Sunday, November 27, 2011

Garifuna Music

Garifuna Music: Field Recordings From Belize is exactly what it sounds like. It is the music of the Garifuna performed by various musicians and recorded between 2002-2004. It is 16 songs with titles you can't pronounce celebrating things we don't understand. A lot of it is played on instruments that aren't exactly the electric guitar and bass.

Turtle shells, shell rattles and conch shells are combined with drums and other instruments to create music that is a celebration of the Garifuna and where they live. What does this mean to someone not familiar with the culture or its history? Surprisingly, not much. Without that knowledge, the music lacks much of its punch.

I'm sure if I had any knowledge of or interest in the Garifuna, I would find this music to be a fascinating cultural study of a people out of time. I don't have knowledge of or interest in them, however, so this affects me in much the same way modern hip-hop does -- something to be shrugged off and used to sell hamburgers. The more cultured among you may have a totally different reaction, but I'm left with less of a sense of wonder and more of a "eh, it's okay," dismissal.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I received this free to review. Click on a link, and I could earn some cold, hard cash.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Egypt ... Unveiled ... Unfettered

The cover seems almost mystical. Symbols, slightly forboding, floating in the night sky above the pyramids. An end of the world scenario? Perhaps. Only the musicians behind this, Hossam Ramzy and Phil Thornton, know for sure.

Egypt Unveiled follows the duo's other Egypt-centered releases, Eternal Egypt, Immortal Egypt and Enchanted Egypt. (Typing "Egypt" that many times makes the word seem almost unreal by this point.) It is kind of a love letter to Egypt and all that it encompasses, and if you don't read the song titles, it's actually not too bad. The music is modern Egyptian utilized through various Egyptian musicians going to town with traditional instruments. These aren't old folk songs, but new compositions meant to inspire awe and wonder. If you read the song titles, though, it sounds like you may have stumbled onto a metal band from the '80s.

"Cleopatra's Secret," "Sett in Stone," "Egypt Unveiled (Part 1)," "The Sword of Orion," and "Storm Over Giza" are just a sampling of the 13 songs to be found here. Seriously, if you picked this up and knew nothing about it, could you not picture a wonderland of guitar solos and at least one ominous spoken word intro? "The beasts of Stygianhall came forth from the skies upon steeds of fire to take home in the mighty pyramids. That night it was said a warrior was born. That warrior, bonded by the blood of pharaohs, carried forth a magical weapon ... the only weapon that could kill the Stygianhall beasts. That weapon ... The Sword of Orion!" Cue the manic guitars and thudding double-bass.

All kidding aside, this is fairly interesting release. I run hot and cold on Ramzy, but this release is not about merit. Those song titles, though, have got to go.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I received this for review purposes. Clicking on a link could earn me a commission.

If You Like John Mayer, Here's More Crap You Might Like

Why Big Fat Cat (the public relations firm) sent Miller Howell's Habits Can Be Hard to Break to me for review is a mystery best left up to NASA scientists. I am not a fan of male singer-songwriters. Not even close. Even looking at the songs on this told me all I needed to know.

"Tomorrow Comes." "I Need You." "Missing You." "I'm Here." "Kirksville." And last, but surely not least -- you guessed it -- "Miracles." I swear I am not making this up.

The PR paperwork informs me that Howell was "the master of the gradual crescendo." If you have to be master of something, and you can't be original, that's what you should go for, I guess. The gradual crescendo. Screw interesting songs. The gradual crescendo is where it's at.

Reading through more of the paperwork of this 2006 release (I know) assured me with earnest that these six songs were about "traveling through life, getting from point A to point B, and experiencing all moments in between." I can't believe I even re-typed that. Seriously, this entire project seems piece-mealed out of other similar projects. It's all cut and paste.

Granted, I know I am not the target audience for this. I'm not a mid-20s to early-30s gal who is coming out of a relationship and is worried I'll be a spinster cat lady. I'm also not the young woman who just hops on a bus and goes to the big city for some grand adventure. Those are the people this is made for. In fact, Howell's music is custom made for them. It has just enough emotion to make it seem edgy, but is about as confrontational as a rabbit. Women who aren't sure what they are looking for in life will find their answer here. Paint-by-numbers. Enjoy a class of expensive wine and think of yourself as decadent.

I "dissed," as the kids would say, John Mayer in the title to this blog. I'm not a fan of his, though I appreciate that he has some talent and enjoys a good prank now and then. The reason I referenced him is because this release is for the ladies who used to like him but gave him up when he got "too mainstream." (The irony of that statement speaks for itself.) And again, keep in mind I am not the target audience. I'm baffled as to why I got this, quite frankly. Did they think the guy who loves Nashville Pussy would write a glowing review of this? I seriously doubt it.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: As previously noted, I received this for review purposes. If you click on the link and purchase it, I will earn a commission, and I will wonder what it was in my review that appealed to you. Did you read it?

In The Fields They Hollered in Pain

Most people know I'm a huge fan of anything and everything on Voodoo Rhythm Records.  I've only said it about 5,368 times.  The Dead Brothers, a funeral band like no other, have always been a favorite.  5th Sin-Phonie is no exception. Thirteen (yes, I know) songs of pure "delinquent jazz" and and horn-heavy musings on death, love and life.  Standards in many a band's set list, but no band does it like this.  No band ever will, either.  The Dead Brothers is one of a kind, and this release holds quite a few surprises for die-hard fans.  Surprises and secrets.  All are delightful, of course.  All are worthy of your time.  Enough hyperbole, though.  Let's dig into the meat.
First things first, there are plenty of original songs on here, but there are also two covers: the obvious "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and the less-so "Teenage Kicks."  Both are done in the Dead Brothers' own unique way.  Fans of Bauhaus' original song should like this one quite a bit, too. 

The next thing, which I find fascinating, is who is helping out with the song writing.  None other than M.A. Littler, filmmaker, pirate and general thorn in the side of mainstream thinking.  Littler has always been linked with Voodoo and the acts on it, but seeing his name pop on here was quite the pleasant surprise.  He is as every bit as good as I would expect, but then again, I'm a big fan and have been for years.
Focusing on a single Dead Brothers song is a lot like not being able to see the forest for the trees. Each release is a complete circle in and of itself. And while each and every song can stand on its own, when taken as a whole (something rare in this age of iPod shuffle dead dance) they create a decadent, perverse Disneyland of despair and delight. You will not possible understand that, however, until you actually sit down and listen to an entire release. This is a good place to start ...

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I got this sent to me to review. That in no way influences what I think of it. Clicking on a link may earn me some cashola.

Rhythms of Morocco ... and Then Some

Forget for a moment, if you will, April 28 of earlier this year. That is when 15 people at relaxing at the Argana cafe were blasted in pieces while 19 others were injured. Forget that the threat of terrorism against U.S. targets in Morocco remains high. At least the music's cool ... or so one would want you to think while listening to Chalf Hassan's Rhythms of Morocco. I don't only listen to abrasive, nihilistic music. Shocking, I know. Sometimes I prefer something lighter, more worldly. This is not what I had in mind. Granted, the eleven tracks on the disc are lighthearted fare that would cause any Westerns listening to it in lands both foreign and domestic to consider themselves part of an authentic ethnic experience the likes of which can only be found on the Travel Channel and in movies, but the music is actually too flighty for my decidedly more aggressive tastes. These songs are traditional Moroccan maqams played on both modern and traditional instruments, which may be part of the problem. While you can tell these are old songs, they just sound too modern. Take, for example, "Aita Jilaliya," which translates into "Spiritual Call." The history behind the song is that when ladies would organize a spiritual "party" at night, they would try to connect through their chosen spirit through song, dance and dress. The song should sound old. Instead, I picture George Clooney wandering the streets of Rabat-Sale while asking citizens in stunted Moroccan Arabic if they know where he can find an "American in black." In other words: too modern. When I hear traditional songs, I like to hear them played on traditional instruments, not a mixture of old and new. Playing these things on the instruments they were intended for keeps the magic in the music. Let's face it, nobody likes "Jumpin' Jack Flash" played by an orchestra. It doesn't sound right. That is the case with this release, too. It lacks magic ... and that is something that should never be lacking from Moroccan music. Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Yes, this CD was sent to me to review. And, yes, if you click on a link I may earn some cash, which I shall use to buy far better music than this stuff.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Some love for GAW.
If you are a Prince fan, you know what 1999 means.  Double album.  Penis drawn on cover.  "Little Red Corvette."  Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?  It brings back memories.  You can sing every single song on it.  (There were 11, which is a small number for a double album.)  I was 11 when it came out.  I still have it today.

It's nearly impossible to pick a favorite song on the release.  It is, like Pretty Hate Machine from Nine Inch Nails, a perfect album.  Even the songs that don't hit quite as hard as "Let's Pretend We're Married" are still pretty damn incredible.  And would such a combination of sexuality and patriotism fly on any other album?  Unlikely.  This is Prince before Purple Rain, before the symbol, before he pretty much dropped out of the public mind.  Anyone who listened to it prior to Purple Rain would be blown away.  "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" were all over the radio (even with LRC's incredible sexual imagery -- "Because you had a pocket full of horses/Trojans and some of them used.").  It was the album to have, and nothing else released in 1982 was dripping with as much sex and funk.  An anomaly?  Of course, but a delightful one.

Listening to this album today not only brings back memories (some of them quite obscene), but it also makes me realize just how timeless 1999 it is -- unlike most other releases from the early '80s.  It could be released today and still be as strong.  Few other performers can make the same claim.

When Prince dies he will be remembered for many things.  Purple Rain will probably outshine 1999, but it shouldn't.  The former may have been a bigger hit with the public, and while it was a great album, the latter was far more artistic and impressive in scope.  Michael Jackson thought he was always in some kind of competition with the diminutive one, but from where I stand there really was no competition.  Jackson never did anything like 1999, therefore: game over. Prince wins, and this album did it.  Take that, dead Jackson.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I paid for this release, and if you click on a link, you may get me a commission.  Buy the damn thing already.