Thursday, March 10, 2011

FYI: Top 10 Pop Songs that Uplift Moods

Here are 10 pop songs sure to uplift any mood.  Listen to them, sing them, or in some cases dance to them often.  And create your own list of go-to songs.

1. Spoonful--Willie Dixon

2. Here Comes the Sun--The Beatles

3. Smile--Charlie Chaplin (I love Madeleine Peyroux's version)

4. Ma Vie en Rose--Edith Piaf (sung by Edith Piaf in French)

5. Jammin'--Bob Marley

6. What a Wonderful World--Louis Armstrong

7. Maria (from Westside Story)--Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim

8. I Feel Pretty (from Westside Story)--Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sonheim

9. My Favorite Things (The Sound of Music)--composer?

10. Summer Time--George (and Ira?) Gershwin

Also listen to Fellini soundtrack music by Nino Rota, Putumayo compilations, "Careless Love" and "Half the Perfect World" by Madeleine Peyroux, Mozart operas and Catherine Russell's "Inside this Heart of Mine" (World Village) hits the spot too.

Monday, March 7, 2011

In review--hot rabbits swing Parisian-style

Les Chauds Lapins
Barbès Records

Imagine the Golden Age of French music (1920-1940s) revisited by an American bluegrass player and a side musician for They Might Be Giants. Meg Reichardt (Roulette Sisters) and Kurt Hoffman (The Ordinaires) pull of the Parisian accent and the atmosphere of the French swing and chansons on Amourettes. On the surface you might imagine that you’re sitting in a Parisian café with the smell of roasted beans wafting past your nose and Parisians rushing pass you, but the song lyrics border on the absurd at times and recall Godard’s cinema with Parisians cloaked in bohemian black philosophizing about love, sex, and death. The recording lends itself to daydreaming and provides wonderful dinnertime music.  I enjoy listening to the album while I'm cooking dinner.

Musically, the songs have been arranged for strings, acoustic bass, trumpet, plucked banjo, guitar, and ukulele, that’s right, ukulele. The plucky songs bounce along like a spring day. On the opening track, Reichardt sings in a slightly flat girlish voice, “Ever since the day when my destiny had me meet you on my path.” But then on the third song, the lyrics travel south even reaching a point of nonsensical. I enjoy the musical portion of the songs and the instrumental arrangements. The songs wax nostalgia and provide the perfect background music for a casual dinner party or for revelry on a rainy day.

You’ll find plenty of classics by Trenet, Grapelli , Reinhardt and other French luminaries. The track, je t’aime with its swing guitar and violin is the crowning glory on the CD. It promises to stick to your thoughts and send you bouncing along your way. Fans of Putumayo’s cafe and acoustic series will enjoy amourettes.  Charming in its own way.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In review--Music and Bread

Aulaga Folk
A menos cuarto
Armando Records

This isn’t the first time a recording by the Spanish folkloric group Aulaga Folk has crossed my path. And once again I feel tongue-tied in trying to describe the folkloric music on the CD. In 2006 I reviewed the group’s no es mala leña which wed jazz to regional folk music (Extremadura, Spain). The CD was easier to describe than the current recording a menos cuarto (a quarter to the hour) which harbors elements of Celtic Spanish with Arab-Andalusian music, and yet is neither. The album comes with a CD featuring an array of special guests including other Spanish folkloric luminaries such as Javier Ruibal and Eliseo Parra, a second disc featuring mixes and a DVD with three music videos so we can see the band in action, and not just performing music, but also collecting it.

The musicians feature music from the mountainous region of Spain, Hurdes, which doesn’t have the happiest of reputations and was featured in a 1933 documentary Land without Bread by Luis Buñuel, which the surrealist film director doctored up a bit. Once the region of intense poverty, illiteracy, sickness, and superstition, Las Hurdes now attracts tourists. And the songs from this region featured on a menos cuarto sound jaunty with hummable melodies. Four of the ten tracks on the CD come from Las Hurdes with the remaining tracks hailing from Extremadura (Badajoz and Càceres). The band includes jotas and other traditional music that shifts directions at a blink of an eye.

I’m at a loss to describe the music. Rough Guide to World Music (2000 edition) doesn’t mention the traditional music of Extremadura. My Spanish language skills are limited and the CD and supporting material and website are in Spanish. Yet my curiosity is aroused now and I’m ready to learn more about this regional music, its influences, (some from Portugal). It borrows flutes, pipes, and traditional percussion from Asturias and Galicia, but features rhythms from southern Spain, such as flamenco. The vocals range from jaunty to haunting Arabic. As you can imagine, there’s a lot going on here. Traditional music contains history of a people, a region, and all the nomadic influences that passed through, not to mention influences of other musical styles.

From the little I could find online about music from this region, I learned that Extremadura is the poorest region in Spain, that historically many people of this region fled to Latin America, but the stunning music I’m listening to proves to me that this region is musically-rich. Alan Lomax ventured and collected traditional music here on the sly in 1952 (check out the recording on Rounder Records, 2002). The combination of flutes, lutes, bagpipes, accordion, and array of percussion that shows up in these songs possess intricacy as they switch between rhythms and styles. Just listen to Extremairlandura or my favorite Los Carnavales and you’ll see what I mean. And for those seeking a more familiar sound, “Reeguedoble” recalls early country western music of the US with its languid vocals, bluegrass-like fiddle and laid back guitars.

I doubt you’ll find this recording anywhere in North America so I’ll direct you to the band’s website (Hope you know Spanish).

The first post of this review is at World Music Central,