Mixed Media: Music
by Vieux Farka Touré and Julia Easterlin (Six Degrees Records 657036-1230-2-1CD + download)
Guitar meets voice; Mali superstar meets quirky Brooklyn performance artist – and what an amazing pairing this is. Much has been written about the to-and-fro relationship of African and American guitar music, that rich conversation that started with African proto-blues and continues to this day with musicians genuinely interested in exploring commonalities and differences. However, this collaboration between Vieux Farka Touré – the guitarist often referred to as the new Jimi Hendrix – and Julia Easterlin is stunning in all the new avenues it opens up.
Touristes – each musician acknowledges their status in the other’s music – does this by importing one style into another song format. ‘In the Pines’, the traditional Appalachian murder ballad (Nirvana covered it as ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’) has Easterlin’s bare voice sliding over the melody, while Touré’s guitar-picking, with all its recognizable desert blues modalities, strips the song clean. It works the other way, too: Easterlin’s voice loops liven up the scurrying guitar of ‘The World’ to make an energetic dance.
It is hard to pull off covers of well-known songs with aplomb, but Touré and Easterlin’s ‘Masters of War’ – a classic from Bob Dylan – is genuinely arresting and full of anger. There are many highlights here, but it’s hard to beat ‘Took My Brother Down’. A response to the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, this is a stark voice, guitar and njarka fiddle arrangement. Percussion rattles like bones. There is righteous power here.
Star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
by Vesevo (Agualoca ALCD008 CD)
Hailing from the ancient Italian city of Naples, the Vesevo trio takes the area’s rich folk tradition and goes wild with it. Like the volcano it’s named after (‘Vesevo’ is an old name for Vesuvius), there’s plenty of explosive power here. An outgrowth of the Neapolitan band Spaccanapoli, Vesevo’s music is similarly rooted in a vibrant and politicized regional folk idiom. In taking local musical forms – notably the fiery and fascinating tarantella – and shaping their own songs to fit the frame, Vesevo is continuing the work of centuries.
Anyone who has travelled in Italy will know that the southern cities are markedly different, not only in dialect but music too. In many ways, Naples’ position as a key city of the ancient Greeks has exposed it to a far greater international influence. This historic confluence still shows in the cross patterns of textures: the drone violin of Antonio Fraioli which opens ‘O’ Rre Rre’ points in one direction, the weaving rhythms of the ‘Tarantella alla Calebrese’ in another. The band makes a gorgeous noise: Antonio Di Ponte, lead singer and guitarist, has an urgent, plangent voice – check out ‘Catarina’ in all its antique modulations. This is a high-energy folk album that does its job beautifully.
Star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★