Lou's Reviews

CD Review by Lou Wigdor

Lou's Top Ten Non-classical Album Picks for 2001
Plus his Song/performance for the Year 

Everybodyís got an opinion. Iím just compulsive enough to write about mine.

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer: Drum Hat Buddah (Signature Sounds)
Dave Carter reveals an exceptional gift for the rhythms of language in superbly crafted songs that explore life and love in American rural settings. In vocal harmonies with Carter and in her own solo vocals, Tracy Grammerís direct, resonant alto is the match for her own substantial violin accompaniments and explorations. A terrific CD for Whately, Massachusetts-based Signature Sounds.

La Bottine Souriante: Cordial (Mille-Pattes)
So near; so far. Quebecís greatest roots/jazz/joie de vivre band excels jubilantly in its eleventh album, but how many among us have heard La Bottine or even heard of them? So much for Nafta. Until the early 1990s, La Bottine -- sans brass -- was known for highly spirited traditional Celtic and French Canadian reels, jigs, gavottes, waltzes -- you name it. Then the brass and some highly innovative jazz arrangements arrived on the scene and endorphins in La Belle Province have never been the same. This album features a crazy quilt of styles from Arabesque-musette to boogie woogie to techno-folkloric sound loops to traditional Celtic. Iím not sure whether these guys can cure cancer, but next summer Iím going up to Montreal for my hangnail.

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack Dejohnette: Inside Out (ECM)
The album that many of us hoped Keith Jarrett would one day make. Inside Out tempers the best of his free-spirited solo improvisational impulses with his responsibilities toward his musical significant others, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian. The results verge on the telepathic and a truly organic balance between freedom and restraint.

Eleftheria Arvanitaki: Broadcast (Emarcy)
One of the true master vocalists of pan-Mediterranean art song, Eleftheria is back with an innovative album of ten new vehicles that demonstrate the extraordinary range and subtlety of her vocal expressiveness. Six of the songs are by modern composers from her native Greece; two are by her long-time American collaborator and oudist, Ara Dinkjian. There is a dance-til-you-drop Afro Carribbean confection augmented by hard-driving horns, and a fascinating duet with neo-Fado vocalist Dulce Pontes. Several of the arrangements suffer from an excess of New Age synthesizers, but the quality and nuances of the songs and Eleftheriaís extraordinary musicianship keep standards securely stratospheric.

Kate Rusby: Little Lights (Compass Records)
British roots music is in splendid hands and voice with Yorkshire folk scion, Kate Rusby. Her impeccable vocal clarity and sweet-and-sour delivery add poignancy to her predominantly melancholy themes, including love lost, love unattainable, love unfaithful, economic harshness, and mortality. Kateís husband and the albumís producer and arranger, John McCusker (of the Battlefield Band), creates a seamless fabric of fiddle, accordion, banjo, mandolin, and bass that complement the albumís traditionalist objectives. Kate will play the Iron Horse on April 17.

Baaba Maal: Missing You (Palm Pictures)
The Senegalese singer/sage returns to his acoustic roots with eleven new songs of striking lyricism and originality. Singing with characteristic Sahelian Islamic bite, Maalís ecstatic voice ups the intensity by indefatigably penetrating through the rich accompanying tableau of kora, balaphon, acoustic guitar, percussion, and chorus. Itís a brilliant aesthetic that splendidly serves Maalís mission of acknowledging the worldís challenges while offering hopefulness, brotherhood, and spiritual nourishment.

Otis Taylor: White African (Northernblues Music)
Not your feel-good blues outing. Neo-country bluesman/antiquarian Otis Taylor sings with exceptional power and intensity about Americaís racist skeletons-Jim Crow justice, lynchings -- and of more universal themes of despair-failed love relationships, infidelities, poverty, hunger. For lapsed Unitarians, thereís Resurrection Blues, in which some people have to suffer when they die, like Jesus did... But they donít want to be Jesus. Big time baggage. But this is the blues of exorcism. And Taylor consistently pulls it off, upping our awareness while lightening our own collective load.

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Spirit of the Century (RealWorld)
Theyíve been going strong since 1939, but never with a stripped-down virtuoso band like this one, featuring John Hammond, David Lindley, Charlie Musselwhite, and others. With those folks on board, the BB of A reconnect with an unvarnished spiritual intensity that yields eight traditional spirituals and four covers-two by Tom Waits, one by Ben Harper, and one by Jagger and Richards. Who would have thought that Real Worldís biggest success of 2001 would come from the exotic US of A?

Dave Holland Quintet: Not for Nothiní (ECM)
On its third album, the quintet continues to shine as one of modern musicís most innovative ensembles. Band leader and bassist extraordinaire Dave Hollandís commanding pulse remains a powerful fulcrum for consistently creative individual and collective improvisations by the rest of the quintet -- vibes, trombone, saxophones, and drums. The compositions cover sweeping ground: quirky vamps, Middle Eastern and African brass flavors, and traditional ballads. The quintet frequently brackets solos with bridge harmonies -- a bow to big band traditions. And the instruments engage in more than a few contrapuntal conversations. Just when you think you know whatís coming next, the band will pull the rug out from underneath you. In Not for Nothiní, you learn early on to expect the unexpected.

Dave Douglas: Witness (Bluebird)
This paean to artists and others who unwaveringly speak out on behalf of social justice exudes passion and musicality. Donít expect comfort music; these are challenging, edgy sonic statements that prove increasingly rewarding with repeated listenings. Written for the largest ensemble (8-11 musicians) in Douglasí recording career as a band leader, the compositions and their larger purpose consistently yield musicianship of striking commitment and originality. Douglas, who composed all nine of the projectís tracks, has never played with greater intensity and conviction. With tracks dedicated to Edward Said,
Naguib Mafouz, Taslima Nasrin, and assorted prisoners/victims of conscience, inspiration apparently came osmotically for Douglas and his forces.
Song/Performance of the Year

Rachel - Buddy& Julie Miller (Hightone)
When Julie Miller connects spiritually with a subject, her songs take flight. Thatís my take on Rachel, ten songs into Julie and Buddy Millerís new, outrageously titled CD, Buddy & Julie Miller (Highspot). In the wrong place at the wrong time, Rachel -- a seventeen year old of loving spirituality -- was the first of thirteen gunned down in the unspeakable Columbine High School tragedy. Julieís offering builds an unbreakable bridge of passion and conviction that connects Rachelís spirituality, its ultimate immortality, and anyone fortunate enough to hear the song. Meanwhile, her husband concocts an upward-spiraling instrumental tapestry that overlays organ-like harmonium chords with delicate trellis-like guitar fingerings. In Rachel, the Millers have given us a modern-day hymn for the ages.

©2002 by Lou Wigdor

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