Rant ‘N’ Roll: Ethnomusicology

Rant ‘N’ Roll: Ethnomusicology

—by , October 29, 2014

Larkin Poe was a Civil War wagon driver/historian whose prose didn’t have as dark a side as his cousin, Edgar Allan Poe [1809-1849]. His great great great great granddaughters Rebecca and Megan Lovell have named their band after him. Their Kin debut (RH Music) was co-produced by Chris Seefried (Lana Del Ray) in Los Angeles and Damien Lewis (Rihanna) in their hometown Atlanta. Rebecca, 23, plays guitar, mandolin and violin. She also sings in a sultry swampy smoky sexy drawl while sister Megan, 25, ably provides lap steel, dobro and sweet harmony. Their writing is personal, touching, universal, with one stripped-down gem (“Overachiever”) just featuring voice/piano. Conor Oberst plucked them out of the South to join Dawes as his backing band. Elvis Costello did too. So they’re kinda busy. Kin rocks. It sooths and it satisfies.

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Earlier this year when I thrilled to the legendary bassist Stanley Clarke in-concert, I was blown away by his teen pianist and teen drummer. Now comes Up (Mack Avenue) by The Stanley Clarke Band, a fusion of fun, funk, tributes to those who came before and, obviously, since Clarke is also an educator, a peek into the future. This Philadelphia great, at 63, has 40 solo albums to his credit, not even counting the Return To Forever catalog where he helped pioneer jazz/rock fusion in the 1970s.

Dude has friends. Eagle guitar-man Joe Walsh is along for the ride as is Policeman drummer Stewart Copeland and The Harlem String Quartet (among Up’s 20 other guests). Up is self-produced, with a stunning closer of just Clarke and his longtime bandmate Chick Corea playing an acoustic 2013 duet “La Cancion de Sofia,” in tribute to Clarke’s Chilean wife, at Kitara Hall in Sapporo, Japan.

Among the tribute tracks, George Duke [1946-2013] and Charles Mingus [1922-1979] get musically remembered.

Highlights include Clarke’s 2014 update on his own 1975 “School Days” and the rampaging gotta-be-a-monster-instrumental hit single (if there’s any musical justice in this world) “Pop Virgil” (for his grandfather) that sounds like the kind of funk Herbie Hancock used to dish out but peppered with a James Brown riff that stops you cold every time. It’s an irresistibly delicious 3:18 opener that I wouldn’t mind dancing around to every morning for the rest of my life. That’s how good it makes me feel.

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The biggest star of Hard Landing (self-released) by Planet Full Of Blues is producer Jim Gaines who’s worked with almost every human being on Earth who has a record deal. Here, he has this Virginia trio cranking out 11 gutsy blues-rock originals that sound like the voice of experience from “Snake Lady” to “Mashed Potatoes & Gravy.” Johnny Ray Light is a hell of a singer and lead guitarist and when backed by bassist Brock Howe and drummer Ron Dameron, can tell his tales with style, soul and the kind of bar-band ferocity that just makes you want to pop another cold one.

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I used to have visions on LSD sometimes. They were nothing like the Visions (Inner Circle Music) of Kavita Shah, the endlessly fascinating singer/songwriter who has teamed up with guitarist Lionel Loueke from the West African country of Benin to create one of the best albums of the year. Visions combines jazz quintet with Indian tablas and the kora, a 21-string lute/harp which gives the mix, as produced by Loueke, an otherworldly, almost underwater feel.

Shah is one gifted New Yorker of Indian descent who sings in Portuguese, French and English. She has a Masters Degree in Jazz Voice from the Manhattan School of Music and she studied ethnomusicology at Harvard. Her grandfather was the first book publisher to bring American books into the marketplace in India. When Shah interprets Joni Mitchell (no small feat), she brings an exotic, esoteric and worldbeat soulfulness to “Little Green.” The title track, indeed, is Stevie Wonder’s. 14 musicians from around the world contribute, most indelibly kora player Yacouba Sissoko who channels the spirit of master Malian musician Ali Farka Toure. Add soprano sax, alto sax, alto flute, tabla, organ, piano, bass, drums, viola, cello and Loueke’s incessantly spinning lead guitar and you’ve got one hell of a listening experience in store. I swear, the last Indian-styled CD that captured my attention so rivetingly was 2007’s Breathing Underwater by Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale. In a word: stunning.


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