Saturday, June 29, 2013

In Review--Songs for Campfires

American Playground
Putumayo Kids 

Since I’m a childless adult, I usually avoid children’s CDs, but in the case of Putumayo Kids’ American Playground, I find myself reflecting on my childhood.  In fact, you don’t have to be either American or a child to enjoy American Playground, but it helps if you are familiar with American folk of the classic variety.  This compilation features such rainy day favorites as Blue Skies, You Are My Sunshine, the gospel tune, This Little Light and Bob Dylan’s 1974 tribute to his son, Forever Young.  With the songs (country, folk, bluegrass, blues, gospel) on this CD, we feel forever youthful and we find ourselves singing along as if we’re sitting around the proverbial campfire.

While any of these songs (even though some of the text carries adult themes about broken hearts) would appeal to children, Alan Lomax and other song catchers would have a field day with this compilation--pun intended.  In fact, Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land which I sung gleefully as a child, gives us pause for thought given the current political situation in the US which has given “our land” away to corporate interest.  And Woody Guthrie was equal activist-songwriter.  Guy Davis’ original (the only non-cover on the CD), We All Need More Kindness in This World acts as the antidote to political shenanigans, reminding us that those everyday acts of kindness by individuals are what keeps a nation healthy.

This compilation has a release date near July 4, which allows me at least to keep things in perspective.  Instead of celebrating the usual hypocritical patriotism involving the usual indulgences (fireworks and barbecued flesh), I prefer to reflect on individuals and communities who bring healing to them selves and others, while working towards true equality and creating harmony through music and the arts.  And by the way, I love the American Playground because it’s light, fun, playful as well as, thoughtful.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In review--Quintessential Strings

Jason Seed Stringtet
In the Gallery 
Jason Seed Music

Is it classical chamber or bluegrass? Certainly, guitarist-composer Jason Seed’s repertoire that appears on In the Gallery sounds like classical chamber with twang--a bit bluegrass swing played by a string quartet plus fusion guitar.  Well, that’s the best way I can describe the music on this CD.  Glenn Asch (violin and viola), Helen Reich (viola), Dan Armstrong (string bass) and Scott Tisdel (cello) join Seed’s guitar exploring new frontiers (much like the Kronos Quartet).  And if that’s not exotic enough for you Chinese Pipa master, Yang Wei appears on Where the Corners Meet, which resembles Chinese folkloric meets an Appalachian string band meets chamber music (though it sounds a bit busy for my tastes).

Seed’s Tangoesque takes its inspiration from Bill Frisell (another eclectic guitarist), Strange Meeting, according to the liner notes.  Seed’s guitar grabs the spotlight on this piece which the strings frame it with strains of tango.  On Pictures of an Exhibition, the musicians swing hard with the strings entangled in fun counterpoint.  This brings up the compositions which sound imaginative, fresh, and zany.  I get the sense that the musicians thoroughly enjoyed their performance on this recording because I’m certainly enjoying my time listening to the CD.  Fans of bluegrass swing, chamber strings, and uplifting guitar, will enjoy this high brow music that’s packed full of delight