Tag Archives: Blues

Etran Finatawa – The Sahara Sessions (2013)

Etran Finatawa - The Sahara Sessions (2013)

When listening to folk music without any background information, one is almost forced to take a journey with the music trying to determine from where it has come. Musical styles, instrumentation, vocal inflections and overall feel go towards this; however the deeper you listen to folk music, the more you hear similarities across the world and you realise that people often transfer their thoughts and dreams into music in similar ways the world over.

Now, the title of this album unfortunately spoils this little game with Etran Finatawa (though I had forgotten the title when I was listening). Going by the music alone, a simple stripped back folky blues, plucked guitar, and a simple rhythm played on a drum with hand claps. One stand out feature of the style is the wide open structure of the songs, with sections often repeated as far as the horizon; that is what led me to think of nomadic peoples. Though, because of the singing, I felt it was geographically placed Eastwards. Not as far as Mongolia (Siberian music I’m sure I would recognise pretty quickly), so I settled on Kazahkstan.

What I should have heard better is the blues influence in the music. That (along with title) would have placed Etran Finatawa squarely in Western Africa, the “other home of the blues”. In fact, Etran Finatawa are from Niger, and composed of members of two nomadic groups, the Tuareg and Wodaabe, a coming together of cultures, as songs are sang in both languages.

The music itself is lovely to listen to, very loose and low key, lamenting and heartfelt. Vocal melodies and harmonies interplay with the guitar melodies and feel like eternity, like the wide open landscape that form the nomads’ life. The album was recorded in the desert as live takes, and that adds to the honesty of the music.

Enjoyable, but not enervating, so it might just be that perfect antidote to a frenetic lifestyle that some of us find us so often in.

Favourite tracks: Matinfa, Eldam, Bakuba
Spotify link: Etran Finatawa – The Sahara Sessions
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David Lynch – The Big Dream (2013)

David Lynch - The Big Dream (2013)

Ah, David Lynch, purveyor of several cerebral cult films which make varying degrees of sense, director of one of my favourite TV programmes, Twin Peaks, and, most recently, musician. This is Lynch’s second studio album after 2011’s Crazy Clown Time.

Somewhere in the jumbled bag of knowledge, tropes and memes that I call my brain, there is a band which sounds just like this, but I cannot put my finger on it; it is on the tip of my ear, as it were. The general sound feels like an intelligent mix of blues and trip-hop; a sort of trip-hop noir.

Lynch’s voice comes across like a mix between (if you can try to imagine this) early Neil Young, Daniel Johnston and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers. In fact, the slower Butthole Surfers’ songs are probably a good comparison in some ways. The Big Dream is not as extreme or as psychedelic as the Butthole Surfers, but there is something about the way the tracks sounds, especially the vocals. The final comparison is not so surprising; Julee Cruise’s Floating Into The Night (1989), for which Lynch co-wrote the songs with Angelo Badalamenti and a number of tracks were used in Twin Peaks, including the instrumental mix of Falling as the title music.

It’s not as weird as you might be expecting, but it is no Straight Story either. There is plenty to get the brain ticking over and to twist your melon not quite into insanity, but into a un-ease. A great album.

Favourite tracks: Last Call, Say It, The Ballad Of Hollis Brown, The Line It Curves
Spotify link: David Lynch – The Big Dream
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Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Black Pudding (2013)

Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood - Black Pudding (2013)

Ipecac records was founded in 1999 by Mike Patton and Greg Werckman (formerly of Alternative Tentacles); its raison d’etre is to be a sort of aural emetic, its namesake medicine, to purge bad music, by dosing you up with good music. It has always been a source of joy for me, the releases have covered such a wide range of music, that one can never really know what to expect next.

However, one has a vague idea of what to expect from former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. His solo albums falling into the bluesy alternative rock sound and his multiple collaborations including Queens Of The Stone Age.

Duke Garwood is a British multi-instrumentalist, who recently has collaborated with Savages on their great album Silence Yourself.

First and foremost, Black Pudding is a blues album. The guitar work is totally solid, straying into jazzy territory on some tracks, while becoming more drone-like on others. Vocals are stoic and reserved, gravelly and full, sounding like a Tom Waits in training. Most tracks are without backing, but occasionally drums are used, the style of which, again very reserved but up-beat, giving an overall sound like a trip-hop meets blues fusion which is really good.

I think this album is just fantastic, I really can’t stop listening to it. Favourite tracks are hard to narrow down, such is the overall quality.

Favourite tracks: War Memorial, Mescalito, Cold Molly

Spotify link: Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Black Pudding
Sneak peak: 

Bombino – Nomad (2013)

Bombino - Nomad (2013)

Bombino is the performing name of Niger’s Omara Moctar, a guitarist and singer of the Tuareg people, a nomadic group based in Niger, Mali and Algeria.

After fleeing Niger to Algeria in the early 1990’s Tuareg rebellion, he began teaching himself guitar on an instrument brought by visiting relatives.

West Africa is the spiritual home of the blues, with a great tradition, especially in Mali and with the Tuareg people, of African blues; and Nomad is a welcome addition to the oeuvre of that region. Moctar’s electric guitar is a folky blues machine, singing out riffs like a thing possessed, while the funky African rhythms drive the whole thing forward.

The sound is dense though upbeat, drawing out the gritty raw nature of Moctar’s music, from a real blues affair, exemplified by a track such as the instrumental Niamey Jam, through to country, with Imidiwan, and the mix thereof to close the album on Tamiditine.

The production quality is fantastic giving a real great rock sound, heavy on the rhythm section and a nice big guitar sound, such as on Azamane Tiliade; no doubt coming as a result of having The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach as producer.

Overall, a great album, as worthwhile for blues fans and fans of African music.

Favourite tracks: Niamey Jam, Tamiditine, Azamane Tiliade

Spotify link: Bombino – Nomad
Sneak peak: 

 

Smoke Fairies – Blood Speaks (2012)

Smoke Fairies - Blood Speaks (2012)

Smoke Fairies are a blues/folk duo from the UK, forming in the mid 2000s, and championed by the Longpigs and Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley.

Musically, Smoke Fairies incorporate bluesy pop music with the meter and melodies of English folk music. This is pretty laid-back and stripped back music with nothing extraneous and no pretensions. I am more than a little reminded of late 70s Fleetwood Mac. And that is more than a good enough reason to like the album, in my opinion.

Definitely worth a listen.

Favourite tracks: Take Me Down When You Go, Version Of The Future, Awake

Spotify link: Smoke Fairies – Blood Speaks
Sneak peak: 

 

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – Jama Ko (2013)

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba - Jama Ko (2013)

Sometimes you come to albums with no knowledge about them and with no preconceivied notions. That is how I approached Jama Ko.

I’m almost tempted to not tell you too much about Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, because it could possibly spoil the fun I had listening to this album trying to place just where this music comes from. I went on a global trip in my mind trying to narrow down what country this could have hailed from.

First, and most prominent on the album, is the stringed instrument that is so playfully plucked and strummed throughout. At times it sounds like a guitar, sometimes a ukulele and often a middle-eastern instrument like the dutar or rubab, and occasionally like a Greek laoutu. Next, the choral harmony of the backing vocals sounds African, while the inflections in the lead vocals sound Persian or Indian. Finally, the style is mostly charming upbeat Afrobeat-style Jazz (mostly driven by the unnamed stringed instrument), some Calyspo-esque beats, and finally Blues, especially on track Poye 2 (which is sang in French, reinforcing the African theme).

Well, Poye 2 gives it all away in the end:
Blues pour le Mali, pour le Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambie, Guinea Bisau, oh Mali, oh Mali

Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba hail from Mali, which is, after all, the other home of the blues. The aforementioned stringed instrument is the Malian ngoni, a kind of lute, not dissimilar to the Afghan dutar and rubab, and Bassekou Kouyate and his two sons are masterful players. His wife completes the line up on vocals.

The whole album is a groovy fusion gem, loose and playful, immediately accessible as well as rewarding on further listens. Well worth it.

Favourite tracks: Sinaly, Segu Jajiri, Mali Koori

Spotify link: Bassekou Kouyate + Ngoni ba – Jama ko
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