Other Roads: Fondo Remixed
Vieux Farka Touré
We say: Son of a legend lets the new school have a go.
Fondo was the second album from Vieux Farka Touré and here his tracks get the full remix treatment from the array of A-list producers in the Six Degrees Music contact list. Vieux is the son of the legendary Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré. So he could have become the respectable equivalent of Bibel Gilberto, Jakob Dylan, Rosanne Cash, or "the son of that famous guy..." Fortunately he seems to have carved out a space in the former camp, but is clearly doing it his own way. In this album he has the courage to totally give up the source material to others and let them have their way with his music.
This fits in well with Vieux Farka Touré's philosophy that blues guitar from Mali has already made its way around the globe and back again, so let's celebrate the new world stew. To crank up the diversity, there's a remix with extra vocals from Tamir Muskat of Balkan Beat Box, a track from Israeli producer Sabbo, a remix from J. Boogie, and a track from EarthRise Sound System—profiled elsewhere on this page. Brownout (reviewed in a previous version of these world music reviews) adds an urgency and drive to "Saram" that takes the original up a few notches.
Despite the different approaches, however, there's still the issue of, "Wait a minute, didn't I hear that song already?" Having 15 tracks means that some songs are remixed multiple times—a ridiculous four times for that particular track in fact. Six Degrees music definitely makes the case for individual track downloads with this release.
In terms of marketing, this album seems to be a tossed-off afterthought done for fun anyway: there's hardly anything about it online or in print anywhere and it's being sold as a digital download. That's a shame for the production wizards who have made a guitarist from Mali sound contemporary and relevant to the club kids. For those who need some real beats with their world beat, a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, this an album that expands on the originals without remixing them beyond recognition. If you like albums such as Will.I.Am's star-studded revamp of Sergio Menendes or Carmen Rizzo's remix of Huun Huur Tu, consider this one worthy to add to that collection.
The Yoga Sessions
We say: Yoga music that even yoga-dissers will dig.
There's a reliable trend that has continued through the decades, that of pairing music compilations with activities, whether it's a romantic dinner, a retro cocktail party, or a road trip. I can't say for sure that The Yoga Sessions is the perfect music for contorting yourself and then popping back into a Downward Dog, but EarthRise SoundSystem's Derek Beres was a yoga teacher for five years, so he ought to know.
I expected this album to be a snoozer, frankly, a new age collection of sleepy tunes meant to promote relaxation and measured breathing. Instead it's an engaging collection of downtempo worldbeat electronica that stands well on its own. Sure, it would work fine in a yoga studio, but it would also work well in the lounge of a Kimpton hotel. Beres and musical partner David Schommer both have a long list of production credits in their history and they have tapped a variety of interesting vocalists to bring some warmth and repeated listening allure to the project.
Some songs, like "Ajnabee," feature vocals that are merely another instrument, with no lyrics. The Lucy Woodward vehicle "Daylight as Sunset," on the other hand, would make Massive Attack proud. This is the clear hit single of the bunch, which is probably why it is featured in two different versions on the CD. "Marom" is another track that could stand well on its own as a chillout lounge staple, featuring Basya Schechter of Pharoah's Daughter. "May All Beings" is percussive to the point of being danceable and "Rama" takes the overdone sitar music and chants one would normally associate with yoga and twists them into a six-minute Scorpion Pose.
The production is "light up your headphones" stunning, with a rich fullness that sounds even better on a cranked-up stereo system with real bass. There are real instruments throughout too, not just a bunch of bleeps and beats. This is not the kind of crap your massage therapist puts on to set the mood, or something your hack yoga teacher brings in to try to make you think you're in Haridwar instead of Houston. This is good music that fits a mood, not mere mood music.
Las Rubias del Norte
We say: Operatic voices with a time-warped Latino fetish
After working for music labels for close to a decade of my life and reviewing world music albums for four years now, it's fair to say I'm jaded. So if something comes along that completely surprises me, that's worth celebrating—even if I don't love it.
Las Rubias del Norte are Allyssa Lamb and Emily Hurst, two classically trained vocalists that seem more suited for arias or madrigals than popular music. They are backed up by lost-in-time combos that could be from Mexico of the middle of the last century or a courtly ensemble sometime in the Renaissance. On a few tracks it's a little of both. This is some downright odd music, but always performed with musicianship and grace, with no hint of a smirk. This CD should probably come with a warning that it may empty the room at a party. Well, almost empty the room. There will be one or two people left standing that will go, "Man, where on Earth did that come from?"
It's hard to even describe this oddity of an album, so follow one of the links in the right column or go to their label site to check out some samples. Let's just say that you'll hear tight harmonies from operatic singers backed by small groups wielding a wide variety of instruments. These instruments include, but are not limited to, Flamenco guitar, electric surf-music-era guitar, Farfisa organ, Hammond B-3 organ, marimba, piano, vibraphone, and triangle. Some songs feature a talented string quartet.
The "Blondes of the North" are from Brooklyn and most of the tracks have a Latin American slant, but the source material is from many spots on the globe. "J'attends un Navire" is a Kurt Weill song sung in French. "Navidad Negra" is a popular Caribbean Colombian song. "Ziguala" is originally a Greek song from the 1950s. The glue that makes it all consistent is the harmonic soprano vocal interplay of Lamb and Hurst, giving even the most humble songs a dose of class.
If you're a musician with varied tastes, this might all sound perfectly natural, but don't expect your friends to get it. I'd love to see Las Rubias del Norte live, but the list of who I'd risk bringing is a pretty short one. If you're tired of the same ole same old though, challenge yourself and check this out. You might just find yourself smiling from ear to ear.
Perceptive Travel editor Tim Leffel is author of several books, including The World's Cheapest Destinations, now in its 3rd edition. He once wrote bios and marketing copy for now-forgotten rock bands, but he currently spits out more heartfelt raves on the Cheapest Destinations Blog and the Practical Travel Gear Blog.