Category: Music reviews

Rahim Alhaj, When the Soul is Settled: Music of Iraq

Music heard often brings to mind other music—it is the echo of the human, the similarity of imaginative play in different parts of the globe; and some of the rhythms Rahim Alhaj with Lebanese percussionist Souhail Kaspar perform recall Spanish music to me (“Taqsim Maqam Bayyat-Husayni”). The music has the rigor of an old tradition, and the energy of a particular musician and moment (“Taqsim Maqam Hijaz”), with some of it sounding like the forming and explosion of bubbles.

What One Young Man Made of His Freedom: Liam Finn, I’ll Be Lightning

Finn achieves what seems a personal voice—not the voice one speaks in but the voice one thinks with, the voice that is changed when one feels, the voice others usually do not hear: a voice of sensitivity and serenity, a voice of imagination and investigation. What “once was fun will later be boring,” he sings, with a cello-like throbbing nearby.

Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, featuring B.B. King, Robbie Robertson, Robert Plant, Olu Dara, Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones, and Ben Harper

Harper’s singing is exuberant and pleading nearly at the same time; and the Skatalites, a Jamaican band that often perform reggae and ska, give the song a subtle Caribbean rhythm. Yet, it is Toots and the Maytals in the Domino-Bartholomew seduction song “Let the Four Winds Blow,” produced by Toots Hibbert, that is quite full of soul. With Dean Frasier’s hot saxophone playing and the doo-woppish background singing, and a very clean uptempo production, the song “Four Winds” really lives.

An Unusual Voice: Lizz Wright, The Orchard

I do not think that I like the compositions on Lizz Wright’s The Orchard as much as I do those on Wright’s Salt and Dreaming Wide Awake: while being interesting, even nourishing, fruits of labor, they do not have as pleasing a shape or taste; but Wright sounds more free and Wright’s voice is as distinct as that of Anita Baker or Tracy Chapman, and is as likely to be, as theirs have been, among the defining voices of a generation.

Unexpected Beauty: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand

Robert Plant, a legendary rock musician, and Alison Krauss, an established folk performer, would seem an odd match but on Raising Sand they are unbeatable; and with their collaborators—producer T Bone Burnett, drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Dennis Crouch, and others—they have made very satisfying music.

Song Stylist with Guitars: Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Live at Radio City

Singer-guitarist Matthews has a humble presence but one senses his mind and morality, and on Live at Radio City, a two-disk recording of a Radio City Music Hall concert he performed with his friend Tim Reynolds, an exceptional guitarist, Matthews makes casual comments—friendly, grateful (“it’s awesome to be here”), musical, and political (returning from Iraq, injured American soldiers are being denied benefits and signing bonuses)—that suggest Matthews’s gifts have not alienated him from daily life or ordinary people.

Compositions and Improvisations: Christian Scott, Anthem

There is a skittish rhythm in “The 9,” written by Scott with Louis Fouche, and something of the sound speaks of today, while “Like That” is late night music, and a version of “Anthem,” co-written by Jason Hunter, features the rowdy rap of Brother J of X-Clan. With that, the greatly promising Christian Scott has declared himself a jazzman of our time. Will he become a musician for all times?

Where the White Boys Dance: The Killers, Sawdust

A burst of guitar noise and a heavy drum beat, followed by Brandon Flowers’s Reedish singing—and then Lou Reed himself, form the beginning of “Tranquilize,” a song with lyrics such as “money talks when people need shoes and socks,” lyrics that also articulate fear of home invasion and feelings of stasis.

New Stories, New Sounds: Youssou N’Dour’s Give and Take (Rokku Mi Rokka)

On Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take), Youssou N’Dour sings in Wolof; and the album’s liner notes are in Wolof and English. Youssou N’Dour and Kabou Gueye’s song “4-4-44” is a festive celebration of freedom and family, of efforts appreciated and well-rewarded; and the music is strong on percussion and rhythm (the percussionists are Babacar Faye and Steve Shehan), with a kind of low, pleasantly rumbling sound—and N’Dour’s singing in it is a warm, male sound.