Monday, July 17, 2006

Mary Youngblood - Beneath The Raven Moon (2002)

Apparently the listening kiosks placed in Grand Canyon souvenir stores enticing shoppers to sample their CDs perform their magic very well because I easily succumbed to one of the offerings on their shelves, Beneath The Raven Moon by Mary Youngblood. This disc isn't something I would normally seek out on my own but the sticker on the wrapper advertising that Youngblood was a Grammy Award winner peaked my interest.

Beneath The Raven Moon is an almost totally instrumental album of Native Amercian flute music recorded by a musician who owns 125 different Native American wooden flutes. She plays ten just on this CD.

Youngblood, who is half Aleut and half Seminole, is considered to be a master of her instrument and the quality of her playing, composing, and arranging is very much evident. Her very quiet and appealing melodies have a slight jazz influence as well as touches of classical and ambient music. The sound is mostly pleasant, light, and mainstream. If she played a conventional flute the influence of Youngblood's heritage on her music wouldn't even be discussed.

The more accessible tracks such as "Walk With Me" are accompanied by bass and drums and a classical piece, "And We Can Love," has Youngblood accompanied by a string trio of cello, viola, and violin. "Within My Heart" has Youngblood soloing on the flute. No accompaniment is even necessary. The CD also features guitar, dulcimer, zither, mandolin and piano.

Each of the titles of the twelve tracks are a line in a poem Youngblood has written.

Youngblood has several CDs of her music that you can sample and purchase through Silver Wave Records and you should also check out her website.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Wood Brothers - Ways Not To Lose (2006)

Chris Wood is best known for his day job as bassist for the avant garde jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood. On Ways Not To Lose he takes a subordinate role as he joins his much lesser known brother, Oliver, for an almost all acoustic folk-blues album.

Oliver Wood composed all of the songs himself, or in conjuction with others, including Chris. He plays guitar and sings lead while Chris backs him up on acoustic upright bass and vocals. Except for five of the thirteeen tracks, in which drummer/percsussionist Kenny Wollesen adds his touch, the brothers are the only musicians on the entire CD. The disc is produced by Chris Wood's bandmate, John Medeski, but there is no jazz anywhere, just fine acoustic blues.

Oliver sings in a rough and raw, but not raunchy, voice suitable for the style of music the duo plays here. He has a sad voice that fits the down and out nature of songs that are typical of the mood of most blues. The difference here is that Oliver injects a bit of optimism throughout the CD as the song "Chocolate On My Tongue" proves. While he acknowledges that he may die young it's OK as long as he has experienced some chocolate on his tongue. Even the album's title helps set the tone. While Oliver may not be down and out he doesn't set his goals too high because he lives life trying to find "ways not to lose" instead of finding ways to be a winner.

This CD is more blues than folk. If you are a fan of some of the more earthier folk artists (for some reason John Prine comes to mind) you may be right at home with Ways Not To Lose.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Top 5 Albums of 2006 At The Half

Thus far 2006 has been a lean year for music. There is just as much great music out there as always but the gap between the best work and everything else is wider than usual. That said, let's take a look at the best of the year up to this point.

1. The Corrs - Home
If you told me a year ago that I would find The Corrs among my list of favorites for this year I would have snickered. However the band embraced their roots and that turned out to be a great thing. See why on my full review of their latest CD, Home.

2. Mark Knopfler & Emmy Lou Harris – All The Road Running
Knopfler has long been my favorite guitarist and one of my all around favorite singer-songwriters and bandleaders. Even with his usually high standards Harris helps make this CD one of his best non-soundtrack albums in years. The Sultan Of Swing does it again!

3. James Hunter – People Gonna Talk
Your 50s and 60s R&B dance party is in full swing. Hunter’s first international release is an homage to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and James Brown. The full review can be found here. You must see Hunter live if you get the chance. His stage show is even better than the CD.

4. World Party – Dumbing Up
It’s been awhile but Karl Wallinger has released another CD imitating the music of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. This time around he adds in a little hip-hop for flavor. Despite the obvious influences he manages to make each of these songs his own. Wallinger proves that the old saying "Imitation is the greatest form of flattery" is an accurate one. His falsetto vocals on the opening track are a dead ringer for John Lennon's on "Baby, You’re A Rich Man."

5. Alison Moorer – Getting Somewhere
I still believe Moorer’s sister, Shelby Lynne, is the superior talent but Moorer has turned out a fine CD with Getting Somewhere. Produced by her husband Steve Earle, it is a pleasant upbeat pop-sounding record of light rock, but dig deeper and listen to the dark lyrics and you’ll find that she confronts her frightening adolescence and childhood head on.

Other worthy candidates include the latest releases by Roseanne Cash, Sarah Harmer, The Wood Brothers, and The Saw Doctors, all which could sneak up on this list as time passes.