New Releases from Soko, Stern and Leahy and Vallely

CD Clear-Out:
Rob Weir

It’s as predictable as a Fox News hissy-fit: every January I find myself with un-reviewed CDs about the time I need to crank it up for spring semester. So here are several capsule reviews of music you might want to check out.

Robert Soko, Balkan Beats Soundlab (Piranha 2649)
 * * * 1/2

Bosnian mix master Robert Soko serves up a smoking selection of dance tunes for younger hearts and legs than mine. Normal disco music is around 120 beats per minute, but I’d swear some of these are closer to 180! And the music–where Balkan sounds-meet-dance hall-meet punk-meets jug bands–is far cooler than the generic sounds associated with look-at-me discos. This is music that by turns, crunches, jazzes, rocks, and sweats.

Christy Leahy and Caoimhin Vallely (Traditional Arts 001) * * * ½

If Soko wears you out and you feel the need for something more traditional, these two Irish vets offer a baker’s dozen collection of tunes performed on instruments that tickle two different sets of keys: button accordion and piano. Leahy and Vallely have been colleagues in the raucous pub band North Cregg, but here they offer solid sessions-style jigs, reels, and polkas that’s more toe-tapping music than the full-body fling necessary for keeping up with Soko. You can almost smell the turf fire on this intimate, but highly accomplished album. 

Leni Stern, Smoke, No Fire, (Leni Stern Recordings 1041) * * *

Speaking of fire, usually a title such as that on Leni Stern’s new release invokes a lack on enthusiasm, but it’s actually quite appropriate for a record that smolders instead of combusting. Stern is a renowned blues and jazz guitarist who also loves Malian music. She combines all three on this record, and her playing demonstrates deep understanding of West African rhythms and phrasing. She also dazzles on the banjo-like ngoni. The vocals are less successful, in part because her voice lacks deep resonance of her African backup singers, and in part because the miles are starting to show. But as a meeting place between cultures and styles this recording offers many sublime moments. 

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