Putumayo Presents: Paris
We say: Pass the Gitanes, I'm taking up smoking
This album is so evocative of a late morning in a Parisian cafe that you can almost smell the coffee and taste pain au chocolat. Guitars are strummed. Accordions are squeezed. And droopy-eyed minstrels growl lyrics so lovelorn and weary that you'll want to light up a Gauloise and stare philosophically out of the window at the street sweeper whisking another lump of dog shit into the gutter.
It's chanson, mon amie, but not as we know it. The popular French musical form from the sixties has been reintroduced and reinvigorated by a new breed of singer/songwriters like Pascal Parisot and supermodel Carla Bruni. The ghostly, nicotine stained fingers Serge Gainsbourg and Edith Piaf are all over this record, but so a number of less expected influences that give this musical renaissance an unexpected freshness.
Here's hoping chanson's nouvelle scene takes hold and kills off the abomination that is modern French pop music. The last thing the world needs is another bad Gallic version of Bon Jovi.
Boulevard de L'independance
Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra
We say: Toumani's fingers do the talking
Toumani Diabate's album with the late Ali Farka Toure was one of my favourite albums of 2005. It was a gentle, acoustic piece by two masters of African music that sounded as peaceful as the Mali River lapping against the lateen sailed-vessel featured on the cover.
This CD is a different beast altogether. It grew out of 10 years of late night experimentation between Diabate and the various musicians who dropped by his outdoor bar in Bamako. It is the manifestation of Diabate's desire to fuse traditional African instruments like the harp-like kora (of which Diabete is regarded a master) and the n'goni, a lute-like instrument with western instruments.
It doesn't always work. Some songs verge on Afro-pop pap. But when Diabate sallys forth on one of his inspired kora improvisations the CD soars - both sonically and spiritually.
El Perro del Mar
El Perro del Mar
We say: It's good to be sad.
I've never been to Gothenburg in Sweden but from all accounts it is a lovely town. It is perched at the mouth of the river Göta Älv and has a large student and immigrant population that makes it more lively than most towns in Sweden. Indeed, many visitors to the town say that it is their favourite place in the country.
Its musicians, however, are trapped in a melancholic funk. Jose Gonzales (he of the Sony Bravura ads) mumbles about the dire state of the world. Jens Lekman is always getting his heart broken somewhere in its environs. And now Sarah Assbring, performing as El Perro del Mar, spends an entire CD chronicling the demise of a relationship somewhere north of city hall.
Not that I'm complaining. Sarah's tribulations are sweetened by a crystal clear voice, doo-wops and hand claps that make heartbreak sound like a necessary, life-affirming process. It all ends in tears of course. Assbring ends the CD on a bummer, realising that her loss has left her with a numbing emptiness.
A Swedish winter will do that to you.
Let's Get Out of This Country
We say: Bugger Bingo, Let's Dance!
The weather in Scotland is just as crap as it is in Sweden, but on the whole the Scots seem to have a somewhat sunnier disposition. Listen to a Teenage Fanclub album - say Grand Prix - and you'd be convinced that it was recorded somewhere in California, not in a studio overlooking the bleak North Sea.
Camera Obscura hail from Glasgow, a part of Scotland that is grimmer than most. (You can't even see the ocean.) Yet on all three albums they have displayed the wide-eyed optimism of their fellow countrymen, as well as a wry sense of humour. Let's Get Out of This Country continues this tradition, more so with singer Tracyanne Campbell taking over sole vocal duties with the departure of John Henderson. A schmaltzy wedding-style organ adds a sprinkle of cheer throughout.
If you like early Belle & Sebastian you'll like Get Out of This Country. It's a happy, chirpy, literate album that belies the ugly council estates, cavernous bingo halls and chippies selling deep-fried Mars Bars that blight Scotland.
I guess that's how they get through their winters.
This month's music reviews were written by Peter Moore, an itinerant hobo who is lucky enough to be able to support his insatiable travel habit through writing. He has survived a shipwreck in the Maldives, a gas heater explosion in Istanbul, student riots in Addis Ababa and rates his first encounter with an Asian-style toilet as one of his life's defining moments. At last count he had visited 93 countries and written five books. To find out more visit his web site at www.petermoore.net.