CCR, Black Masala, Ozan, Dream Reporter: New Releases

Credence Clearwater Revival, The Complete Studio Albums (Sampler)

Between 1968 and 1972, Credence Clearwater Revival (CCR) had an astonishing run: 7 albums and 9 songs that hit the Top Ten. Because of internal friction and bad business decisions, members of CCR didn’t do all that well financially, but my goodness what a treat for the ears they were. If you want to know what “swamp rock” sounds like, listen to CCR. Fifty years later, Craft Recordings has released all 7 of their albums in a boxed set. The hook is that these are studio recordings that have been transferred from analog at half speed. I received a sampler that includes tracks from 6 of the albums. (Nothing from Mardi Gras, which was a flop.) This doesn’t mean the music has been slowed, just that it hadn’t yet been mixed. It’s akin to taking a RAW picture before post-processing. The sampler includes songs such as “Born on the Bayou,” “Run through the Jungle,” and “Hey Tonight.” These were massive hits that retain great familiarity and provide windows into hearing things you might have overlooked in the singles. The studio recordings make J. C. Fogerty sound even mightier than you thought. His voice smashes through a song like a locomotive with a fell head of stream. Ditto his guitar licks. I especially enjoyed hearing “Porterville,” which is less known, because it revealed something I hadn’t remembered. Although he got much better, drummer Doug Clifford’s skills in 1968 were basically garage band level. We all start somewhere, yes? This anthropological dig makes CCR sound fresh and alive, not like museum pieces. It made me want to chase down a hoodoo bear, whatever the hell that might be! ★★★★★  (Note: These links are from different sources.)

Black Masala, Trains & Moonlight Destinies

And now for something completely different. Black Masala is brass band based in Washington, DC. Masala is an Indian spice mix; you name it, and you’ll find some of your favorite condiments in this band. The title track is a heart-racing blend of indie rock, jazz, klezmer, and lord knows what else. Black Masala is the kind of party band that will take you places, like New Orleans, Paris, Eastern Europe, and Delhi. I’m serious about the last of these; as you’ll hear on “MidnightBhangra,” this band also borrows from Southeast Asian dance music. In part that’s because lead singer Kristen Long can’t stand still. If you like a dash of saucy attitude, taste “Whatcha Gonna Do.” Need an infusion of funk, jazz, and soul? Try “Above the Clouds.” Everything comes at you in a bold, brassy stew of sax, trombone, trumpet, sousaphone, guitar, bass, and drums. What else do you want? “Big Man” offers an echo of salsa; “Chaje Shukarije” is Indian, Roma, and splashes of klezmer. Party on! Who knows where you'll end up? ★★★★

Ozan Aksoy, Ozan

If Black Masala isn’t exotic enough for you, how about some Turkish saz? Go to the front of the class if you know that this is a 7-stringed teardrop-shaped plucked instrument favored among Turkey’s Kurdish, Armenian, and Azerbaijani minorities, especially as it evolved from Ottoman classical styles. Ozan Aksoy is an immigrant Kurd who now lives in New York where he’s working on a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. He also plays other instruments, but the saz captures both the beauty and sadness of Turkish minorities. (If you are unaware, Turkey has one of the world’s worst human rights records.) This is not to say that Ozan is a depressing album; Aksoy has chosen a more meditative and positive approach.  The opening track is titled “Hope” and within it you can hear various influences that are Turkish, but are also an intriguing blend of North American New Age mystery wrapped in a much more dramatic mix of other instruments. Guest musicians add everything from violin and cello to piano and electric guitar. “Rindé” is a fine example of this. It sounds almost like an Indian raga until you see it is clearly influenced by flamenco. In a very different way, Ozan is also masala. ★★★★

Dream Reporter, White Horse

If you need a pop/indie fix after all of this, London’s Dream Reporter might do the trick. That’s the handle of a young singer whose identity is currently a bit mysterious. She’s an unsigned artist who is obviously going for a build-the-buzz vibe and her bio line is sprayed with descriptions that press the right buttons but don't really describe her music. I did like the title track a lot. It has melody snatches some might recognize as reminiscent of “Son of a Preacher Man,” but it evolves into club pop with lots of synth, overlays, and (I think) drum machine. “Everything Means Something to Me” features echo chamber vocals that resonate, as do other tracks. Dream Reporter clearly has chops. In my mind, though, she needs a more diverse repertoire, lest she be tarred a Robyn-wannabe. And can the cloying buzz campaign. ★★★

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