So, here we go!
1. BB King: Live in Africa
2012 has been a year of re-discovering the magnificence of B.B. King, and especially his ground-breaking early albums. In 1974, fully half of the American black music gentry it seemed, flew into The Heart of Darkness and played a series of shows in the run up to the famous Mohammad Ali-George Foreman fight, the Rumble in the Jungle.
This set finds B.B in top form. His guitar is stiletto sharp. His voice crawls from growl and soars to falsetto plea with equal urgency and believability. One would have no idea he is on stage in Kinshasa rather than south Memphis, if it were not his attempt to channel Marilyn Monroe by singing a love song to the President--Mobutu Sese Seko not JFK!
Choice Cut: Sweet Sixteen
2. Ry Cooder: I, Flathead
Mr. Cooder is rightly praised as one of the era’s most imaginative, distinctive and wonderful guitar players but in recent years he’s become a musical novelist par excellence. There are many good storytellers in music but I can think of no one else who has managed to produce a series of records so firmly based on a novelist’s model and that trace an unfolding story with multiple characters. And that too, with humour, pathos and tip top musicality! I, Flathead in fact, comes with a 100 page novella by Ry which tells of the adventures of a band called the Klowns and that takes place on the salt flats and western plains of the USA. Even without the booklet this is an amazing record I’ve never tired of the many times I’ve listened in 2012.
Choice Cut: Steel Guitar Heaven
3. Various Artists: Soul Divas
My old friend Ned Wood turned me on to the Cut Out bins of record stores many decades ago. Though that particular sort of bin is a historic item now, this four CD set is the found at the contemporary equivalent: airport bookstores. Indeed, most of the content of said bins deserve to be heavily discounted but from time to time gems lay beneath the mud. Soul Divas is a collection of modern and 60s soul mixed up with contemporary hip-hop flavoured R&B. All of it surprisingly of good quality and variety. Time and again throughout the year I’ve found myself tapping my foot and moving my shoulders to many of these songs.
Choice Cut: Lights Out
4. Abrasaz: Biraminket
Thanks to Kokolo over at Spiritsand Spices Blog for this, which is my choice of album of the year. The music of ABRASAZ leads us into another world, a world of fantasy and desire for outer space, a world of harmony and peaceful coexistence of mankind, an imaginary world of the musical globetrotter. The singing reminds us of Turkish uplands, but also of the gigantic mountains of Tibet and Nepal, the tablas of solemn ceremonies in India, the bass of Zen-meditation in Japan.
Against this horizon suddenly appears a lonesome trumpet, subtly glides into the musical landscape, starts a musical dialogue with the bass, the tablas, the saz and gradually disappears into higher spheres. Four internationally, highly acclaimed musicians, whose geographic and musical differences could not be greater, merge in a brilliant way into an ensemble which is extremely homogeneous just because of the emphasis which is put on these differences. This paradox is possible because the four artists never use their musical mastery for its own sake but for their common interest. Let it be jazz, world music, Indian classical music or contemporary music...ABRASAZ escapes the musical thinking in categories and lives from the incredible creativity of the excellent musicians of this outstanding ensemble. (official website)
Ravi Srinivasan (tabla, vocals, santoor, electronic percussion)
Mustafa El Dino (saz, darbuka, vocals, bendir)
Akira Ando (double bass, bells)
Paul Schwingenschlögl (trumpet, flugelhorn, piano)
Choice Cut: Darjeeling Light
5. Various Artists: Troubled Troubadours
Country music is not all about pet dogs, tears in beer and truck drivers longing for home. As this off-the-wall collection lovingly demonstrates the subject matter of America’s most misunderstood musical genre ranges from lust, suicide, abortion and electric chairs. You’ll find ladies regretting their one night affairs, and gamblers wondering why their credit cards are maxed out. And plenty of long-hair hippie put-downs. Fun, fun, fun!
Choice Cut: Hide My Sin (A.b.o.r.t.i.o.n N.e.w. Y.o.r.k)
6. Cleo Page: Leavin’ Mississippi
I came across a reference to this record on Mojo4Music and traced it to some obscure corner of the internet. Cleo Page - absent from blues encyclopaedias, let alone the internet, he was apparently active in Los Angeles in the ’70s, and probably wouldn’t have liked strangers nosing into his business anyway. A gruff, to-the-point presence who likes his liquor and women, he sings as if recording these songs was an inconvenience to be got through quickly. (Mojo4Music)
I tracked down Cleo’s daughter, Pamela, who sent this little snippet to me a few months ago: My Dad has music on you-tube that I did not even know about, my sister said the song Cryin’ Emma and Home On Alcatraz was played on a radio station in the early 50s, this is news to me, as for the LP, those are singles someone has put together and is promoting them, the picture is from his obituary. My Dad try to get me interest in the guitar but I love the Piano , can't play it but can pick a few notes. Yes, Yes and Yes, he always had me listening to old blues before my time blues (LOL ). You know he also had a recording and publishing company called Goodie Train in the 70s, as for the man well that would be a delicious novel but as my Father the only one that would be a step above is Jesus Christ. A bit of MAN info about my Dad, he loved Las Vegas.
Mysterious and marvellous.
Choice Cut: Red Nigger
7. Emmanuel Jal and Adel Gadir Salim: Ceasefire
In the days I was an aid worker I spent quite a bit of time in and around southern Sudan. The conflict between the South and North was one of the most brutal and degrading in Africa which is why this album is such a pleasure.
The stories behind this album have as many hooks as the music itself does. At approximately the age of seven (he doesn't know his exact date of birth) Emmanuel Jal was pressed into service with the Sudan People's Liberation Army. He fought with them for several years before leaving to join a rival rebel group closer to his home in the Upper Nile region. There he met and was eventually adopted by British aid worker Emma McCune, who smuggled him into Kenya with her. McCune died shortly thereafter, and Jal eventually returned to school, studying in both London and Kenya. A religious conversion led him to take up music as his vocation, and he now serves as the spokesman for the Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. On this album he is joined by singer, composer, and oud player Abdel Gadir Salim, a venerated master of northern Sudanese music and a prominent figure on the other side of the Christian/Muslim divide that has contributed in large part to the civil strife in Sudan. Their collaboration is symbolically moving, but is also musically fascinating; Salim's songs are steeped in both the urban and folk music of his region, whereas Jal is a rapper with roots in American and British hip-hop. They don't blend their styles as much as counterpose them, switching within the same song between Salim's powerful singing and Jal's promising (but not yet fully developed) flow. (AMG)
Through this amazing backstory the music shines through. A very good record!
Choice Cut: Baai
8. Altiery Dorival: Bal Champetre
Thanks goes to Moos over at Global Groovers blog for introducing this Haitian kompa-man to me. (Kompa being the Haitian version of Caribbean music, known elsewhere as meringue)Can’t find much out about the man but his music is infectious, sunny and fresh.
Choice Cut: Sauciss
9. Diblo et le Groupe Loketo: Super K, Amour et Souvenir
Throughout the late 70s and 80s soukous guitar playing became increasingly more frenetic and rapid. No one exemplified this lightning style better than Diblo Dibala aka The Machine Gun! Like nearly all Congolese musicians, Diblo paid his homage and dues in Franco’s TPOK but quickly moved on to work with Kanda Bongo Man, Pepe Kelle and others, both in Congo and Brussels. His own group, Loketo had several hits and is probably one of my favourite soukous bands of all time. If you can’t find your dancing feet upon listening to this, well…I give up.
Choice Cuts: Super K
10. Shirley Caesar: Treasures
The First Lady of Gospel, Shirley Caesar has a big voice and singing style that is about as subtle as jumbo jet. Your spine will tingle and soul will sing along with this ordained minister and pastor of the 1,500-member Mount Calvary Holy Church Word of Faith Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, covers all her ‘hits’ in this appropriately named collection. This lady has won 11 Grammy Awards and 7 Dove Awards (Gospel music version of the Grammy’s)! Give it up for the musical treasure, Rev. Shirley Caesar
Choice Cut: Don’t Drive Your Mama Away