Staff Picks Category: World music

Airbow by Maria Kalaniemi & Sven Ahlbäck []

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What is Finnish button accordion music, anyway? If you like Sharon Shannon, you’ll love Maria Kalaniemi.

She’s virtuosic, soulful and versatile. On this album she teams up with Swedish fiddler and scholar of folk music Sven Ahlbäck for a selection of traditional Scandinavian tunes and original compositions. They are both technically brilliant and have a wonderful synergy together. Johan Hedin joins them on nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle) and Swedish singer Susanne Rosenberg is featured on a few tunes. The music is spare, gorgeous, with a haunting energy that’s both ancient and contemporary. This is great listening for fans of Nordic or Celtic folk, fiddle tunes, or the undeservedly-maligned accordion.

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Hindugrass by John Heitzenrater, Carolyn Balfe, Yunior Terr, Evan Fraser, and Austin Wrinkle []

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What could you find in common between the classical and folk music of Northern India, and old time and bluegrass music of the Southeastern United States? Quite a lot actually, and Hindugrass does an excellent job exploring and exploiting those similarities. Headed by John Heitzenrater on sarod, Hindugrass is alternatively haunting and driving, lyrical and percussive, familiar and strange. In addition to sarod we hear, fiddle (played in American style), bass, tabla, kanjira, bones, and other percussive instruments. The melodies comfortably shifts back and forth between a more eastern and a more western sound, but the rhythms show a primarily Indian influence, with the melodic and percussive instruments alike taking part in the polyrhythm, tihai, and other rhythmic devices that are responsible for much of the excitement of Indian music. This is an exciting recording for lovers of Appalachian and Indian music alike. You can get a preview of their music at http://www.hindugrass.net/, or borrow the CD from the library to hear the whole thing!

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Histoire de Melody Nelson by Serge Gainsbourg []

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The master melodist and provocateur, Serge Gainsbourg introduced a revolutionary recording with 1971’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. The French pop star abandoned an archetypal singing style in place of a soft and nearly spoken word delivery. This was achieved by the singer’s smokey, baritone voice captured by close microphone placement. The music behind this voice is expressive and experimental with shades of psychedelia. Groovy (and yes, there’s really no other way of putting it) electric bass lines, freak out fuzz guitar and busy drums supply the basic tracks that are augmented by a choral and haunting string score by Jean-Claude Vannier.

Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg’s then wife, appears on the front cover and also provides the voice of Melody Nelson. You see, this is a concept record. It tells a Lolita-esque tale of a middle-aged man out driving who accidentally hits a bicycling British girl. The man falls in love with his victim and a love affair follows. Melody soon decides to fly home and the man, now devastated, performs an African Cargo Cult ritual to make his love return. His desperation proves to be tragic as he discovers that this act of mysticism caused an airplane crash.

The songs of Serge Gainsbourg, and the Melody Nelson album in particular, have inspired many musicians including Air, Jarvis Cocker, Beck, Portishead, Sean Lennon and the Divine Comedy. Rarely has the marriage of lyrical ingenuity and musical arrangement been achieved in popular music.

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fRoots []

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fRoots (formerly Folk Roots) covers modern and traditional music with roots from around the globe. Feature articles, CD and concert reviews, and even advertising span world music from Scotland to South Africa and from ukulele to sitar. Some issues include a CD sampler. With its broad coverage of past, present and the cutting edge and its passion for folk as a constantly-evolving genre, fRoots is the last, best roots music magazine.

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