Brazilian Café (2009)—This compilation presents a laidback Brazilian vibe. New and established artists perform traditional and not-so-traditional bossa novas and sambas. The right mix of female and male voices, lush horns, soft guitar and Brazilian rhythms make this the ideal music for a rainy day.
Café Cubano (2008)—I bet the food is spicy and the rum plenty in a Cuban café. I don’t drink so if I visited a trova house or café, I’d hope to hear sones and boleros sung by musicians preserving their musical heritage. And that’s exactly what you’ll hear on this disc. Veterans and newcomers perform that hip-swaying music associated with Cuba.
Acoustic France (2008)—The title alone grabs me. I’m both a fan of acoustic music and a Francophile. This compilation mainly represents the younger chanson singers such as supermodel-turned pop star Carla Bruni (she’s the wife of the current French President) and actress Sandrine Kiberlain. Sensuous men singers also appear on the CD, check out Thomas Dutronc’s track for an example. Ah, oui!
Women of the World (2007)—What’s not to like about an entire album devoted to varying timbres of women’s vocals. From the lush harmonies of the Wailin’ Jennys to the sensual Latin vocals of Marta Topferova and Marta Gòmez and the hot Cape Verdean vocals of Lura, this is a compilation you play when you need comfort and nourishment. (It would also make a nice Mother’s Day gift). I can hear the compilation playing in the background of a women's get-together too.
Acoustic Africa (2006)—I reviewed this recording in 2006, along with reviewing a spectacular Putumayo Presents Acoustic Africa tour that featured Habib Koite and Bamada with Dobet Gnahorè (Vusi Mahlasela performed on some of the dates). The compilation mainly features music of West African countries, but South Africa, the Congo and Madagascar are also represented. I was mostly impressed with the guitar work, but the vocals warmed my heart too.
Acoustic Brazil (2005)—Acoustically-performed songs by some of the best songwriters, vocalists and guitarists in Brazil find a place on this compilation. Think Monica Salmaso, Teresa Cristina, Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso for starters. Beautifully performed, these urban bossa novas and sambas make a perfect companion on a lazy summer’s day.
Mali (2005)—Musically-speaking, Mali has represented a hotbed of talent for over 2 decades. The West African country is in the top of economically poor countries, but if music could be used as currency on the global market, the US would look impoverished in comparison. Certainly this mother country to various music genres (blues, jazz, rock and bluegrass since the banjo hails from Mali) possesses musical lineages (think griot) worth shouting out to the world. And it has with Tuareg rock (Tinariwen), Malian blues (Habib Koitè, Boubacar Traorè) and women vocalists with soaring vocals that give Italian opera divas a field day (Mamou Sidibè and Ramatou Diakitè). And if you need visuals, watch the live performance of Habib Koitè and Bamada.
Italian Café (2005)—Remember Fellini’s La Dolce Vita? Remember the jazz club in Nights of Cabriria? Italian Café waxes nostalgia by presenting Italian pop stars from the 1950s and 60s along with contemporary performers. Singer-songwriters including Gianmaria Testa (who I reviewed recently) appear alongside American jazz-inspired ensembles (Quartetto Cetra). That Roman café might be half a world away, but a shot of Italian Café has me using the handful of Italian words in my repertoire. Think of it as coffee without the buzz.
Women of Latin America (2004)—It’s hard to believe that it has been 6 years since I attended Putumayo Presents Women of Latin America concert at the Moore Theatre in Seattle. While I had already been familiar with Chilean Mariana Montalvo (from her solo album on Putumayo), Afro-Peruvian Susana Baca and Mexican-American Lila Downs, this compilation introduced me to many new voices such as Colombian cumbia singer Totò Momposina and Mexican-American Lhasa, just to name 2. Easily my favorite Putumayo recording, these Latin women vocalists warm my heart on days when nothing else can—priceless.
French Café (2003)—My food co-op introduced me to French Café. I heard the suave tunes by Paris Combo, Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg while shopping for organic produce or when placed on hold when I phoned the store. While I don’t imagine that I’m strolling down the streets of Paris or hanging out in a sidewalk café, this collection of songs of old and new has me practicing my French. And when I phone the co-op I prefer to be put on hold as long as I can listen to Belle du Berry.