Dog With a Rope
Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno
We say: Retro Latin music meets a master modern producer
There are some artists who can manage to take left turns and right turns in their musical career and have true fans follow them no matter what. The producer Quantic (Will Holland) is one of those for me. Whether it's straight electronica, Colombian cumbia, or some odd mixtures of styles, I know that the tracks are going to be intriguing and fresh.
This latest project was again recorded in his adopted home of Cali, Columbia and features his Flowering Inferno band of musicians: a drummer from UB40 and Steel Pulse, plus musicians from Peru, Colombia, Peru, and Panama. Unlike his Tradition in Transition project though, this one branches out to take in all of the Latin-tinged Caribbean tropics, mixing in reggae, dancehall, dub, cumbia, rumba, and Afro-Latin to create songs that shouldn't work, but do, partly because of the subtle electronic enhancements. Taken one at a time, the songs are kind of retro—especially revamped classics like "Cumbia Sobre El Mar," but each has some odd fusion element making it clear that this is not the 1970s.
The title track is pure reggae party fun, then goes modified Cuban mambo with "Dub Y Guaguanco" and then the third track is like cumbia-meets-Jamaica. The tropical tour continues, with styles from the past nudged into the present with newer beats and dub elements. Pulling this off and keeping it from being a complete mish-mash mess takes a skilled hand and thankfully Quantic has proven over and over again that he is comfortable in mixing and arranging multiple musical styles, especially Latin ones. Whether you know or care about these various styles doesn't matter in the end anyway. This is a fun, immensely pleasurable album that quits while it's ahead: just as with an LP of old, the ten tracks are just right.
Putumayo Presents: Tribute to a Reggae Legend
We say: A fun collection for those who don't mind a little more Marley
Do we really need to hear any more Bob Marley covers, especially his greatest hits? For anyone who has been listening to these songs for decades, hearing them blasting out of every backpacker and college bar from Boston to Bali, half this collection will be less than welcome. The other half, however, is pretty great.
Call me cranky, but this collection would have been far more interesting without the tried and true hits, even though Caracol's version of "Could You Be Loved" is pleasant enough and Freshkyground's "Africa Unite" at least adds some African elements to the mix. The "Jahwaiian" version of "Is This Love" from Three Plus sounds more promising that it turns out to be though and despite the stories behind the collectives performing them, we just plain don't need to hear "One Love" or "No Woman No Cry" again. Ever.
The most refreshing covers on this tribute album though are the ones that really take a fresh approach to a song we haven't heard five bazillion times already. CeU's moody "Concrete Jungle" is a real standout, as is the soulful "Mellow Mood" by Montreal's Julie Crouchetiere. Funkadesi's "Real Situation" doesn't just revamp the original, but puts more kick into it. "Do It Twice" is a blissful cover by Hawaiian singer Robi Kahakalau of a Marley song you almost never hear. The same goes for "Sun is Shining" from Ghana's Rocky Dawuni.
If you're not a current or former traveler who is sick to death of hearing Bob Marley, you'll probably love this solid collection from start to finish. If you wish every single copy of the Bob Marley's Greatest Hits CD would disappear from the face of the Earth, you should still check this out for the refreshing covers of songs that have not been pounded to death.
We say: Atlas sang, I shrugged
Imagine if Bjork had gotten more boring over time as she got older instead of going further out on a limb. Imagine if Jackson Pollack had mellowed out when he hit 35 and turned to doing watercolor beach scenes.
Unfortunately, these are the kinds of thoughts that were going through my head as I repeatedly asked "What the...?!" when I listened to this album the first time. Painful as it was, I listened to it a second and third time, hoping I'd just missed something. But no, Atlas seems to have ditched the most interesting fusion elements that came out of her heritage (born in Jerusalem to a British mother and Egyptian/Palestinian father and then growing up in Belgium and England). The title meaning "State of Reversal," this is an album that comes off as new age world music from a singer who can do much, much better.
Maybe this is kind of personal. I discovered Natasha Atlas when she was on the first Jah Wobble album (one of my all-time favorites) and was a singer on the influential Transglobal Underground album International Times way back in 1994. I even went to see a solo show at the gothic St. John's Cathedral in New York City a few years later when she struck out on her own. We all grow up of course, but apparently Atlas thinks growing up means becoming a torch singer.
Mounqaliba is supposedly inspired by the poems of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, plus there are covers of songs by Francoise Hardy and Nick Drake, with vocals in Arabic, French, and English. While much of it is pretty, even the songs in Arabic (not always an easy feat), it's also pretty forgettable from start to finish. The random audio quotes about global economics stuck in at random places sound like a desperate attempt to add some "edge," but instead they come off like someone turning on CNN during while a singer is performing ballads in a piano bar.
Most songs are acoustic or have a string section and only occasionally does the tempo rise above "lethargic." Click the links to the right to hear audio samples and judge for yourself. But make sure you've had your coffee...
A New Day: Laya Project Remixed
We say: A surprisingly dud-free double disc of remixes from Asian Tsunami zones
When this CD arrived in the mail, I was first struck by the impact of the packaging. It was beautiful and striking, well-crafted and thoughtful, like the CDs people used to buy and pore over before we all stared downloading bits and bytes. The back story behind the Laya Project is that a group of people went out and recorded folk music from Asian villages hit by the Tsunami in late 1994: places like Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, and Thailand. They made a documentary film about it and stashed away the recordings.
This eventual CD release is more suited to mainstream tastes, with the original material remixed into lounge-friendly tracks that would not be out of place in a Kimpton hotel bar or an after hours nightclub. This is not to say they're not interesting though, or are homogeneous. This is a collection that sounds good on first listen, but grows more interesting through continual discovery.
Coordinated by Chennai, India's Earthsync company, it features many producers and artists that are familiar to fans of that label and Six Degrees in the U.S. There are only a few marquee names like Karsh Kale and Bombay Dub Orchestra, but sometimes the most intriguing tracks come from unknowns who really made the most of the source material.
Disc one is Embrace and it is the more downtempo one. Union picks up the pace a bit and includes more songs meant for the dance floor, though either works as party music for enlightened souls more than relentless beats for hip-shaking. Through it all the originality of the source material and the care of the remixers both shine through. This is an immensely pleasurable collection that works well from start to finish, or with any collection of favorite tracks on "shuffle."
To see more about the Laya Project music and the accompanying film documentary, see LayaProject.com.
Editor Tim Leffel is a former music biz marketer who became a blogger, award-winning travel writer, and author of four books, including The World's Cheapest Destinations (in its 3rd edition) and Travel Writing 2.0.