It's Tuesday, which means that it's time for Tuesday Reviewsday, our weekly new music segment. This week we're joined by music critic Steve Hochman and Associate Editor of Latin at Billboard magazine, Justino Aguila.
Artist: Toumani Diabaté & Sidiki Diabaté
Album: Toumani & Sidiki
Release Date: May 20
Songs: “Hamadoun Toure,” “Dr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra”
Second-generation musicians are a dime a dozen — Jakob Dylan, Sean and Julian Lennon, Bob Marley’s kids. Sidiki Diabaté has got them all beat, by a long way.
How about 71st generation? At least that’s the claim, the family legacy going back hundreds of years in the history of the Mandé people of what is now Mali in Western Africa.
One generation would be enough legacy in this case, though, as Sidiki’s father is Toumani Diabaté, the living master of the kora, the harp-like instrument that is at the center of the griot troubadour tradition, a figure every bit as big in this culture as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bob Marley and even Johan Sebastian Bach in theirs. But if the latter’s kids sometimes seemed to struggle with their heritage, that’s not the situation here at all, as father and son team up for a gorgeous album of unadorned duets.
Toumani Diabaté gained renown via his musical partnership with the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and an album he made with American bluesman Taj Mahal has been named as a favorite by no less than President Barack Obama. Sidiki, 23, is his oldest son, who started learning kora when he was 10 — chronicled in a children’s book and accompanying CD of his early playing.
Both have gone afield from the pure traditions, Toumani with his ambitious Symmetric Orchestra, performances with the London Symphony and as a key player on the AfroCubism teaming of Cuban greats and Malian musicians and Sidiki in his partnership with Malian rapper Iba One. But this album strips it down to the pure essence and beauty in the intricate filigreed playing, sounds and techniques passed along from father to son through all these years, as Toumani received it from his own father, also named Sidiki.
It’s a tradition that transcends the centuries and the politics and wars, including the recent civil wars that have devastated the country, but also keeps record of that history. Many of the griots’ pieces are tributes to patrons, ancestors, friends, community leaders or historical figures.
The opening track on this album is “Hamadoun Touré,” in homage to a Malian leader who as Secretary General of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union has been key in modernizing Africa’s communications systems. Another track is named for “Dr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra,” a former NASA astrophysicist, businessman and son-in-law of a former president, served as acting prime minister of Mali in 2012 in resistance to a military coup until being deposed in December of that year.
The real tribute here, though, is to the heritage the Diabatés represent, and to the musicians themselves, father and son.
Artist: Sharon Van Etten
Album: Are We There
Release Date: May 27
Songs: “Afraid of Nothing,” “Your Love is Killing Me,”
The song titles alone tell a story: “Afraid of Nothing,” “Taking Chances,” “Your Love is Killing Me,” “I Love You But I’m Lost,” “Nothing Will Change.” Some mixed messages maybe? Or at least the mixed messages we can give ourselves in relationships.
With her fourth album — each increasingly ambitious, accomplished and affecting than the last — Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten digs into this with a poetic, and personal pean to, uh, pain, of the emotional sort. It’s not like this is unfamiliar territory in all of art and literature, let alone pop music, for which it forms the very core and fabric.
Classic, romantic pop is in fact the core and fabric of this album, the songs carrying the dreamy and dream-like aura of pre-Beatles sweethearts of the radio in the lush, shadowy sounds and the doe-eyed romance and shattering disappointment. Her voice even has that dark mystique of the chanteuses from earlier eras, which she showcased covering Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” for a "Boardwalk Empire" episode.
But of course, modern women are supposed to know better, right? Or so she seems to be saying in both the sophistication and confident, independent optimism of the opening “Afraid of Nothing,” flush with the spark of a developing relationship but grounded in valuable experience.
Well, about that… “Your Love is Killing Me” is the album’s, well, killer. Her eyes were open at the start. Now she’s begging her lover to “break my legs so I won’t walk to you, cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you, burn my skin so I can’t feel you, stab my eyes so I can’t see,” stretching out that last vowel into an anguished and yet resolute cry. The music builds strata mirroring her layers of simultaneous despair and resignation. It’s harrowing and yet compelling. Even…. beautiful.
And it’s just the third song, with eight to go. It’s a rocky ride on every level. Are there lessons to be learned? Does she learn any? Well, maybe not. The title of the closing song, “Even When the Sun Comes Up,” sounds promising, a new dawning. But the phrase coming after the title line is “I’m in trouble.” As they say, it’s complicated. But heck, if it wasn’t who would make art of it — particularly art as enticing and provocative as this.
Artist: Le Butcherettes
Album: Cry is for the Flies
Release Date: May 15
Songs: “Demon Stuck In Your Eye” and “Your Weakness Gives Me Life”
The garage-punk trio Le Butcherettes are led by 24-year-old vocalist/guitarist/pianist Teri Gender Bender (a recent transplant to L.A. from Guadalajara, Mexico). Le Butcherettes bring a brazen intensity. The band's songs and wildly cathartic live shows have often drawn comparisons to Karen-O and Patti Smith and other female-fronted rock groups.
There's a theatricality to Le Butcherettes. The band was founded about 7 years ago. In 2009, Le Butcherettes were asked by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to perform on tour in Mexico.
It is about garage-punk for the trio behind Le Butcherettes. Lead singer Teri Gender Bender is front and center with the group's sophomore return with "Cry is for the Flies."
Known for her must-see onstage performances, which at times seem to draw from a performance art presentation, 24-year-old singer/songwriter (aka Teri Suarez) is a captivating artist with a versatile vocal range that goes beyond garage-punk in songs.
Recently moving to Los Angeles form Guadalajara, Suarez is not only the lead singer for Le Butcherettes, but also Bosnian Rainbows, the American rock band formed in Texas with former members of The Mars Volta. Le Butcherettes was formed in 2007 by Suarez who describes herself as a feminist who counts Sylvia Plath and Malcolm X as some of her influences. Musically, she has been compared to Patti Smith and Karen-O.
Despite the comparisons, Suarez is gaining a wider audience for the songs deliver an emotional punch as well as sense of mystery, and darkness at times. Two songs that make these points are “Demon Stuck In Your Eye” and “Your Weakness Gives Me Life.” Each song’s narrative, like the melodies, build with each verse.
The new Bosnian Rainbows album is being produced by Rafael Arcuate, the Argentinian producer known for his work with Calle 13 and Illya Kuryaki; the new project will be in Spanish. Additionally, Le Butcherettes is also planning a Spanish-language album.
Release Date: April 29
Songs: “Donde Ir” and “Suéltame” (featuring Carla Morrison)
From the border city, Tijuana, Alejandro Jimenez began playing the piano at age 8 and just a little while later learned the guitar, among other instruments. After years working on his craft as a multi-instrumentalist, he started a band called Los Rhodes with his school friends and was the main composer for the band. Los Rhodes evolved into what is now known as a solo artist … as Jandro (a shortened version of his full name.
Jandro is on the rise with his self-titled debut album which feels fresh and familiar as the melodies and lyrics seem echo the sentimentality of a retro rock and pop vibe with endearing and poetic songs.
Singer/songwriter Alejandro Jimenez, who now simply goes by Jandro, has been playing the piano since he was 8. Then he learned the guitar before gradating to other instruments. Eventually he founded the band Los Rhodes with his high school friends, writing most of the music.
Jandro’s breakthrough has come in recent years after joining Mexican singer Carla Morrison on tour with stops such as Los Angeles and New York with Morrison performed last year as part of the Latin Alternative Music Conference. For Jandro, it was a chance to expand as a musician with support on the keyboard, but also contributing to Morrison’s Latin Grammy winning album “Déjenme Lllorar.”
Now Jandro is making a name for himself in the Latin alternative movement with music that has universal appeal in songs such “Donde Ir,” a melodic pop composition that pays homage to love.
Jandro’s “Suéltame” (fearing Carla Morrison), is a pop ballad that shows the appeal of his music, the style and the charming collaboration establishes a promising debut for the crooner.