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Cumbia Chicharra couldn’t be more dif- ferent. They’re a big, swinging, all-stops-out band who hail from Marseilles, mixing cumbia with healthy doses of Afrobeat, dub- wise reggae, salsa and Balkan influences. Heavy on shout-along choruses, bulbous brass, swirling accordeon and percussion, they romp through the ten tracks on this, their third album (although it’s the first I’ve heard), making party music of a rare inven- tiveness. An album I find myself returning to again and again for a musical adrenalin rush. Jamie Renton

RY COODER The Prodigal Son Fantasy FAN00235

Of all the artists to emerge from the US rock scene of the 1960s, Ryland P Cooder is the one to have weathered best artistically. He never sounded young (even when he was) and has always been about musical crafts- manship and tradition rather than image. Now in his 70s, Cooder’s been on a bit of a roll with his recorded output lately and this latest album is the best he’s done for decades.

There’s a strong gospel theme running through it, alongside the political anger that’s fuelled a lot of his best recent work. It’s mainly just Cooder on a range of instruments (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, keyboards) with his son Joachim providing drums and percussion, plus backing vocals from a trio including old sparring partners Bobby King and Terry Evans. The material mixes a handful of Cooder originals with imaginatively arranged versions of standards from various visually-impaired veteran blues men (Alfred Reed, Roosevelt Graves and especially Willie Johnson). Vocally, he’s never sounded better and it should come as no great shock to any- one that his guitar playing is up to the usual high standard. Cooder has always avoided empty flash and dash for its own sake and put his skills to use in pushing forward the momentum of the song.

High points? Too many to detail. But I am most taken with the stately reading of Alfred Reed’s You Must Unload, the only track to feature guest musicians (Robert Fran- cis on bass and violinist Aubrey Haynie) and Cooder’s own tribute to a fellow righteous troubadour, Jesus And Woody (“Yes I was a dreamer, Mr Guthrie, and I guess you were a dreamer too”).

Jamie Renton Ry Cooder


Forest Bathing Living Music Duplication LM19

Though many of us have long enjoyed a mindful stroll through a beautiful woodland, thanks to the hipsters we know now that such an activity is a thing, that it has been codified for decades in Japan, that it has a name – Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing – and that the activity is viewed as a powerful ele- ment in preventive medicine. What may raise eyebrows, after a stunning 33 minutes of for- est bathing soundtrack from A Hawk And A Hacksaw, is that their forest of choice is the Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, because all of the sounds col- lected and expanded upon here are unmis- takably and thoroughly rooted in the forests of Central Europe and the Balkans.

Jeremy Barnes plays the Persian santur hammered dulcimer in opener Alexandria, creating a perfectly subtle but unmistakable route through Heather Trost’s idiosyncratic synthesis of Balkan and Central European melodies and her intoxicating spirals of string and woodwind. This music may have been learned in back streets, honed in cafés and history, but the urban and the artificial has been carefully sifted and removed. A Song For Old People, A Song For Young People, for example, is a committed recreation of style known as ‘old city songs’, but transformed into a lingering rural sublimity, a drowsy but lucid calm, a Balkan duende.

Cüneyt Sepetçi on clarinet and Balázs Unger on cimbalom, maestros both, guest gracefully, but are also in thrall to the inven- tiveness of Trost’s unobtrusive but smoulder- ing strings. Babayaga, an unashamed celebra- tion of the capricious and powerful crone of Eastern legend, is characterised on Unger’s cimbalom, but brought to life on the slyest, raspiest and most inventive of strings.

The storytelling nous and panache of

The Washing Bear is framed in echoes and interjections of startling, well-honed regional brass, coming on as a treasured Kocani down- time outtake. Sepetçi’s clarinet filters through the story of a vaguely kinetic one- time dancing bear chewing his paws in the river Drin, a standout moment in a shady, slurred riot of Bosphorus and Tatras conflu- ence and influence. John Pheby

GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR Utopia & Wasteland Rootbeat RBRCD40

From their earliest days taking time off from studies to win the BBC Young Folk Award in 2013, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar have dis- played all the qualities needed to have an enduring impact. It’s not just Algar’s excep- tional fiddle playing or Russell’s telling vocals and rhythmic guitar, it’s the way they put it all together with both grace and urgency. They have a natural gift for arrangement, stirringly recognising the dramatic strengths in a song and the importance of light and shade in the telling.

More than that, Russell, especially, is evolving into a terrific songwriter tackling modern issues with passion and wisdom in a similar fashion to Sean Cooney of the Young ’Uns, implementing values and techniques that reflect the best traditions of folk song- writing from the 1960s onwards. A rare quality when young songwriters of real potential tend to go the soft rock route, becoming smothered by intelligence from focus groups and the associated anaethesia that usually results.

Percussionist and producer Mark Tucker deserves much credit, then, for shaping an album that sounds human and whole, rooted in an honourable tradition – relatively simple, yet still fresh, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. Songs like the great Stan Rogers’s Lock Keep- er and musings on modern society stemming from real modern events. There’s Walter, inspired by Walter Tull, a rare pre-World War I black footballer who became a leader of men in the war; We Are Thoughtful was trig- gered by the inequalities that surfaced after the Grenfell disaster; the vigorous opening track Line Two is a powerfully constructed piece linked around the HS2 plans and the runaway pace of life.

No emotional grandstanding or dramatic opportunism here, the songs are subtle and the execution well-judged enough to tease you into hanging around after the first cou- ple of plays; the balance between thrills and spills and measured under-statement is admirable. There are some clear reference points: in construction and delivery We Are Leaving has all the hallmarks of a Kris Drever song; there are shades of John Tams in their version of the old Arizona Smoke Revue song All Fall Down; and the phrasing used both on All The While and 1908 are so eerily reminis- cent of Chris Wood I have to re-check the credits several times.

But then if you are going to wear your influences on your sleeve, you might as well choose the best. Colin Irwin STELIOS PETRAKIS

Crete – The Art Of The Lyra Ocora Radio France C560264

Ocora Radio France is a label that’s always reli- able when it comes to well-recorded, well- documented albums from the finest represen- tatives of traditions, and in the world of the magical-sounding Cretan lyra Stelios Petrakis is certainly that, both as player and luthier.

On the sympathetic-stringed lyra, creat- ed in the 1990s by Stelios at the suggestion of his teacher, Ross Daly, and on the old-style lyraki for a particular dark-toned syrta, he’s accompanied by a top team: Giorgos Manolakis and Giorgos Stavrakakis on Cretan laouto, singer Vasilis Stavrakakis, Giannis Pap- atzanis on davul and Thanassis Mavrokostas on bass lyra (an instrument invented and made by Stelios) and dance.

Photo: Joachim Cooder

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