking style, and Idan’s gentle keyboards accentuate and complement the delicate and melodic excursions. Joined by several other players and singer Cabra Casey (born in Israel, of Ethiopian descent), the music flows like a summer brook, hypnotic, magnetic and intensely beautiful. Each track begins with a subtle chord progression and, as each player gradually integrates into the groove, becomes a fully realized entity, with stylistic touches from all over the world, blending into a thing of real beauty. This is one of the most amazing records I have heard this year.
Continuing a tradition that has produced some of their finest albums, Ireland’s Chieftains collaborate with a number of interesting and oddly matched singers to create another entertaining package of song. With lovely ballads by Imelda May and Lisa Hannigan, a raucous shouter featuring the incredibly talented (and currently very popular) Carolina Chocolate Drops, and, of course, a few of their own instrumentals, the Chieftains prove once again that music is universal. Particularly intriguing is the heartfelt take on “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Scotsman Paulo Nutini. Critically adored artists such as the Punch Brothers, the Decemberists and Bon Iver all make more than adequate contributions. While it’s not the best of this series, there’s not a lot to complain about.
While including a Canadian cowboy artist in a column on “world music” might seem like a stretch, last time I checked Canada was part of the “world.” Ian Tyson first made his mark in the music world as part of the ’60s “Great Folk Scare” duo Ian & Sylvia. Their gentle harmonies and knack for covering great songs made them one of the most popular acts of the era. Tyson eventually left music and became a real cowboy for many years, but his love of singing and the discovery of many great cowboy songs pulled him back into the business, but on his own terms. Sadly, he literally destroyed his once clear voice one fateful night, and now sounds more like early Tom Waits than an old folkie. But he still sounds great IMHO (I worship at the altar of Tom Waits), and the material on RAVEN SINGER works on several levels. Tyson is believable, for one thing. Even with what sounds like some strained vocal effort, he brings the stories to life, and gives each song a real sense of authenticity. At 78 years old, Ian Tyson is still making great music, with no plans to ride off into the sunset.