Susheela Raman: Love Trap (Narada World)
She's more than just a vocalist capable of interpreting lyrics with emotional dexterity and fluency; she's more, even, than an innovator on the world music scene. Truly an artist, Susheela Raman has studied the history of her craft, and contrasts its roots — Indian devotional songs, sung in Hindi, Sanskrit and Tamil — with contemporary popular music. The result is an extraction of such deep, organic sound — vacillating from haunting to funky — that it should be classified as the newest form of blues or jazz. Her newest release, Love Trap, balances the power of her voice with the skill of her supporting musicians. Produced by Sam Mills and anchored by the core players from her debut album (Salt Rain, 2001), this album's instrumentation ranges from conga, saxophone and Hawaiian guitar to tabla, cello and kaval. Somehow, all of these elements come together, seamlessly, to reinterpret Joan Armatrading's “Save Me,” the title track and this entire album of vibrant, sensually rendered aural heirlooms.
Producer: Sam Mills. Engineers: Stuart Bruce, Arabella Rodriguez (tracking and mixing), Renaud Letang (mixing). Studios: El Cortijo (Andalusia, Spain), Real World, (Wiltshire, UK). Mastering: Tony Cousins/Metropolis (London).
— Breean Lingle
Boz Scaggs: But Beautiful (Gray Cat)
The “standards” album has become something of a rite of passage for “mature” singers; usually, it's a lateral step to show their range and hopefully reach out to a more sophisticated audience. Some can pull off the intimate balladry required; others cannot. It turns out that Boz Scaggs is a natural; not too surprising, given his successful forays into torch territory throughout his career. On But Beautiful, Scaggs wraps his warm, rich voice around cherished nuggets by Ellington (“Sophisticated Lady”), The Gershwins (“How Long Has This Been Going On?”), Rodgers & Hart (“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”) and others, fronting a four-piece jazz ensemble. It's a very mellow affair, sort of the musical equivalent of sipping fine cognac at the end of a meal at an elegant restaurant. This is music for lovers, or for those contemplating the joys and sorrows of love. A couple of tunes with a little more bounce and swing to them would have been a nice addition to the CD (and stretched the musicians more), but perhaps those will pop up on Volume II.
Producer: Boz Scaggs. Engineers: Jeff Cressman, Steve Macmillan, Michael Rodriquez, Chris Tabarez, Joel Moss (mixing). Studio: Meac (San Francisco). Mastering: Bernie Grundman/Bernie Grundman Mastering.
— Blair Jackson
Clem Snide: Soft Spot (spinART Records)
According to the band, while Clem Snide (Eef Barzelay, Jeff Marshall, Jason Glasser) were crafting The Ghost of Fashion (their highly acclaimed, chart-topping hit in 2001), two types of songs evolved from the sessions: the darker tunes that ended up on Ghost, and those with a slightly softer feel that punctuate Snide's latest effort, which is largely stripped of the group's more brazen, punkish leanings. It is readily apparent that singer/songwriter/guitarist Barzelay's recent marriage and child have influenced each of the 11 tracks' content: Soft rhythms flow around intimate yet assertive vocals and gently strummed guitars while weaving in subtle orchestrations of keyboard, glockenspiels, conga and other various wind and stringed instruments — even a Fisher Price TV bell. But there are more upbeat and fun tempos, too: a country-rock “Action” (with Barzelay's typically humorous lyrics), the horn-driven “Happy Birthday” and the bossa nova “Tuesday, October 24.” Soft Spot, as its name implies, warms the cockles of your heart — or maybe the subcockle region — where love blossoms.
Producer: Joe Chiccarrelli. Engineer: Suzanne Kapa. Studio: Brooklyn Recording. Mastered at The Lodge by Emily Lazar and assistant Sarah Register.
— Sarah Benzuly
Gongzilla: East Village Sessions (LoLo)
I won't pretend to have followed all the rivers and tributaries that have flowed from the seminal fusion/progressive band Gong through the years; they are numerous and varied, and I've kept up with them only intermittently. Gongzilla is of the family and from the tradition; more specifically, it evolved from Pierre Moerlen's Gong and includes bassist Hansford Rowe, guitarist Bon Lozaga, and marimba and vibes player Benoit Moerlen from that group (along with drummer Gary Husband, formerly of ex-Gong member Allen Holdsworth's band, and N.Y. percussionist Phil Kester). This all-instrumental work-out — cut mostly live in the studio and entirely analog — is an exciting amalgam of styles and textures, from rock guitar pyrotechnics to the “world music” feel that the marimba adds to several tracks. The band handles the multitude of tempo and dynamic shifts deftly, neatly doubling parts in places, and letting Lozaga's guitar soar freely in others. There are also some gentle and spacey atmospheric pieces to offset the raging, jazzy rock that predominates. A fine effort all around.
Producer: Bonford Raga. Engineer: Chris Muth. Studio: Dangerous Music (NYC). Mastering: Chris Muth/Sterling Sound.
— Blair Jackson