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Highlife 2008 Volume 1

Best of Lists,CDs,Records 6 June 2008 | 0 Comments

Here’s a list of our favourite recordings to appear so far this year.

THE DYNAMICS   Version Excursions                                                              France

This Paris based international soul-reggae posse offers one of the year’s most satisfying albums.  At times sounding like Curtis Mayfield fronting a reggae band tackling the classic rock songbook, they take reggae’s long tradition of cover tunes to a new level.

ORCHESTRA BAOBAB    Made In Dakar                                                      Senegal

This triumphant recording by one of our favourite African groups is inspired by one of the world’s great musical cities, Dakar.  Updating traditional griot songs as well as hits from the 60’s and 70’s with their trademark Afro-Cuban sound, Orchestra Baobab play with the effortless grace and joyfulness of long-time musical collaborators, making deeply soulful music, Dakar style. 

NICK CAVE    Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!                                                              Australia

The prodigious wordsmith, who recently turned 50, is back with his hardest-rocking release in years.  A revitalized Bad Seeds band complement the darkly humourous lyrics and theatrical delivery with their edgy rhythms, as Cave and his cohorts seem to be having a whale of a time.

UMALALI    Garifuna Women’s Project                                                        Belize

This beautiful recording focuses on the rich musical culture of the Afro-Caribbean people of Central America.  Producer Ivan Duran, who also produced the remarkable ‘Watina’ by the late, great Andy Palacio, brings together some fabulous female voices from Belize, who bring these spirited songs to life while keeping their culture alive.

JUSTIN ADAMS & JULDEH CAMARA      Soul Science                       UK/Gambia

North meets South on this exciting disc which brings together British guitarist/producer Justin Adams (who has worked with Saharan dynamos Tinariwen as well as Robert Plant) and the Gambian griot/vocalist Juldeh Camara.  Camara’s scorching one-string fiddle leads the way, accompanied by a crack rhythm section and his own impassioned vocals.  A rousing Saharan blues workout.

BUIKA     Mi Nina Lola                                                                                        Spain

This achingly beautiful recording by the wonderfully smoky vocalist from Majorca (who grew up alongside a gypsy community) adds jazz and soul to its flamenco roots.  With a stellar band and crisp production, this will appeal to fans of Bebo & Cigala.

CAT POWER     Jukebox                                                                                       USA

Chan Marshall’s follow-up to her wonderful ‘The Greatest’ album is this remarkable recording of (mostly) covers.  Her interpretations of songs by artists from Dylan to James Brown to Joni Mitchell and others never fail to intrigue and entertain.  Her tribute to Dylan, ‘Song to Bobby’ (echoing Dylan’s ‘Song to Woody’) is particularly striking.

CHEB I SABBAH     Devotion                                                                        India/USA

Returning his musical focus to India, Cheb i Sabbah offers this alluring set of subtly updated devotional music.  The pulsing rhythms underlying the sitar and tabla interplay and the evocative vocals add up to inspiring music, arguably his most satisfying to date.

DEVOTCHKA     A Mad & Faithful Telling                                                   USA

Indie bands from Vampire Weekend to Gogol Bordello are adding a world of international melodies and rhythms to their music, and Devotchka seem to be inspired by two of our favourite groups, Calexico and Beirut.  Combining accordion, trumpets, violin, bouzouki and sousaphone, they evoke Ennio Morricone conducting a mariachi band in the Balkans.  Unique flavours abound.

TOUMANI DIABATE     The Mande Variations                                            Mali

Mali’s leading kora virtuoso delivers his second solo instrumental recording 20 years after the first.  A true innovator, Diabate, who has collaborated with Taj Mahal, Bjork, Ali Farka Toure, the flamenco group Ketama and countless others, brings his amazing technique and musical adventurousness to this set of new ancient tunes, as Nick Gold’s sterling production lets the music shine.

DANIEL LANOIS     Here Is What Is                                                             Canada

The latest release by one of Canada’s most talented artists is a showcase for the guitarist/vocalist/producer’s many strengths.  From dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes featuring his wonderful pedal steel playing to more straight ahead songs, this is a multi-faceted work from a multi-faceted artist.  Also available is a fascinating companion DVD documentary portrait of Lanois and his musical journey.

WYCKHAM  PORTEOUS     3 A.M.                                                                    Canada

East Vancouver’s Wyckham Porteous has been writing and singing great songs for over 20 years.  With his distinctive big voice and heartfelt delivery, Wyckham presents a highly listenable set of originals and covers.  His version of the Beatles ‘Please Please Me’ is a particularly inspired highlight.

RADIOHEAD     In Rainbows                                                                                 UK

This latest Radiohead recording, which garnered remarkable press for its unique approach to on-line marketing, also happens to be a great set of songs.  Known for their ability to find beauty in darkness, Thom Yorke and his bandmates alternate melody and abstraction to startling effect on their most compelling release since ‘OK Computer.’

ROUGH GUIDE TO AFRICAN STREET PARTY                           Africa/Various

This excellent Rough Guide is a rollicking ride through the heat-drenched streets of Africa, where music blares from every shop front, market stall and passing vehicle.  With a focus on the contemporary edge of African sounds, this trip takes you from Mali in the northwest through Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Angola, Congo and Mozambique.  A wonderful journey awaits.

SIGUR ROS     Heima (DVD) & Hvarf/Heim (CD)                                       Iceland

The simultaneous release of a double DVD and double CD by one of Iceland’s natural wonders is cause for celebration.  The beautifully shot DVD set follows Sigur Ros around Iceland on their tour of free concerts, giving insight into the group and their remarkable country.  The double CD includes new electric recordings and acoustic live pieces, both highlighting their uniquely compelling blend of Icelandic folk, classical and psychadelia.

JEF STOTT     Saracen                                                                                           USA

In the genre of worldly-electro-dub, the Six Degrees label from San Francisco has very few rivals.  Riding on the heals of last year’s brilliant Gaudi meets Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan remix album comes this wonderfully exotic recording by newcomer Jef Stott.  On this album, traditional sounds and voices of North Africa and the Middle East fuse effortlessly with dubby grooves and energetic dance beats to produce a compelling musical journey.

UP BUSTLE & OUT     Istanbul’s Secrets                                                 UK/Turkey

The pair of globetrotting Brits known as Up Bustle & Out, who have previously made rewarding musical pilgrimages to Bolivia, Cuba and Mexico, now immerse themselves in Turkey’s vibrant musical culture.  Adding touches of flamenco, dub and electronica, they’ve produced a double CD of great range and abundant beauty.

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