reviews
Reviews January - March 2009

 

Café Svetlana (2009) ♪♪
Ahilea (FYR Macedonia)

Ahilea Durcovski was born stateless in 1965 on the territory of former Czechoslovakia, near the Polish border. In 1974 the family left Czechoslovakia and settled in the little town of Debar near the Albanian border, where Ahilea grew up in a multi-ethnic environment. Influenced by the new wave movement in Yugoslavia he began listening to Ekatarina Velika, Idoli and Electricni Orgazam. At the end of eighties he moved to Vienna where he started his career as a DJ creating the ‘SchliwoBeatz’ events where he mixed Balkan music with electronic music. Already familiar with a lot of musicians due to these events he started working in an album mixing the Balkan cultures (going from Turkey to Greece to Croatia). Together with an all-star ensemble of musicians coming from all over the Balkan he succeeded in mixing Rembetiko, Laiko, Klezmer, Dalmatian Klapa, Roma-music and more into one swinging medley. The name of the album (and the ensemble) is based on the legendary Viennese café frequented by the anarchist, poet and prominent Munich bohemian Erich Mühsam. Like Mühsam you could see the album as a statement that Ahilea doesn’t believe in a political enforced unity but seeks it more in a cultural. In this case a musical. Now is this melting pot worth your money? I have to grant it to Ahilea that he succeeded to take traditional music and place in a modern electronic style. But the styles bungle over each other sometimes giving it the feel of a good compilation album but not a coherent single artist production. Tracks like the titletrack and ‘Kalabalak’ are very south-central Balkan, while ‘Monopolis’ and ‘O Manga’ tap into the Rembetiko music style and ‘In da Balkan style’ looks to Klezmer-tradition. Don’t get me wrong ‘Café Svetlana’ is a good album but having the possibility to work with one coherent musical group should have translated itself unto the music. And it doesn’t. The album stays as the Balkan itself, a cultural melting pot.

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The love album (2008) - ♪♪♪
Anaïs (France)

The second album of French singer Anaïs Croze is completely recorded in San Francisco with Japanese-American producer Dan the Automator at the helm. Does this has any effect on the way the album sounds? Not at all, Anaïs still sounds as French as you can expect from a girl born in Marseille and on the musical forefront in France since 1999. The folky, poppy guitardriven sound we came to know at her solo-debut ‘The cheap show’ (before she was a member of the band Opossum) is still there. Maybe Dan tried to have some influence but Anaïs probably told him: “Qui est-tu pour me dire de me taire” ('Who are you to tell me to shut up') as she states in ‘Entre deux verres’. Although the album title and the suggestive art work on the cover give the impression that Anaïs is like all the other French ‘sighing girls’ this is not the case. Anaïs is a girl in control. If she winds up naked in someone’s arms after to many Becks that is her choice (in ‘Elle me plait’). And it is she that decides if she is immune for love or not (in ‘Moi qui croyais’). And even American crooning champion Chris Isaak may be happy just to walk in her shadow on ‘Si j'avais su que notre amour serait si fort’ ('If I knew that our love is so strong'). Anaïs delivers a nice and appealing album which shows perspective for the future.

Listen to 'Elle me plait' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Fleurs2 (2008) - ♪♪
Battiato, Franco (Italy)

The great Franco Battiato is back with a new album, 'Fleurs2'. After the two albums with covers of famous and not so famous songs ('Fleurs' in 1999 and 'Fleurs3' in 2002) now there is 'Fleurs2'. We know Battiato as a very creative, unique singer-songwriter who has produced both experiemntal and classic albums. The question is: why does he want to record albums with covers of evergreens like 'Bridge over troubled water' (Simon & Garfunkel) and 'Et maintenant' (Becaud)? Probably just because he enjoys singing other peoples songs once in a while, because they have nothing extra to offer than Battiato's original albums. Every Fleur-album contained one or two new, original Battiatio songs. On 'Fleurs3' it is 'Tutto l'universo obbedisce all'amore'. And how wll this song sounds compared to most of the covers... Is it a bad album then? Well, no; there are some beautiful moments too, like 'Del suo veloce volo', a beautiful the duet with Anthony Hegarty (Anthony & the Jonsons) and 'La musica muore', a duet with long-time Battiato collaborator and friend, Juri Camisasca. These songs make the album worth buying. But if we may advise the great mr Battiato: please focus on albums with new, original song material and do not record a 'Fleurs4'...

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I love you (2008) - ♪♪♪♪
Boogaerts, Mathieu (France)

The French Mathieu Boogaerts always had a knack for bittersweet humour. In that light the title for his fifth studio album ‘I love you’ can be doubted as being sincere. Never mind the hidden message because Matthieu again delivers an intriguing album. Again he plays all the instruments himself set aside some saxophone contributions by Manuel Roland and choruses by Yannick Dupont and David Picard (who also plays trumpet). This may give the impression that this is lo-fi album but if it is the tracks sound impressively rich and well produced. Intrigued by African rhythms and reggae vibes Boogaerts changes his usual guitar for a drum kit and takes drum rhythms as the basis for this album. The result comes close to French colleague Katerine or, for an Anglo Saxon, reference Matthew Herbert. Repeating rhythms over which Mathieu speaks-sings his lyrics that are more lose oneliners then poetry. But then again how clear can you be when saying: “chaque fois je te le dis t’es fou” ('Each time I tell you, you are crazy'). The whole thing sounds slightly nutty but deliciously danceable and funky. ‘Danse, Danse, Danse avec tes jambe’ Boogaerts advices on ‘Jambe’ and that seems the most obvious thing to do. ‘Do you understand the message?’ proclaims Mathieu on opening track ‘Come to me’. I have no idea if I do but to me the message spells ‘great album’.

Listen to 'Jambe' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Ly (2009) - ♪♪♪♪
Bremnes, Kari (Norway)

'Ly' ('Shelter') is Kari Bremnes' thirteenth solo album. Its songs tell of life-changing decisions and simple, guilty, pleasures, big unwieldy emotions, and the little feelings that permeate everyday existence. Kari created a collection of human stories and human destinies. Since her first solo album in 1987, Kari developed into a confident, succesful singer-songwriter. Although both her music and lyrics are very much rooted in Norwegian tradition, the new millennium brought her also succes outside her homecountry, especially in Germany. Although Kari's albums usually encounter very good receptions by both chritics and her growing fanbase, some people can not stand her music - they consider it tedious, boring and emotionless. Kari definitely has a very strong personal style that you might like or dislike, there probably is no in-between. But emotionless is not the way to describe her singing at all - just listen to the terrific live album 'Reise' (2007) or to 'Ytterste pol' one of Ly's beatiful balads. Kari writes about reality as she sees it, ugly and beautiful in the same frame. Light and heavy in the same step. The songs are about love and rage, about death, about a strong woman's fate, about to get into the heat and whether to seek shelter.
All songs written by Kari and arrangements are made in collaboration with producer and keyboardist Bengt Hanssen and the other musicians in her band: Helge Norbakken on drums, Hallgrim Brattberg on guitars and Sondre Meisfjord who plays bass. Guest Soloist on trumpet on two of the tracks are Arve Henriksen. Although Kari does not change her musical directions on 'Ly', the album breathes an accoustic simplicity and directness that is fresh and inspiring. Kari will be touring Norway (February-March) and Germany (April-May).

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Quinze chansons (2008) - ♪♪♪
Delerm, Vincent (France)

For the new Vincent Delerm it seems the entire Tôt Ou tard-label friends come out and play along. Peter von Poehl, Albin de la Simone, Ibrahim Maalouf and JP Nataf all join in the fun. Altough fun isn’t the word that springs to mind with the introvert ‘petite’ music Vincent makes. This, his fourth album, is again an excercise in classic chanson mixed with folk elements. This can result in little diddy’s like ‘dans tes bras’ and ‘shea stadium’. But it is on tracks like ‘Tous les acteurs s’appelent Terence’ ('All acteurs are called Terence'), ‘Et Francois de Roubaix dans le dos’ ('And Francois de Roubaix in the back') and ‘Un temps pour tout’ ('A time for all') that he takes it to another level and the songs open up like a summer meadow. On ‘Un temps’ the maestro of melancholy, Alain Souchon, even makes a brief appearance. Lyricly the album reflects reguarly to the time of Vincent’s youth. ‘78543 habitants’ brings back the times when he checked girls at the local swimming pool and ‘Un tacle de patrick vieira’ reminds us of a prank with chocolate laced trout (ugh !!). The album ends (after the 15 chansons the title promises) with the melancholic ‘La vie est la même’ ('Life is the same') remeniscing about life in a small French village. Vincent Delerm is one of the young sympathetic French chansonniers but I must say that his voice can be a bit boring. The punch (and humour) is in the lyrics but if you don’t speak French they may be hard to follow.

Listen to 'Tous les acteurs s’appelent Terence' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Älä kysy kuolleilta, he sanoivat (2008) - ♪♪♪♪
Eleanoora Rosenholm (Finland)

Eleanoora Rosenholm comes from Pori, Finland and is a project from young artists Noora Tommila, Pasi Salmi and Mika Rättö. They have just released their second album 'Älä kysy kuolleilta, he sanoivat', again full of dark, mysterious songs with murderous lyrics. The band described their music as: "a disco any housewife serial killer would be proud to dance to". I guess this will give you some idea of what Eleanoora Rosenholm sounds like... 'Tammen varjossa' is a beautiful and fairytale-like opener, followed by the funny, more up tempo single 'Ambulanssikukitar'. Think Coco Rosie, with a touch of Värttinä, Cranes and Björk. But everything sounds very original and unique at the same time. And when you think their music sounds a bit weird, just check their video clips on youtube... Eleanoora Rosenholm makes a great addition to the european pop music scene! Hopefully these Fins will surpise us with many more creative albums in the future.

 

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Absolutamente (2009) - ♪♪♪
Fangoria (Spain)

February 24th was the release date of Fangoria's new album, 'Absolutamente' ('Absolutely') (available on both cd and lp). When first hearing the album it immediately becomes clear that Olvido 'Alaska' Gara and Nacho Canut did not decide to make radical changes in their formula. The whole sound is familiar and all typical Fangoria-ingredients are there: Alaska's low, husky voice, the synths, the pop melodies that you can sing along after just one turn, and - of course - the drums and beats. Alaska and Nacho claim the sound is more immediate and less baroque than their previous work, thanks to the production of X and Tony James Neal, founder of Sputnik. The album was recorded in London where the duo worked with Martin Watkins (pianist Marc Almond), Kinky Roland and Rafa Sputnik. The record tends to have a lesser focus on technology and many songs have been recorded in just one take in order to 'capture the moment'. Furthermore, according to Alaska, the lyrics are personal and express the pain and hurt she endured the previous years. But don't let yourself be fooled: 'Absolutamente' is still a 100% pop record made for parties, disco's and dancing. Very nice, very 'Warlholean pop art', but at some point I begin to miss something more profound. If you want see Fangoria live: their new tour starts on March 27th in Bilbao, followed by Madrid (May 2nd) and Barcelona (22 days).

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Outoja maita (2008) - ♪♪♪
Iivanainen, Johanna & 1N (Finland)

This album was already released in May 2008, but since Finish music is not very well known across Europe (and the rest of the world) we just discovered this gemm. And although it is a bit late, we included this album in this review list, since we consider this one worth bringing to your attention. Johanna Iivanainen is a young, succesfull singer in Finland. She collaborates with many artists and bands. Her colaboration with the ban 1N started in 2002, when she was not very well known at all. Their first album was a combination of folk songs with electronic arrangements. On their third and latest album 'Outoja maita' ('Strange country') the elctronic almost disappeared completely, making way for almost traditional, accoustic folk songs. At first listening the album is sympathetic, but a bit on the light side. After a listening to it a few times more, the soft, intimate folky songs really get to you, as does Johanna's voice. She proves that you can actually sing beautfully in the (for our ears) strange, exotic Finnish language. She has released many more albums, solo with 1N and with other bands. We definitely are going to order some more records of her! Interested in Johanna's music or other Finnish artists? You can order Finish albums at: www.levykauppax.fi.

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Anne Linnet (2008) - ♪♪♪♪♪
Linnet, Anne (Denmark)

Anne Linnet is Denmarks grandmother of pop music. She's been around the Danish music scene since the beginning of the seventies and has been releasing records every few years since then, although her popularity declined. Anne Linnet has not release one bad record in my opinion; even in the eighties - when synths and drumm computers were into fashion - she managed to produce credible albums. In 2007 she released the album 'Akvarium' which was sort of a come back. Suddenly, younger generations (re)discovered Linnet's work and importance for the Danish pop scene. Nowadays, her songs are frequently sung at singing competitions on tv (X-factor etc.). 58 years old, La Linnet released her latest darling in November 2008. And the grand lady still knows how to rock and to write a proper collection of pop songs. She does not have to prove anything anymore, she just writes and plays for fun. And probably because she simply has to, the artist she is. The self titled album is Anne Linnet at her best. Inteligent pop songs, most mid-tempo, some ballads and some up-tempo songs. The production is chrystal-clear, the arrangements and instrumentation - the classic rock band instruments with some modern sounds and bleeps - in perfect balance. Listen to songs like 'Alt i mig' and 'Noget i dine øjne' and you will agree that Anne's latest album is a europop music treasure...

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Je garde quelques images... 2cd best of (2008) - ♪♪♪
Lio (Belgium)

Usually, we do not review 'best of' albums, but in this case we make an exception. After all, among the many, many compilation albums of Lio, this double cd pack with 32 songs in total, finally covers Lio's entire career. Most people will remember Lio only from her 2 hits 'Amoureux solitaires' and 'Le banabana split', but this compilation proofs that Lio deserves more credit. Of course, the compilation contains many catchy bubblegum songs. On the other hand, Lio's later albums - especially 'Wandatta' and 'Dites au prince charmant' - are more experimental and introspective. She has only mediocre singing skills, but being so, Lio does know how to move us from time to time. This 2-cd pack is a great introdction for people who never bought a Lio-album before and a must have for fans, thanks to the 5 unreleased tracks.

Listen to 'Les brunes comptent pas pour des prunes' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Psychodelice (2008) - ♪♪♪
Meg (Italy)

For people outside Italy it seems like Meg just appeared on the music scene but in fact she already had a career since 1993 with the band 99 Posse. Although originally a reggae formation they subsequently started to experiment with urban and triphop. In 2000 the band broke up leaving Meg (Maria di Donna) to pursue a solo career. ‘Psychodelice’ is her second album and actually was released mid-2008 in Italy. But due to performances at Eurosonic and an international release of the album it seems only fair to write a review anyway for this interesting europop-album. Together with the Milanese dj Stylophonic she created an album that is almost un-Italian in its feel. In fact, to be honest, ‘Psychodelice’ sounds like the album the Icelandic singer was bound to make but never did. This is partly due to Meg’s voice that remind somehow of Bjork but also due to the intelligent use of electronics. And, just as her counterpart, she doesn’t fear to use modern media to shock and awe her public. As an example the single ‘Distante’, a song about an immaturity in love affair, was accompanied by the video where Meg dances together with invisible dancers of the Project Module. In the video you see only parts of a body painted in fuchsia dancing with her. And also follow up ‘E troppo facile’ is accompanied by a beautiful video. The album knows a minor dip at the second half with some English sung tracks but ends strong with ‘Permesso’. As an artist Meg makes a fine addition to the Italian music scene although PAUL ROYAL keeps nagging that it sounds to Scandinavian. Whatever, as long as it sounds great.

 

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Con il sole nelle mani (2008) - ♪♪♪
Mietta (Italy)

Having participated in the Sanremo Festival 2008 with the song 'Baciami adesso' ('Kiss me now'), Mietta published her new album 'Con il sole nelle mani' ('With the sun in the hands') during 2008. It includes nine pop-rock songs, in which the main theme is love, analyzed in its various forms. The disc was written with the help of authors such as Nicholas Agliardi and Daniele Ronda and also includes two covers, 'Resta qui'('Stay here') by Neffa and 'Senza di te' ('Without you') by Simone Cristicchi. On this album Mietta is doing what she does best: singing pop songs about love with that deep, dark, powerfull voice of hers. Fortunately, she is no longer trying to stay in tune with R&B and hiphop, as she did on her late 90's albums, she just sticks to the traditional Italian pop songs. The songs material might be somewhat mediocre at times, but with that great voice and the terrific production she creates a sound that stands out of the average chart songs. If you are a fan of Laura Pausini, Nek etc., you will certainly apprecieate what Mietta has to offer you!

Watch Mietta at the San Remo finals with 'Baciami adesso'
 

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Başibozuk (2008) - ♪♪½
Mor ve Ötesi (Turkey)

The ‘new’ album from Mor ve Ötesi opens with their Eurovision entry ‘Deli’, which should have won I might add. I say ‘new’ because ‘Başıbozuk’ only has three new tracks and further more features three live tracks, as well as eight remixes of older numbers. At pleads for the guys that they didn’t go for the simple ‘best of’ to get some revenue from their Eurovision effort. Instead they gave remixer Kaan Dΰzarat and Serkan Hökenek (amongst others) the mission to give a new turn to the old songs without completely rebuilding them into anonymous dancetracks. The result is maybe not overall successful (like the big-beat-guitar rework of ‘Çocuklar ve Hayvanlar’ by some DJ Kambo) but one can hear that the whole project is made with respect to the artist. Kaan Dΰzarat gives ‘Küçük Sevgilim’ such a dreamy makeover that it is hard to imagine what the song sounded like before. The live versions of ‘Re’ and ‘Bir dedim var’, two of my favourite tracks from the album ‘Dünya Yalan Söylüyor’ show what a good live act they are. And just our luck that the band decided to do a European tour in the first half of 2009. The tour will start late March 2009 in The Netherlands and cover some neighbouring countries, ending in Germany mid-April. (venues and dates still have to be confirmed). For now ‘Başıbozuk’ (which is oddly enough only obtainable in Turkey if you want it on CD) gets two-and-half stars in the hope they come up with a complete new album in 2009.

Listen to 'Deli' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Adieu - box 5cd + 2dvd (2008) -♪♪♪♪
Neyman, Benny (Netherlands)

It has been almost a year since Benny Neyman passed away (7 February 2008). His legacy: over 25 albums and hundreds of songs, mostly in Dutch but also in German. Benny wrote most of the lyrics to new or - often - already existing songs from over the world, especially Greece. Now here is a box set with 5 cd's spanning his entire career and also a de luxe edition, with 2 dvd's of his tv-appearances. Okay, watching the dvd's you get some idea of how people looked like in the eigthies and Benny's own outfits were, well, somewhat peculiar. But apart from that, the songs still stand out; he had a beautiful, soft and warm singing voice and always sounds sincere, even though some of his texts are a bit banal. This box is a beautiful hommage to one of Hollands best chansoniers. It is a pity that the dvd's do not contain any material from his theatre tours. After all, Benny was one of the first artists who tried to tour the theatres in Holland - and was very succesful in doing so; I would prefer his live performances over the many tv-appearances (mostly play back).

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Luister (2009) - ♪♪♪
Nick & Simon (Netherlands)

Dutch duo Nick (Schilder) and Simon (Keizer) deliver with ‘Luister’ ('Listen') their third album and form, together with colleague Jan Smit, the forefront of the new ‘Palingsound’ generation. As we have explained in the introduction to the Netherlands the Dutch music scene roughly falls apart in two segments: pop and rockmusic, which is mainly sung in English, and Kleinkunst & Levenslied which is mainly sung in Dutch. The two world are almost incompatible. ‘Serious’ music lovers discard the Dutch sung music scene for music for dumb masses (Levenslied) or for the cultural elite (in the case of Kleinkunst). I remember speaking to a former colleague explaining that artists like Jan, Nick & Simon have it in them to gap that bridge and make Dutch sung pop music without being high brow. They write their own material, are well enough singers, have an appeal to a wide audience and are capable to hold a killing tour schedule. But to make that crossover they have to make a choice to leave the Dutch schlager genre, mix it with pop and rock and make the jump. ‘Luister’ is a step in that direction with nice tracks like ‘Vallende sterren’ ('Falling stars'), ‘Het masker’ ('The mask') and ‘De dag dat alles beter is’ ('The day everything will be better'). However in an instant they change their tune for standard Schlager tracks like ‘Hart van goud’ ('Heart of gold') and ‘Zomer in december’ ('Summer in December') and ‘Lippen op de mijne’ ('Lips on mine'). The happy-happy-joy tone of those tracks pulls the other tracks down (or up, depending of what you like). Even a reggae like tune like ‘Altijd dichtbij’ ('Always nearby') has the good idea but misses those rasta vibrations (guys, invite the Dutch reggae formation Beef next time). I was dared by their manager that I didn’t want to give the boys a review. Here you go…now I dare you to step over the line, you have it in you and you’re only a step away. Does the Dutch public care? The duo has been more popular then ever, landing the album on the number one spot in the charts on release. Only to be challenged by none other then U2 a few weeks later. How’s that for popularity.  

Listen to 'het masker' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Aşk'in halleri (2009) - ♪♪♪♪
Olcay, Zuhal (Turkey)

Zuhal Olcay (1957) is first and foremost an actress. She played in more than 20 films in Turkey and played in many stage production (theatre, musical) in both Turkey and Germany. In 1990 she launched a singing career with her first album 'Kucuk bir oyku bu'. Since than she released 5 more albums, and now she is back with the prestigious album 'Aşk'in halleri'. The highly respected actress she is, Zuhal has sings with a great, almost distinctive lady-like voice, that she uses to sing the beautiful Turkish melodies, heavily influenced by international jazz and world music. A bit like Loreena McKennit singing the American songbook with the Turkish national orchestra or something like that. It is clear: it is a unique combination that is hard to express in words. But it works and the result is definitely Zuhal's best record ever. It is far more credible than, well, Tarkan or so, but at the same time the sound is less traditional than Yildiz Tilbe. In my opinion, this record could please many fans of good quality world music. Just close your eyes and listen to the opening song 'Aşkın en mavi zamanı' ('Love the blue time') and you are bount to take of for a fantastic trip through the Orient... Naturally, I do not understand a word of the lyrics, but that does not bother me at all. In fact, it leaves space for my own fantasies and interpretations.

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Catherine Ringer chante les Rita Mitsouko and more - cd + dvd (2008) - ♪♪♪♪
Ringer, Catherine (France)

In November 2007 Fred Chichin passed away, leaving behind Catherine Ringer, the other half of the famous duo les Rita Mitsouko. LRM have recorded some of the best albums in French pop music history. The duo also had a great live reputation. Now Catherine has to do it on her own. This cd plus dvd set (the dvd contains 8 songs that are not included on the cd) proof us that she is quite capable of doing just that. Backed up by a small but terrific band, she takes every opportunity to show us what great entertainer she is. Of course, most of the (LRM) songs we already know, but what power they still have, even after 20 to 25 years! And what a great performer Catherine (still) is; she sings great, dances across the stage like a young girl giving it all. The later songs blend in perfectly with the 'golden oldies'. The cd+dvd is a great live recording of some of French's best pop songs. Bravo for Catherine! Next question is: will she come up with new material in the near future, without her creative partner Fred?

Listen to 'Marcia Balla' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Cercati in me (2008) - ♪♪♪
Russo, Giuni (Italy)

Already more than four years have passed since the great Giuni Russo passed away. Maria Anonietta Sisini, Giuni's life partner - both personal and professional - founded 'GiuniRussoArte' with the aim of protecting the name and the Image of the artist to which it is the universal heir and to promote new talent. In 2005 this resulted in the cd 'Unusual', containing remixes of duets with famous artists (Lene Lovich, Franco Battiato and others). At the end of 2008 a second album was released after Giuni's death, 'Cercati in me'. This time the record contains some songs by Giuni that were never released before (probably because they weren't finished at the time) and a few remixes, like 'Amore intenso'. The songs all have some sort of spiritual content. Not in the meaning that they are songs for worship, but the songs and arrangements create a perfect atmosphere for Giuni's spiritual quest. The album contains some gemms, like the title track and the remixes of 'Oceano d'amore' and 'Amore intenso'. As she has already proved on her records and live performances, Giuni has one of the most impressive voices of Italian pop music scene. And hearing her singing once again on 'Cercati in me' and rediscovering her powers and emotions in these new songs provides us with great pleasure. At the same time, these songs, how well crafted they may be, can only stand in the shadow of the albums already released during Giuni's life. Hopefully this release will stimulate people to (re)discover Giuni's records.

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Universelle (2008) - ♪♪♪♪
Sapho (France)

Sapho has been recording world music even before the word was invented. She can be compared to the late Ofra Haza and currently with Natacha Atlas. A new Sapho album is always a surprise; what can we expect this time from the multi-talented French-Moroccan singer? Punk rock like her albums in the eighties? Oriental pop? Accoustic flamenco-influenced channons? Or arabic traditionals like on her Oum Kalsoum hommage album? From the first notes on it is clear: after many years, Sapho recorded once again a pop album. Of course there are still many arabic and oriental elements to discover in the arrangements, but it is far more pop than any of her last few albums. And to be frank, it has become a great record. It shows us Sapho's social engagement but also her humour. We hear her singing very seriously and beautifully on 'Fatima' and 'Le monde est vaste', but she also proofs that she can still rock even if she is close to the age of 60. Just listen to 'Replay' or 'Gare guerre gare'. Please go on releasing more of these pop albums, Sapho!

Listen to 'Gare guerre gare' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Stilte in de storm (2008) - ♪♪
Smit, Jan (Netherlands)

In 2006 former DJ Joost den Draaijer declared the music genre ‘palingsound’ dead. In hearing the new album of Jan Smit he couldn’t be more wrong. The name refers to to ‘paling’ (the Dutch word for eel) the major economic activity in Volendam and the, for some, smooth music. Form an international perspective the ‘palingsound’ is a form of Dutch schlager. Incidentally, the word ‘palingsound’ by Volendam musicians is not perceived negatively. Where fellow citizens Nick & Simon and the 3j’s became more pop Jan seems to embrace the ‘palingsound’ with both hands on this album. The city of Volendam always had a connection to the sea and their music always tapped heavy in the local tradition of sea shanties. This musical tradition goes back to the 15th century and is a simplified version of the polka and the waltz. The singing of sea shanties had a practical purpose: the rhythm of the song served to synchronize the movements of the sailors. They also served a social purpose: singing and listening to songs is pleasant; it alleviates boredom and lightens the burden of hard work. Now, this last task is secure with Jan who can count himself as one of the most popular singers in the Netherlands at the moment. No village party is complete with a show by him. So, if we follow the connection of this album and the tradition of shanties we may find the explanation of the odd choice to cover John Denver’s ‘Calypso’. As we know the song is an ode to Jacques Cousteau’s ship, the Calypso. More references to the sea pop up like on ‘Als hij de zee op gaat’ ('When he goes out to sea'). The live on the quays (with its brothels) might be present in ‘Mi amore solo par ti’, ‘Omdat wat ik droom niet mag’ ('Because what I dream off is not allowed') and ‘Dan volg je haar benen’ ('Then you follow her legs'). In this perspective ‘Stilte in de storm’ is an interesting album but personally it’s a bit to traditional for my taste.

Listen to 'Stilte in de storm' (snippet courtesy of www.muziekweb.nl)

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Güzel (2008) - ♪♪♪
Tilbe, Yildiz (Turkey)

Yildiz Tilbe is one of the most popular artists in Turkey. But that does not mean that her songs are 'easy listening' or cheap Turkish holiday disco. On the contrary, for me it is hard to understand that this kind of difficult music can be so popular. Yildiz writes her own texts and composes her own songs. Her voice is very peculiar, a bit sharp. And then there are the rhythms... They are very complicated and - at least to my western ears - it sometimes seems impossible that melody and rhythms will come together again during some songs. Yildiz already released some great albums and this 2008 release 'Güzel' is definitely not bad at all. But it is not Yildiz at her utmost best. I admire her for the few experiments on the album (some r&b, some rock, like 'Çöpteyim'), but the rhythms are a bit less exciting as on previous albums. Still, there is much to enjoy, so 'Güzel' earns 3 notes easily. I just hope that Yildiz will experiment more with real drums and percussion on her next one...

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Apagorevmeno (2009) - ♪♪♪
Anna Vissi (Greece)

Anna Vissi’s 25th album is not only her first album since 2005 but also sees her breaking up with livelong songwriter Nikos Karvelas whom has been writing her material since 1981. Accordingly because the two got fed up with each other and needed a time off. Does this mean a big style change? Well, yes and no. If you hold it against the 2005 ‘Nylon’ you’ll much more pop and rock influenced tracks instead of dance-orientated material. But if you take Anna’s complete career you’ll find that she did always mixed classic rembetiko and laiko music with modern rock and dance influences. That new music leads to new stylenames as such in Vissi’s statements she names the track ‘Risko’ (Risk) ‘rock zeibekiko’, while she describes ‘Alitissa Psihi’ as a ‘zembekiko’. In the end  ‘Apagorevmeno’ (Απαγορευμένο; or Forbidden) is one of the better in her catalogue. Single ‘To Parelthon Mou’ (My Past), earlier used as the main theme song in the Greek film Bank Bang, was a forebode for the entire album. Producer and arranger Greg Ladanyi did his best to create a consistent album around the flamboyant Vissi. The album features several songwriters among one self penned track ‘Apo Makria Kai Agapimeni’ reflecting on her relationship with Karvelas. The album also features three covers translated into greek. Dan Wilson's song ‘Breathless’ is titled ‘Kontra’, ‘Un año de amor’ from Spanish singer Luz Casal comes as ‘Metallo’, and Christina Aguilera's song ‘That's What Love Can Do’ returns as ‘An S'Erotefto’. But the most powerfull track is without a doubt the remake of the Rebetiko classic ‘Pente Hronia Dikasmenos (I Foni Tou Argile)’, which was originally recorded in 1936 by Vangelis Papazoglou. The track comes out as a fusion of rebetiko, hiphop and urban music. Even with additional rappers who beg Anna to smoke the hookah with them.

 

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Superpallo (2008) - ♪♪♪♪
Vilkkumaa, Maija (Finland)

Maija's latest album kicks off with the up-tempo guitar song 'Monopolii'. "Nice song, but it sounds a bit like her previous record", was my first impression. But after the opening song, 'Superpallo' changes direction. The songs and atmosphere become more intense and mature than Maija's previous albums. Bye bye to the rock-chick, welcome to the woman who has clearly lived through some ups and downs. And she knows how to express her feelings! Of course, there is still the layer of rock arrangements with guitars and all. But there is definitely a deeper layer underneath it all, where Maija shows her tender, intimate and vunerable side. This combination makes 'Superpallo' Maija's best album yet. For all european music fans who like high quality rock songs with a great female singer: this is definitely a record you should try!

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