02 Sultans of StringSubcontinental Drift
Sultans of String; Anwar Khurshid
Independent MCK2060 (sultansofstring.com)


World music Canadian superstars Sultans of String continue to expand their musical journey with the addition of guest sitar master Anwar Khurshid in this release. Khurshid adds energy and Eastern flavours to the already diverse-sounding flamenco, Arabic folk, Cuban rhythm, East Coast fiddling and you-name-it-sounding band. The result is perfect, joyful music performed by perfect musicians.

Founding members violinist/bandleader Chris McKhool and guitarist Kevin Laliberté along with guitarist Eddie Paton, bassist Drew Birston and Cuban master percussionist Rosendo “Chendy” Leon have created the band’s signature successful blend as heard on the rhythmical percussion-driven Subcontinental Drift and the more folksy A Place to Call Home. It is their strength of vision that welcomes Khurshid’s musicianship to all the tracks. Rakes of Mallow is an ancient Irish fiddle tune introduced to India and taught to local musicians during the English rule. Sung passionately by Kurshid, it is followed in medley form by the rollicking original Rouge River Valley. Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind is given a timeless world beat cover. Journey to Freedom is an uplifting positive song/anthem sonic blend tracing Kurshid’s journey from Pakistan to Canada. Other special guests lending their signature sounds to specific tracks include Ravi Naimpally, Shweta Subram, Waleed Abdulhamid and a backing choir.

The production qualities feature a balanced mix and live off the floor clear tone quality. Subcontinental Drift is simply great music for all to enjoy and respect.

03 Linda McRae

Shadow Trails
Linda McRae
Borealis Records BCD237 (lindamcrae.com)

This stirring roots/folk/country project is the inspired brainchild of Canadian vocalist/composer/multi-instrumentalist Linda McRae and her husband, retired rancher and poet, James Whitmire. The material (nearly all original) is inspired by the Nashville-based couple’s life-affirming work with incarcerated, nascent writers being held in the notorious New Folsom Prison, as well as their important work with at-risk youth – many of whom contribute moving lyrics and their personal stories to this recording. Perhaps best known as a member of the platinum-selling band Spirit of the West, McRae brings to the table her well-lived-in contralto and infallibly honest delivery. Well-produced by guitarist Steve Dawson (who also serves as frequent co-writer), each tune tells a story of love, loss, regret, poverty, isolation, injustice and also grace. In addition to Dawson and Whitmire, McRae’s talented collaborators also include bassist John Dymond, drummer Gary Craig, keyboardist Steve O’Connor and an array of guests including fiddler Fats Kaplin and Ray Bonneville on harmonica.

The music here is unflaggingly authentic, deeply satisfying, refreshingly acoustic and imbued with a big dose of soul and a skilled musicality. Of special note are Linda’s biographical reverie, Can You Hear Me Calling; also Flowers of Appalachia, with lyrics by Ken Blackburn – an inmate in New Folsom Prison who became a poet and lyricist through the Arts in Corrections program – and finally Singing River, the heartrending tale of Te-lah-nay and the dehumanizing treatment of Yuchi Native Americans and their brutal relocation away from their beloved “Singing River” in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Whether roots music is your cup of tea or not, this standout recording is a consciousness-raising journey through a challenging emotional landscape that also embraces hope and redemption.

01_Quadrophenia.jpgPete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia
Alfie Boe; Billy Idol; Phil Daniels; Pete Townshend; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Ziegler
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5057

British rock icon Pete Townshend has embarked on a project to arrange his music into orchestral scores for future generations to perform. The album Quadrophenia was first released in 1973 by The Who. Written by Pete Townshend, the rock opera is set during the 1960s Mod movement and tells the story of the troubled youth Jimmy. Composer, orchestrator and Townshend’s life partner Rachel Fuller took on the monumental task of arranging it for symphony orchestra, choir and singers. The resulting Classic Quadrophenia is an intriguing mix of rock anthem, movie soundtrack, Broadway musical, opera and classical symphonic overture.

Tenor Alfie Boe sings with a satisfying mix of operatic passion and rock star angst in the role of Jimmy, originally sung by Roger Daltrey. Boe makes the part his own, especially in the closing Love Reign O’er Me where his powerful expressive singing against the colourful choir washes, tinkling piano and thundering percussion transforms the rock anthem into an operatic showcase. Billy Idol as Ace Face sings with his trademark gruff presence; Phil Daniels is convincing in the part of Jimmy’s dad; while Townshend as the Godfather makes satisfying yet way too brief vocal and guitar appearances. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Robert Ziegler and the London Oriana Choir under Dominic Peckham perform with joyful conviction. An accompanying DVD supports with visuals and informative commentaries.

Missed here in performance is the Who’s rock stadium energy, stage presence and spontaneous musicality, yet Classic Quadrophenia soars as a more classical music alternative.

unnamed.jpgAsia Beauty
Ron Korb
Humble Dragon 2015 (ronkorb.com)

Ron Korb’s new CD, Asia Beauty, is a charming hybrid – sad, sweet melodies with a Chinese and sometimes a Celtic feel – played on a variety of instruments, traditional and modern. Korb’s melodies are accompanied by small ensembles which include an astounding 27 musicians playing 15 different plucked, bowed or hammered Chinese, Celtic and Western string instruments, one of which is always the piano, playing harmonic progressions recognizably of the Western tradition.

Reflecting on this amalgam of East and West, Korb muses in the liner notes, “In the 1930s...Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Hanoi were meeting places between East and West. ...I wondered how the cultures intermingled and all the secret romances that must have occurred.” Later he writes about the “bittersweet feelings” and “sublime romantic tragedy” expressed by both traditional and contemporary pop Asian music. The same atmosphere is to be found on most of the tracks on this CD.

Most intriguing, however, is the Celtic influence, which never seems far away in Korb’s music, helped along at times by, but never dependent on, Sharlene Wallace’s Celtic harp and Korb’s penny whistle. In fact the Chinese bamboo flute (dizi) and the traditional Chinese clarinet (bawu) seem made for the Celtic idiom, which mysteriously and frequently appears.

Both Eastern and Western musical currents are part of who Ron Korb is as a musician and as a man. He has totally assimilated the musical language of both traditions; the result is music which is really neither one nor the other but both.

01_Quartetto_Gelato.jpgAll Original – 100% Canadian
Quartetto Gelato
QGPI Records QGPI-010 (quartettogelato.com)

There are lots of tasty delights for the ear in this new release from one of Canada’s favourite ensembles. Featuring the music of five Canadian composers, the stylistic differences of each work challenge Quartetto Gelato to pull out all the stops and prove yet again that the group can perform anything presented to them with perfection.

The current members are all musically gifted and brilliant technicians. Founding violinist/tenor Peter De Sotto, accordionist Alexander Sevastian, oboist/multi-instrumentalist Colin Maier and cellist Liza McLellan play with mutual musical respect and appreciation to detail. Cellist Lydia Munchinsky and percussionists Mark Inneo and Kevan McKenzie are welcome special guests on the tracks where they play.

The satisfying more traditional lush classical sound of Rebecca Pellett’s Una storia d’amore is chamber music at its best. In contrast, Maier’s banjo pickings support De Sotto’s happy singing in Howard Cable’s On The Crowsnest Trail. A driving rhythmic feel and dance groove highlight Hilario Duran’s Latin-flavoured Aventura Afrocubana Suite. The appealing underlying improvisational sentiment of Michael Occhipinti’s music makes his Sirocco and Ballu Di Gelato an intriguing listening experience. The ensemble shines in Jossy Abramovich’s Gypsy Fantasia with more great vocal work by de Soto and  Sevastian’s accordion finesse. More awe-inspiring zippy accordion music shines on Charles T. Cozens’ Celtic Dances.

Gelato fans should be thrilled with this new musical flavour from the always-entertaining Canadian concert stage stars!


02_jesse_cook.jpgOne World
Jesse Cook
eOne COH-CD-5812 (jessecook.com)

Virtuosic, globally inspired guitarist/composer/producer Jesse Cook is known for his stellar, cross-cultural musical motifs and collaborations. His previous JUNO-nominated recording projects have sampled the sonic landscapes of such far-flung locations as Cairo, Colombia and Lafayette, Georgia. On his ninth CD, One World, the usually peripatetic, Paris-born and Toronto-raised Cook has chosen to stay in his own back yard, while still incorporating into his compositions a tasty ethno-smorgasbord, which includes sitars and violins, as well as powerful techno bass sequences and other well-placed and masterfully engineered technology.

Cook’s considerable skill as a highly trained classical, flamenco and jazz guitarist is evident throughout this fine, well-produced recording and on each composition he metaphorically crosses the Bosporus – weaving Eastern and Western musicality and instrumentation into a joyous celebration of alpha wave stimulation and artistic globalism. In describing his project, Cook has said, “The idea is that there really is just one world. If you pull your focus back far enough, you start to see all music as being branches of the same tree….”

Standouts include Shake – a pulsing and virile flamenco, infused with raga-like rhythmic patterns and dynamic percussion; the wild and trippy sub-continent techno journey of Bombay Slam and Taxi Brazil, which conjures up cinematic images of a heady cab ride through Rio. Also of note is the mystical and sensuous Steampunk Rickshaw and the Iberian-infused Beneath Your Skin. The closing track, Breath, features Cook’s pure, warm, crystalline solo acoustic guitar, leaving the listener refreshed and restored – the perfect end to this multi-sensory journey through vibrant and delightful musical exotica.


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