Buy These Records

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 9, 2005

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Mercedes Sosa
Coraz�n Libre
Deutsche Grammophon

Harsh words about folk music have oft appeared in PW, most of them penned by the Brits, who were lucky enough not to live in the U.S. before the advent of the folk movement and the activism it inspired. (See Good Night, and Good Luck for a reminder of how stultified American culture used to be.) That being said, I also dislike folk music, such that if I had a hammer, I'd probably use it to smash Pete Seeger records. But folk music from another country? Now we're talking. Seventy-year-old Mercedes Sosa is an Argentine folk-music giant, both in physical size and musical stature. Though she's explored most genres in her 35-album career, traditional (but non-tango) Argentine music is where her heart really resides, and where she's been able to advocate for the poor and downtrodden like any good folksinger should. This album is Mercedes unplugged-just her deep (very deep) voice and spare acoustic instrumentation for an elegant tribute to forms like the zamba, chacareras and milonga. Save for occasional drums and violin, the songs are all very subdued, which makes this a good album for a quiet day inside, just you and Mercedes ... well, I don't know how to say "chillin'" in Spanish, but you get the idea. Given Sosa's weight and age, this album isn't only unique in her career, it's potentially elegiac. Is that wrong to say? B+

 

Ion Petre Stoican
Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 1

Asphalt Tango

I guess you could call this album folk music, though its history is more accident than activism. In the '60s a second-fiddle (heh) Romanian violinist inadvertently caught a spy for a secret service agency and brought him to the police. These days you'd get a lot of money for a score like that, or maybe a rebuilding-New Orleans contract, but in the odd semi-lawless twilight of Romanian communism, Stoican got a record deal instead. Despite the fact that he wasn't a well-known violinist (or even particularly talented), he managed to form a 14-person band with some of the best Gypsy musicians in Bucharest. Like many other Ceausescu-era bands, this one was dubbed the People's Orchestra, but the sound is anything but generic. The first song starts with an exuberant cymbalom flourish, which sounds like someone ducking into a piano and running their fingers across the strings. The songs are often anchored by the cymbalom, Romania's answer to the hammer dulcimer, but the cheerful wedding-y ditties are also heavy on the accordion, clarinet and of course violin. Despite the upbeat rhythms, many tunes also have that minor-key melancholy familiar to klezmer; a co-worker heard me listening to the album and said, "Getting ethnic, are you?" Given Stoican's rather creaky tone, it's no surprise to learn this was his first and last album, but it made his career-as a wedding band leader. If you're in the mood for a good circle dance and a high-kicking fun time, this album is for you. A-

 

Various Artists
Sound of the World

Wrasse

It's no surprise this world music compilation features a few of the usual suspects (Lhasa, Oliver Mtukudzi, Seu Jorge, Youssou N'Dour), as it was compiled by DJ Charlie Gillett, who hosts Sound of the World on BBC Radio London. Though Gillett claims in the liner notes that the 33 songs from 28 nations "defy categorization," it's not an especially adventurous album, sound-wise. The tunes that ended up on the compilation are listener favorites, and they're consistently catchy and accessible. My favorite for an all-over good mood is the devilishly infectious "Chaje Shukarije," which I would've sworn was Bollywood but is actually by Bulgaria's Sissy Atanassova. I also really like Camille's bouncy, jazzy "Au Port"-she's like a Parisian Bj�rk-but everything sounds so much more exp�rimentale en Fran�ais, n'est pas? Similar electronic glitches and glatches layered over a haunting female voice lend Russia's Volga a trancey vibe, while Israel's Yasmin Levy-yet another strong woman performer here-creates a sound that's like the Jewish-girl version of the Gipsy Kings. The more avant-garde picks include Japan's Akira Mizutani, who brings together 10 baritone saxophones for an instrumental piece, and Russia's Ivan Kupala, whose "Geo" sounds like flamenco, klezmer, electronica and Afropop stuffed in a blender. All of this is highly danceable, which I'm sure is what makes a lot of the songs popular, and the presence of rappers-like the 38-member Nairobi Yetu, from Nairobi's Eastlands ghetto, and the French/Lebanese Clotaire K-guarantees the kids will eat this with a spoon. Highly recommended. A


from the vaults

Shirley Horn
I Remember Miles
Verve

I know just where I was when I heard Shirley Horn died (it was only last month, after all): I was standing in my coat closet, trying to puzzle out which jacket went best with a goth Halloween costume. When I heard on the radio that the jazz singer and pianist passed away, I sort of doubled over-it seemed physically painful-and I gave up on the jacket hunt. (The black trench coat won, just P.S.) I'm not much of a feminist, sadly, but Horn always struck me as especially inspirational, given that she was one of the few women in jazz who was as much an instrumentalist as she was a vocalist. She got her start opening for Miles Davis-hence this tribute album, which blends her exquisite interpretations of classics favored by Miles ("My Funny Valentine," "Summertime," "Basin Street Blues") with other picks that seem a welcome compromise between his sound and hers. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove, harmonica-ist Toots Thielmans and bassist Ron Carter guest, paying tribute both to Miles' memory and to Horn's huge presence in the music world. It always bothered me that in mainstream writing about her, Horn got compared to Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. I'm not going to say she's better than either of those giants, but she certainly was their equal with this kind of material-and she could play the piano too! If she'd been a man, she would've been a true legend-far beyond the jazz world. A (L.S.)

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