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International Music from First Half of January- Reviewed


Sly & Robbie/ Red Hills Rd, Jamaican Dub, Taxi Records

Since they teamed up in the mid-1970s, drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare have been prominent figures on the Jamaican Reggae and Dub scene. On their new album, they pay tribute to Red Hills Road, a vibrant Kingston locality lined with nightclubs.

Featuring the Taxi Gang, the 13 tunes use vibrant rhythms as the underlying layer, with different kinds of melodies and chants giving them a different sound. One thus finds Punjabi and South Indian rhythm influences along with the main Middle Eastern tune on Belly Dancer.

The sound tilts more towards Dub and Dancehall but keeps changing colour. Linstead Market has shades of Sonny Rollins’ Jazz, and Reggae rhythms blend with Jamaican star Dean Fraser’s saxophone on So Far Away.

There is an old school Rhythm n’ Blues on When Love Is New.

Santa Barbara and Coronation Market have catchy hooks brimming with sounds that make one visualise a marketplace. The rustic and vibrant nature of this album gives it an edge.

Rating: 8/ 10



Sammy Hagar & The Circle/ Lockdown 2020, Hard Rock, FWO Inc-Mailboat Records

The former vocalist of Van Halen, Sammy Hagar hit the headlines with the 1986 album 5150, replacing David Lee Roth. In 2014, he formed The Circle with guitarist Vic Johnson, former Halen mate Michael Anthony on bass and drummer Jason Bonham.

The Circle’s latest project kicked off early last year, and they recorded the original ‘Funky Feng Shui’, a breezy number that opens this album. However, following the lockdown, the group stuck to cover versions, including The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’.

The band has a natural chemistry and spontaneous energy, most evident on their takes of AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, done in a Stones fashion. Hagar is obviously brilliant on Van Halen’s ‘Right Now’ and his own ‘Sympathy For The Human’.

The collection is perfect for a nostalgic ride for Hard Rock fans. And while each member is brilliant, it’s amazing to see how much Jason Bonham has matured. Surely, he’s carrying forward the legacy of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.

Rating: 7/ 10




M. Ward/ Think Of Spring, Folk-Pop, Self-Released

Singer M. Ward has had a steady career since his 1999 debut, using a lot of Folk and a dash of Country-Blues in his songs. On his latest album Think Of Spring, he takes Jazz legend Billie Holiday’s classic 1958 album Lady In Satin but tries something different.

Holiday’s Jazz-heavy, smoky voice is replaced by Ward’s pleasant, Folk-friendly drawl, and the lush string settings make way for melodic acoustic guitars. He also changes the song sequence to give a different flow.

Though the idea is interesting and the production good, something seems missing.

The album doesn’t engage you beyond a point, and the middle part gets monotonous. And though Holiday and Ward cater to different generations, comparisons become obvious and this falls flat at times.

Of course, there are some wonderful adaptations, including You’ve Changed, I’m A Fool To Want You and I’ll Be Around.

Quite naturally, he makes these songs his own. Maybe one could play these on loop, skipping the others.

Rating: 6/ 10




Passenger/ Songs For The Drunk And Broken Hearted, Folk-Pop, Black Crow Records

On first listen, Mike Rosenburg aka Passenger reminds you of James Blunt, with his similar voice, the hint of a falsetto, and style of arrangements. The difference is that his lyrics are deeper and very intense, especially when he talks of broken relationships on his 12th solo album Songs For The Drunk And Broken Hearted.

Though this theme has been done to death for years, Passenger makes up with his sheer songwriting skills, churning out Folk-Pop tunes that stay with you. While keyboards and guitars drive the sound, all songs are repeated in acoustic versions, so they linger on.

There are a few masterpieces here, including ‘Sandstorm’, where he sings “Lover, oh my lover, I’ve never been easy to understand, cover, darling take cover, I am the sandstorm, you are the sand”. A steady build-up and a marvelous trumpet lift the tune. The title track uses the joker as a metaphor, and the opener ‘Sword From The Stone’ is about the inability to forget a relationship.

The self-explanatory Nothing Aches Like A Broken Heart and the Dylan-inspired Suzanne, which questions life after fame, are intense pieces of writing.

The beautifully nostalgic London In The Spring says, “We forget how to enjoy simple things like walking through London in the spring.”

It’s an album filled with despair, and it works.

Rating: 8/ 10


Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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