Under the shadow of the Tavurvur volcano of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea, a remarkable project has been taking shape in the form of Songs of the Volcano, a double CD and DVD from guitarist Bob Brozman and 60 local musicians from the tiny town of Rabaul. It’s not often that we can say that an album represents the heart of a community in the way that this one does. Brozman, a New Yorker with an indefatigable passion for collaboration on the one hand and the metal-bodied acoustic instruments known as National guitars on the other, has long been pursuing a project he terms ‘world blues’.
With the five-stringed bands that he joins on this album’s 16 tracks, this doesn’t translate into a generic 12-bar blues of the Delta kind but more of a sing-and-strum style, which mostly favours unison over counterpoint. Tuned up high, the guitars and ukuleles of the New Guinean bands have a style that sounds like a raw Hawaiian orchestra, one shorn of all so-called exoticisms.
Brozman takes a back seat for the album’s songs, leaving the spotlight to bands with such splendid names as Eagle Voice, Drop Sun and Lions 2000. It’s only a pity that translations of the songs aren’t provided, and it’s to Phil Donnison’s fascinating documentary that we turn for added flavour: volcanic ash, lush forests and stringbands playing a defiant beat.Louise Gray