We say: Caballero dads meet Mexico City's club kids, but stay on different sides of the room
Many will be better able to discuss the relative merits and authenticity of this double disc collection. But to these ears this compilation of classic and traditional tunes on one disc, with contemporary hip–hop and rock–infused songs on the other, offers a thoroughly enjoyable overview of Mexican music, ranging from iconic mariachi bands to boiling clubs in Mexico City.
For those of us beyond the region the set disappointingly comes without liner notes, but the music speaks—and sometimes shouts—for itself.
The lively accordion of Celso Pina, the trumpets and pounding bass of Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, and the swirling acoustic guitars of Guitarras De Luna are the hypnotic standouts on the first disc. But it comes into its own on the second where the scratchers and samplers take over.
Nortec Collective deliver up a wall–shaking Tijuana Brass (not like any Herb Alpert tune I know), Kinky rack up the stuttering electric guitars, Poncho Kings locate their heads somewhere in a Jamaican dancehall, and Moonra y Batallon conjure up space travel by burro on their astrally–inclined accordion–driven La Cumbia del Moonra.
From traditional to out–there, this is a collection designed for barbecues that start slow and get rowdy.
Ost Klub, Kapitel 2
We say: It's party time with bruising Balkan beats
It had to happen: the noisy Balkan–ska sound is starting to gain international attention for its riotous implosion of vodka–slamming energy, kick–start ska beats and bruising horns which will mash up any nightclub. The scene is especially hot at Ost Klub in—of all places—sedate Vienna, where a number of expat musicians have fused electric gypsy folk and dub consciousness into the mix.
This 18 track disc (which comes with 10–track bonus disc of bands recorded live in the club) is the ideal introduction to this sweaty sound and includes a number of the major players in the scene: Balkan Beat Box, Russkaja, Skarbone 14, Kultur Shock and 17 Hippies.
This is world music, but not of the kind most might recognize (or even prefer). It draws from hip–hop culture, observes no particular musical boundaries, and flies off the disc in a way that is almost life–threatening.
If the party energy contained here is to your taste though, after this head straight for the Russkaja album Kasatchok Superstar. You're on your own after that.
We say: The songbird of Cuba treads lightly through her back pages.
It has been a decade since the Buena Vista Social Club brought Cuban music to world attention, and made stars of Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo and Ruben Gonzalez—all now sadly passed on.
But still with us is the great Portuondo who, as with Ferrer whose final album Mi Suena took him back to songs he had always loved, here goes through her back catalog to pull out some beautiful songs of heartache, tempering the mood with some snappy jazzy shuffles.
With a small and superb band, which includes percussion player Trilok Gurtu and double bassist Avishai Cohen, Portuondo pours her generous soul into these moving songs and in the orchestrated numbers she avoids cheap sentiment for a deep and compelling understatement.
A wonderful album from a woman who, if the cover photographs of her at various points in her long career are any indication, has always managed a welcoming smile.
Songs of An Other
Savina Yannatou and Primavera en Salonico
We say: Tragic, melancholy, and a three–hankie weeper
Greek singer Yannatou could probably sing pages from the Athens telephone directory and make them sound heartbreaking. She has the kind of voice that quivers with emotion and aches with profound suffering. That won't be to everyone's taste and this album of traditional Bulgarian, Armenian, Albanian and other songs from the region is made even more challenging with forays into a kind of folk–free jazz by the superb group Primavera en Salonico.
With oud, nay, accordion and guitars, this can also sound like chamber–jazz in places too, but it is that remarkable voice that you keep coming back to. There will be easier albums to listen to, but few that are quite as moving, tragically romantic, or compelling as this.
Graham Reid is an award–winning New Zealand travel writer, music writer and journalist. His book Postcards From Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award, and his website Music from Elsewhere features travel stories, photos, rock'n'roll reminiscences, and a weekly music review in which he posts tracks from albums which have often gone past radio programmers and other reviewers.