Artist: Danay Suarez
Album: "Polvo de la Humedad"
Songs: “Wake Up,” “Directo al Alma”
Notes: Danay Suarez is soulful no matter what she sings. It’s in her voice, her lyrics and compositions.
In the deluxe version of he album "Polvo de Humanidad," the Cuban singer shows the complexity of her songs through rich storytelling in perspectives about her life and what she has seen as a child and beyond.
The 26-year-old singer’s ability to address dark and light themes of the world takes her album and work into a place of hope, heartbreak and everything else in between. Cuba lives in her writing and so does life from the pulse of humanity to the good and bad in people.
Two new songs are introduced in the new project including "Wake Up," which includes a collaboration with Roberto Carcasses, front man of Interactivo-one, an alternative group in Cuba, which features several artists.
"Wake Up" tells the story of Suarez when she was a child on her way to school in Cuba as she observed the neighborhood and those around her. It’s a narrative that includes observations about everything from the drugs to injustice and the many facets of a society. “I better go to school to stay out of trouble,” is a line that Suarez uses to convey the mood and feel of the song.
The entire album is soulful with a major reggae arc that’s felt throughout it. In "Directo al Alma," the idea of soul, says the singer, was the basis for the composition that is also themed around affection, words and problems in love and relationships.
A beautifully executed album, Suarez’s words and vocal power are true gems that deserve a wider audience who can appreciate the soulful collection of music.
Artist: Saul Hernandez
Songs: “Me Buscare,” “Te Levantaste”
Notes: Saul Hernandez, who in the ‘80s was the frontman of the rock en español band Caifanes, returns with a new album, "Mortal."
Both classic and new songs shape the latest project, which ultimately illustrates Hernandez’s impressive career with music that’s resonated with fans through the years.
"Mortal" is also an album that shows Hernandez as the rock singer whose own story shines through his poetic verses that are soulfully reimagined and performed through the man who has grown both personally and professionally.
The album, which features 21 tracks, also includes Hernandez’s 14-year-old daughter, Zoey, who is starting to show her passion for music in performances with her father. The pair sing "Entre Tu y Yo" (Between You and I), which establishes the connection as father and daughter.
Songs such as “Me Buscare” (Finding Myself) are lifted with beautiful guitar orchestrations that meld flawlessly with Hernandez’s voice and lyrics such as “I will look for you between your mysteries, in the mysteries of the cross and I will sleep deeply until I find my heart.”
In recent years, Hernandez has been touring with Caifanes to the delight of fans. The group will be performing in Mexico City in November and in recent weeks Hernandez was also honored in Mexico for his work.
Artist: Daniel Lanois
Album: "Flesh and Machine"
Songs: “The End,” “My First Love”
Notes: Genres are for suckers. Okay, harsh overstatement. But every day it seems that genre names are increasingly inadequate to describe what the most creative music figures are doing. Still, they remain a necessary evil. How else to concisely talk about music without some terms of convenience, some lines on a map with which to orient.
Which brings us to the latest project from Daniel Lanois, who has made a career out of refusing to recognize, let alone be restricted by, genres. At a recent gathering in his L.A. house to demonstrate what he’s going for on "Flesh and Machine" with his collaborator, the astounding drummer Brian Blade, Lanois spoke of waking up every day in a quest for new sounds, new ways of putting sounds together, new musical languages. But then this would be no surprise to anyone who’s followed Lanois since his early ‘80s work with Brian Eno — work saddled with the “ambient” label, but in truth so much more than that.
"Flesh and Machine" in many ways ties more closely to those early Eno-related albums than to Lanois’ most familiar superstar production work, though those too are marked by his sense of sonic adventurism — U2’s "The Joshua Tree," Peter Gabriel’s "So," Bob Dylan’s "Oh Mercy" and "Time Out of Mind," Emmylou Harris’ "Wrecking Ball," just to name a few. It also stands apart from the startling, somberly gorgeous hues of his cherished ‘80s and ‘90s solo albums "Acadie" and "For the Beauty of Wynona" or even his more recent "Black Dub" band album.
But ambient? Not remotely. Though there are some subdued passages, this is not background music by and large. This is very forward. The opening prelude “Rocco” is almost a tease in that regard, Lanois at the piano, playing a sparse tune adorned with some vocal and electronic chiffon. But that soon gives way to “The End” — which is where this adventure really begins. This is space music, in the senses of both Sun Ra and pre-“Darkside” Pink Floyd, but sounds like neither. Now, this is the most aggressive, most dialed-up episode of this album, but it sets a tone, a sense that all rules are ignored, all restrictions to be challenged.
At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum is “My First Love,” sentimental and lyrical, the pedal steel recalling Santo & Johnny’s dreamy instrumentals — at least in part an homage to the titular object, as this was the first instrument he tackled as a child. And the closing “Forest City,” a light wash of atmosphere, makes the connection to the Eno-era works explicit.
The easy assumption would be that “Rocco,” “My First Love,” “Forest City” and the other interludes of calm (the impressionistic “Iceland” being a prime example) are the “flesh” here, with the intensity and punchiness of other selections being the “machine.” That would be wrong. In his presentation, Lanois made the case for “The End” and others in which he’s “playing” various electronic devices being the “machine” part and ones that have him on crunchy electric guitar or sighing pedal steel are the “flesh.” Not to challenge him, but that’s wrong too. Even when most reliant on electronics, what Lanois does with them is no less human than him attacking guitar strings or plunking a piano. Everything here, and very much everything he did in his performance, was in and of the moment, and very much a conversation with Blade, a musician of rare talents and credits ranging from Emmylou Harris to Wayne Shorter’s current, astonishing quartet. This is all flesh.
Arguably, Blade is the key ingredient here, or really it’s about the relationship between the two musicians. When they really go at it, it’s not so much a competition or confrontation — though those elements are part of it. Rather it’s a series of challenges, jousts, thrusts and parries, Lanois setting a tone, a framework and Blade teasing and cajoling Lanois to get him to go outside whatever lines he’s drawn. Wait, that sounds like a description of jazz at its most exhilarating. So maybe this is jazz — not that it sounds like “jazz.” No, it is not jazz. And here we are, back at the pesky genre label nonsense.
So then, that tricky question: What to call this? The answer: It doesn’t matter, just listen. And even better, they’re going to be taking this on the road, with films commissioned for each piece to enhance the very spontaneous musical creations. So you can experience it, as it were, in the flesh.
Artist: Tony Allen
Album: "Film of Life"
Songs: “Moving On,” “Boat Journey”
Notes: Femi and Seun Kuti, the eldest and youngest sons of late Nigerian Afrobeat king Fela Kuti, are generally seen as heirs to their father’s crown. Nothing against them — they’ve both been making fine music and putting their stamps on the funky, fiery sounds. But with his new album, "Film of Life," drummer Tony Allen makes a strong case that the title is his.
Of course, given that he’s 74, it’s hard to tag him as an inheritor of anything. Having been at Fela’s side both before and during the revolution that was Afrobeat in the ‘60s and ‘70s, having been one of the key figures in that revolution, Allen today stands at the top of the form’s royal family.
It’s not because Allen’s music sounds like Fela’s. It’s because so much of it does not. That’s the truest realization of his boss/collaborator’s spirit. Fela had no interest in staying put and recreating the past -- nor does Allen. Sure, there are some familiar elements — the blaring ensemble horns on some tracks, the steely delivery of his vocals, the burbling funk. And behind it all Allen’s solid-as-Gibraltar pulse that has earned him the nickname the Human Metronome, a completely inadequate moniker that overlooks the colorful complexities of his rhythms and sells short the role he played as the true backbone of Fela’s music.
That same thing has been the foundation that’s allowed him to pursue a wide range of explorations over the decades, while both his credentials and open mind have brought some top names to his door. Past collaborations with Blur’s Damon Albarn, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, jazz frontiersman Archie Shepp, French electronicist Sebastien Tellier, Charlotte Gainsbourg only touch upon his range and reach. In 2006 he teamed with Albarn, Paul Simonon of the Clash and Simon Tong as the group The Good, the Bad & the Queen, and two years ago with Albarn and Flea as Rocketjuice and the Moon.
"Film of Life" encompasses all of that with a vibrancy all its own. Produced by French trio the Jazzbastards, the album sparkles and crackles with unexpected combinations of styles and sounds at every turn. Opener “Moving On” starts at the core: Allen’s mix of interlocking rhythms establishes a foundation to support ultra-funky horns. Next, “Boat Journey” builds with a skittering guitar line and such cinematic touches as dramatic timpani, as Allen speak-singing a cautionary tale warning those “running away from misery” will confront themselves and find “double misery.”
“Tiger’s Skip,” co-written by Albarn and featuring him on melodica, has some of the dub atmosphere the British artist has used with Gorillaz. “Ewa” is almost a jazzy ‘70s film soundtrack, an intricate construction spiked by Vincent Taeger’s vibes. “Go Back” features Albarn on vocals in an introspective soul turn. “Ire Omo” brings in female singers Adunni and Nefretiti for a classic Afrobeat sound.
Each song reveals something new, something unexpected. Each listen shows more layers and depth. Tony Allen could easily get by on his past achievements, but with this album he reaches new peaks — his "Film of Life" still being made.