From Another World: a tribute to Bob Dylan
We say: World musicians pay their respects to the Dylan back catalog, with mixed results.
This wide-ranging collection of Dylan covers kicks off with an offering from Cuba: Eliades Ochoa's take on "All Along the Watchtower." Not that you'd really know it, as the tune has morphed into a bolero, and the wordy Dylan lyric, translated into even wordier Spanish, makes for an awkward scan with the melody. Much as I like Ochoa's work with Cuarteto Patria and, of course, Buena Vista Social Club, I have to confess that this version doesn't really work for me. What of even more obscure pairings then: Dylan covers by Bengali Baul singers, Burmese musicians, and Balkan brass bands?
It's a pretty odd collection. For a start, there are two instrumental versions of "I Want You": the former by Burmese musicians is delightful — all wooden percussion and trilling flutes, like music for a cartoon animation; the latter, by a Korean trio, mysterious and inscrutably Far Eastern. The other instrumental, "Rainy Day Woman #12&35" by the Kocani Orkestar from Macedonia, works well too, but then it is perhaps not too much a stretch when you consider that the original Blonde on Blonde version made use of a New Orleans marching band. Of the vocal tracks, "Mr Tambourine Man" performed by Purna Das Baul and Bapi Das Baul from Bengal, is actually quite charming with its riffing banjo and light-hearted vocal, and there's even a hint of the original tune too (not something that could always be said of Dylan himself in some of his live performances). In contrast, Taraf de Haidouks race thru "Corrina Corrina" with barely a hint of the earlier version recorded by His Bobness.
From Romania we go to Egypt, where the Musicians of the Nile take on "Tangled Up In Blue." It sounds passionate and driven, albeit a very distant (and unrecognizable) relative of the original. No doubt most of the original is somewhat lost unless you speak Hungarian. Oddly, this version of the time-worn anthem speeds up quite dramatically half-way thru before ending up as a sort of bar-room sing-along — very strange. One artist who does stick closely to the script is Lhamo Dukpa from Bhutan, but her nine-minute-long acapella rendition of "With God on Our Side" is probably too much unaccompanied foreign language singing for most of us to take in one sitting.
We say: Indian classical music with a jazzy American touch.
Sheela Bringi is an Indian-American singer and multi-instrumentalist whose musical upbringing is probably as much influenced by jazz and blues as it is by classical Indian music. The music here is clearly of Indian origin but, as might be said of a wine, it comes "with Western notes." Such outside influences help make this musical tradition's exoticism more accessible to Western ears but while the result may be relatively easy to listen too, it is still, thankfully, a far cry from "Easy Listening."
The first couple of tracks on Incantations don't pack too many surprises — sultry female vocals and spacey instrumentalism — but by track three, "The Three-eyed One," where tenor saxophone and multi-tracked male voices combine to enhance the mood, things start to get rather more unpredictable and, it has to be said, exciting. As well as possessing a fine voice, Bringi's harp playing is a pleasure to listen to, as is her wistful bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) on "Raga Khammaj." There are other noteworthy contributors too. "Peacock" features excellent trumpet-playing by Clinton Patterson, who produced the album and shares songwriting credits throughout. Patterson also makes a valuable contribution with the horn arrangement of the following track, "Buffalo-Demon Slayer," which has an incongruous but effective Balkan-flavored chorus in an odd meter.
We say: High energy Dutch-Caribbean dancefloor riddims.
KiT is an acronym for Kuenta i Tambu and, according to the sleeve notes, Tambutronic is an electronic music style evolved in Dutch clubs that combines modern trends such as Dubstep with Afro-Caribbean drum beats, most specifically the rhythm of Tambú from the island of Curaçao, a former Dutch colony, just off the Venezuelan coast.
Tambutronic is pretty relentless, hard-driving sort of stuff, and the flagrant bump and grind message is obvious enough — it is doubtful that the refrain "Show me where your lightswitch is" on "Lightswitch," the first track, is anything much to do with visiting electricians. Similarly, "Jackhammer," the third track, is probably not really about construction sites either. But let's not get too precious: this makes no claim to provide sit-down listening pleasure — its enjoyment is mostly down to whether or not you like high-energy dance music.
A couple of shorter instrumental tracks concentrate more on the traditional percussive side of things, while others like "Maria Ta Jora" have more of a Brazilian/West African sound to them, but overall it is mostly beats and bleats driving things along at a frantic pace. Now and again there is a softer, more pop-like sensibility, like on "The Future FT. RBBP", but for the most part Tambutronic is pretty hardcore and single-mindedly dance-orientated.
Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocărlia
We say: Gypsy jazz guitar and groovy Balkan horns tear it up Django-style.
Although Adrian Raso is Canadian and Fanfare Ciocărlia hail from Romania there is plenty of common ground shared between them: both have roots in gypsy music. While Fanfare Ciocărlia are well known for their dexterous Balkan horn-work, Raso has made a name for himself in his native land with his take on the Gypsy jazz stylings of Django Reinhardt. Devil's Tale represents a coming together of both influences.
The album was recorded in Toronto with Raso playing guitars, bass and pleasingly rustic banjo throughout. He also receives assistance from two other guitarists — Rodrigo (of Rodrigo & Gabriela fame) and John Jorgenson — as well as from rock drummer Kevin Figueiredo. Fanfare Ciocărlia play everything else. The result sounds very natural and unforced, and there is nary a hint of "we are going to make a fusion album if it kills us" desperation on show here.
In fact Devil's Tale swings along quite beautifully, with songs like "The Absinthe-Minded Gypsy" (nice pun!) sounding as if they have been around for decades rather than specially written for the album. Elsewhere, the title track "Devil's Tale" has retro twang-guitar picking reminiscent of Duane Eddy and there are hints of blues too. In fact, there's stylistic variety aplenty: "Leezard's Lament" has a nice slow New Orleans blues feel, with call and response between guitar and horns; "Spiritissmo" has a vague Mexican rock feel (that would be Rodrigo's influence), and the last track, "Django," which is obviously a tribute to the erstwhile Belgian genius, deserves credit for not trying to ape the gypsy guitarist's style too closely.
Very much a collaborative effort, Devil's Tale certainly doesn't sound like just another Fanfare Ciocărlia album with a featured Canadian guitarist — it's more the other way round if anything. A fine partnership that has given birth to some fresh, exciting music.
Laurence Mitchell is a British travel writer and photographer with a special interest in transition zones, cultural frontiers and forgotten places that are firmly off the beaten track. He is author of the Bradt Travel Guides to Serbia, Belgrade and Kyrgyzstan, Slow Norfolk & Suffolk and a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine. His website can be seen at www.laurencemitchell.com and his blog at eastofelveden.wordpress.com.
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