Tag Archives: Folk

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
Sneak peak: 

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Christopher Owens – Lysandre (2013)

Christopher Owens - Lysandre (2013)

Former singer of American indie rock band, Girls, Christopher Owens sets off on his solo journey here with Lysandre.

I really am unsure how I feel about this album, it is really hard to get my head around. The opening lyrics to Love Is In The Ear Of The Listener “What if I’m just a bad songwriter; and everything I say has been said before” say a lot, I think, about the anxieties of setting out solo and the chorus “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a sentiment I have to proffer here, in my genuine state of not really knowing what to think about this album. My review is not going to do it a huge amount of justice and I feel that you may have to listen to understand why I am so unsure.

Opening track, Lysandre’s Theme, is a chamber/baroque-esque melody; this baroque theme is a constant presence on the album, as flute is incorporated into the instrumentation and the melody is repeated throughout the album. Here We Go gives a better impression of the overall theme of the album, a soft indie/folk pop song with acoustic guitar and soft vocals, before incorporating the aforementioned baroque elements, harmonica, and a really jarring electric guitar; for some reason it reminds me of Ween’s take on folk song Cold Blows The Wind, while New York City incorporates saxophone, and melodically sounds like Time For Truth by the Jam. Riviera Rock stands out to me; a mostly instrumental track, with a chilled out somewhat ska rhythm.

Overall, I wasn’t totally blown away, I found the vocals a bit weak at times, and the sentiment fairly insincere the whole time; reminding me of Ween or Ergo Phizmiz’s deconstructions of pop music; and maybe that was Owens’ goal, I don’t know. The baroque–pop experimental approach is admirable and works relatively well. But, in the end, you are going to have to check it out yourself, it’s interesting.

Favourite tracks: Riviera Rock, Lysandre, Everywhere You Knew

Spotify link: Christopher Owens – Lysandre
Sneak peak: 

Owiny Sigoma Band – Power Punch (2013)

Owiny Sigoma Band - Power Punch (2013)

Owiny Sigoma Band is something of an unusual project. Back in 2009, five Londoners went to Kenya with the intention of creating music. Lyre player Joseph Nyamungu and drummer Charles Owoko joined the outfit and brought along other unnamed Kenyan musician, resulting in an eponymous debut album.

Here, the band return with another slice of unusual fusion. This album certainly falls into the do-not-judge-by-the-cover category; first glances can be deceiving and I admit, I was led astray, thinking this would be something of a rap album.

However, I was pleasantly surprised! This is a fusion album like no other I have come across; minimalistic dub, glitch-style electronica and Kenyan traditional music meet in a wonderful clash of souls. Take, for example, Sunken Wrecks: the drumming thoughout is dense oppressive African beats, driving forward, while electronic bass notes ring out. Other tracks are more biased towards the African influence: Lucas Malore has a distinctive Kenyan flavour, very upbeat with (presumably) Swahili lyrics; the Western influence is resigned to a subtle electronica keyboard backing. This interplay is played out throughout the whole album and while it doesn’t sound like a marriage made in heaven, it more or less works. Some tracks do seem out of place, however; for example, All Together is an electro-dream pop sounding track with no apparent reference to the African influence everywhere else (not that it’s a bad track).

Overall, it is actually an unusual album and one, based on the cover, I would never have touched were it not for this project. I’m glad I did, because this is an album where the gamble paid off and I was treated to a fusion odyssey like nothing I’d heard before; not perfect, but the experimental approach justifies any misgivings I may have.

Favourite tracks: Sunken Wrecks, Magret Aloor, Owiny Techno

Spotify link: Owiny Sigoma Band – Power Punch
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: 

 

Villagers – {Awayland} (2013)

Villagers - {Awayland} (2013)

Villagers is a band fronted by singer/songwriter Conor O’Brien from Dublin, Ireland, and the curiously punctuated {Awayland} is the second album.

This is a great album, at times I am reminded very much of Paul Simon; however, there is a definite more modern experimental folk edge to the whole thing. Opener, My Lighthouse, is a modest track, one of the most Paul Simon-esque tracks, subtle guitar and harmonic vocals. This is followed by the fantastic Earthly Pleasures, which shows O’Brien’s flair for inventive, emotive and evocative songwriting.

{Awayland} is a great album, thoroughly absorbing, with grand concepts executed perfectly. A stunning mix of folk and experimental, O’Brien is a great talent. Loved it.

Favourite tracks: Earthly Pleasure, The Waves, Grateful Song

Spotify link: Villagers – {Awayland} (Digital Deluxe)
Sneak peak: 

Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa (2013)

Rokia Traoré - Beautiful Africa (2013)

Rokia Traoré is a Malian guitarist and singer/songwriter. Beautiful Africa is a beautiful folk-pop album, sung mostly in her native Bamana language, though there is also French (Melancolie; Beautiful Africa).

The album opener, Lalla, gives a good indication of the entire album, a simple but effective beat is joined in quick succession by an acoustic guitar and ngoni (a Malian instrument, a kind of lute), backing vocals and Traoré’s beautiful voice, wonderfully warm full, with an oh-so-slight gravel quality, but mostly smooth. The track, as most of the album, is in a celebratory mood, upbeat and joyousA track like Ka Moun Ke introduces a pretty sweet bassline to the mix driving the track forward, as also in Melancolie.

In contrast to much of the album, N’teri is a beautiful slow introspective track, with a sombre, slow beat, and subtle ngoni  melody, the music taking a backseat to Traoré’s beatifully sorrowful voice. Without knowledge of the language, I couldn’t tell you the context, but it feels like a griot tribute to the recently deceased.

A lovely album, a beautiful voice and a treat to listen to.

Favourite tracks: N’Teri, Kouma, Ka Moun Ke

Spotify link: Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa
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Faustus – Broken Down Gentlemen (2013)

Faustus - Broken Down Gentlemen (2013)

Pretty much everything is “wrong” with this album; look at the cover, find a picture of the band. Now, what do you imagine? Indie-rock? Pop-punk? English folk ballads?

Well, actually it’s the last one; and it’s fantastic!

Faustus are a three piece English folk band, consisting of Benji Kirkpatrick (guitar, bazouki) and Paul Sartin (fiddle), most famously of another contemporary English folk band, Bellowhead, and Saul Rose (melodeon), of Whapweasel and Kings of Calicutt.

To my ear, there seems to be two types of “folk” music; the first seems to be applied to anybody who picks up an acoustic guitar, whereas the second is applied to those who continue musical tradition, using traditional instruments. Not that I have a problem with either and, in fact, genre-ology and the difficulties in defining genres is one of my favourite talking points. However, I point out here that Faustus fall into the latter camp.

There is a definite stripped-down sound to Faustus, compared with the more rock-influenced and bigger and raucous arrangements of Bellowhead, for example. The lack of drums in Faustus gives a more homely, more traditional feel. But that isn’t to say that Faustus are lacking anything. They certainly aren’t.

There is a varied texture of tracks on Broken Down Gentlemen as Faustus put their spin on traditional folk tracks, from the mournful Captain’s Apprentice, the cautious American Stranger, the shanty-esque Og’s Eye Man, and the combative (and frankly fantastic) Banks of the Nile. Vocal harmonies abound along with driving guitar, fiddle and bazouki, along with the never relenting melodeon, underpinning all that is good.

Yes, pretty much everything is “wrong” with this album, and that’s exactly what is right with it. The raison d’etre of the band is to “banish all that is anodyne and fey in the delivery of folk music”, and that they do; folk doesn’t have to be bearded middle-aged men from the 1970s.

Broken Down Gentlemen is a great and varied album, beautiful and bawdy, and well worth a listen.

Favourite tracks: Banks of the Nile, Og’s Eye Man, Thrashing Machine

Spotify link: Faustus – Broken Down Gentlemen
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