BBC – Music – Review of Calexico

One advantage music has over other art is the power to evoke with breathtaking immediacy. This could be a fleeting memory or a whole period of your life… or something else entirely. The city of New York as the War on Terror heaves doggedly onward; a detailed, mythological Great Depression; endlessly sprawling suburban locales; crackling bonfires, dark pine forests and rich, sweeping landscapes.

Now on their seventh studio album, Calexico have been honing their sound since 1996, and today it’s instantly recognisable. The band’s core of Joey Burns and John Convertino have dabbled in styles from spaghetti western to surf rock, jazz to Romani and country to Mariachi, all tied together by instinctive songwriting and impeccable musicianship. Theirs is a world of dusty bars, desert towns and deep romance, and on Algiers it is as enjoyable and inviting as ever.

Named for the neighbourhood of New Orleans where it was recorded, Algiers takes inspiration from its surroundings both in terms of the restored church in which the pair took up residence and the storied nature of the city itself. Says Burns: “The place is strong and bold, soulful to the core, but surrounded by a sea of darkness.”

Consequently, the record traverses numerous styles, offsetting the dramatic spirals of Para and bar-room blues of Sinner in the Sea with the serene indie-folk of Hush and Fortune Teller, the latter of which is particularly gorgeous, tumbling forth on lilting acoustic guitars and gentle backing vocals.

As ever, Algiers is a refined, consistent and beautifully textured set of songs. Along with 2006’s Garden Ruin it falls among the more sedate in the Tucson collective’s discography, though this is no bad thing.

No Te Vayas (“Don’t Go”) is a Spanish-language collaboration between the band’s Jacob Valenzuela and Jairo Zavala of Depedro that sits atop soft, persuasive trumpet figures, while The Vanishing Mind features an assured vocal from Burns that sees the band soar then recede on a deep bed of strings to close the record in style.

Seven albums in, Calexico have lost none of their power to evoke and enthral.

BBC – Music – Review of Ernest Bloch and Max Bruch

Lyrical, romantic and highly Jewish-sounding, the music of Swiss composer Ernest Bloch feels tailor-made for cellist Natalie Clein. Small wonder that this programme of his key works for cello is so successful.

Schelomo, his 1916 Hebrew Rhapsody for cello and orchestra, makes for a powerful start to the disc. Urgent and frequently virtuosic, this deeply lyrical work depicts sumptuous material riches alongside deep inward despair in its portrayal of the book of Ecclesiastes, the cellist cast as the voice of King Solomon (“Schelomo” being the Hebrew for Solomon), with the orchestra representing his internal world and experience of life.

Those familiar with Ecclesiastes won’t be surprised to hear that Bloch said of Schelomo, “Almost all my works, even the darkest ones, still end optimistically; or at least with some hope. This is the only one that concludes in complete negation.” How could it not, with Solomon’s conclusion on life being that “all is vanity, and a striving after wind”? Clein digs deep into this psyche to produce a strong-toned, deeply felt interpretation, delivering effortlessly rhapsodic flow in the highly virtuosic passages, whilst convincingly colouring in the spiritual elements.

This is particularly apparent as we move on to Prayer, the first movement Bloch’s shorter 1924 work, From Jewish Life. Originally composed for cello with piano accompaniment, it’s heard here in Christopher Palmer’s beautiful arrangement for string orchestra and harp, and is movingly played throughout with deep feeling.

Bloch’s symphonic poem Voice in the Wilderness is the other main work on the disc, and gives Clein and the orchestra opportunity to explore every possible dynamic and emotional contrast, which they do to great effect. Indeed, one of the pleasures of the recital is the meeting of minds between orchestra and soloist, each perfectly partnering the other.

After a highly Jewish set of works, the fascinating coda to the disc is Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. As Jewish in sound as Bloch’s works, his themes based on a German synagogue chant and a part of a psalm setting of Psalm 137 by the Anglo-Australian Jewish composer Isaac Nathan, the joke is that Bruch was not only not Jewish, but was descended from a long line of Christian clerics. It’s a lovely piece of programming, tenderly performed.

BBC – Music – Review of Goat

Close your eyes while World Music spins and it’s easy enough to piece together a scene for yourself. Think ritual drumming; the soft, rhythmic thump of unclad feet; ancient rites chanted in an unfamiliar tongue and rapt faces lit by the flicker of ceremonial fires while condensation drips lazily from jade-green palm fronds. 

Where, now, do you think you might find yourself? Haiti? New Orleans? Saint Sebastian? Matool? Nope, instead all this voodoo-inspired wonder hails from decidedly un-tropical Sweden, courtesy of mischievous newcomers Goat.  

While they might be many miles from William Seabrook’s Magic Island and their shtick – which includes an ancient curse and one member claiming he’s the 11th son of a voodoo priest – requires more than a pinch of salt to get onboard with, there’s at least one pivotal factor that certainly doesn’t fail to convince and that’s the music itself.

Channelling a more joyous energy than many others might if given the same source material (Fabio Frizzi or Steve Moore, say), Goat’s music is enigmatic and fittingly potent given the religion they’ve used as inspiration. Startling and possessed with a steady grasp of how different elements can gel and offset each other, the vertiginous mix means they’re perhaps the only band on the planet who can simultaneously bring to mind Can, Fela Kuti, Liquid Liquid and Moby Grape.

Basslines hulk and lurk, goading you pushily towards the dancefloor while psychotropic guitar parts conjure impossible colours and chanted, voice-as-instrument ululations score a deep path through your subconscious despite only one word in 50 ever actually making sense. Dip in at any point and you’re bound to hit gold, whether you light upon the cartwheel riffing of opener Diarabi, the glorious, organ-dappled funk of Disco Fever or the primal rattle and grunt of the beautiful but far-too-short Run to Your Mama.

You’ll soon find, however, that being a casual bystander simply isn’t an option: it’s all too captivating, too delirious and too gosh-darn wonderful for you not to join the fray. So surrender your mind, body and soul to the Goat and one of the year’s best albums so far.

BBC – Music – Review of Staff Benda Bilili

That Staff Benda Bilili are releasing their second album during the Paralympics is certainly apt, as the tale of how these Congolese paraplegic musicians have found fame far beyond their homeland is as inspiring as that of any Paralympian.

But then, despite the poverty of their background, Staff Benda Bilili have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. They were discovered busking in Kinshasa by Belgian producer Vincent Kenis, who recorded their 2009 debut album Très Très Fort in the local zoo; something documented in the  film Benda Bilili!, which propelled Très Très Fort to worldwide sales of over 150,000 copies and its creators to the international stage.

However, just like the Paralympians’ athletic feats, Staff Benda Bilili – whose name translates as “look beyond appearances” – deserve to be recognised more for their musical merits than backstories. And Bouger Le Monde! is again an utterly unique and eclectic stew of African rumba and other influences from rock to reggae, even more accomplished and energising than its predecessor.

Recording in a proper studio this time around has given Staff Benda Bilili a richer sound, with the bass full and funky on Tangu I Feuni. When Roger Landu plays his incredible psychedelic qatongé solo on Kuluna you’d swear it was Hendrix strafing his Stratocaster rather than a man with an instrument he’d fashioned from tin cans and string.

Indeed, although the rollicking percussion and Congolese voices throughout never really let you forget which continent this comes from, there are times Bouger Le Monde sounds almost as American as it does African. The intricate guitar patterns of Sopeka suggest a shared bloodline between rumba and bluegrass, and Djambula could be Dr. John’s blues relocated from the Mississippi to the Congo.

Just like the original blues artists and their African ancestors, Staff Benda Bilili sing songs of strife and redemption. Yet when the mixture of French and various Congolese languages breaks into sing-along “la la la”s on Ne Me Quitte Pas it becomes as pure a life-affirming rush as the best pop music in any language.

Professional Electrical Installation Is Paramount Announces Builder Guide


Builder Guide backs the findings from a recently published study by the Electrical Safety Council and emphasises professional electrical installation is of paramount importance.

Builder Guide is getting behind the results of a recent study published by the Electrical Safety Council to highlight the importance of checking the electrics within your home are safe. A key aspect of this is having an RCD (Residual Current Device) in your fuse board, also known as a consumer unit. This will prevent electric shocks and dramatically reduce the risk of fire.

The study’s objective was to better understand parents’ awareness of electrical safety and how they protect both themselves and their children within the home.

The study revealed that the biggest concern for parents with regards to having a safe home was electrical safety; however, alarmingly the report found that the most common safety precaution measures parents used to address electrical safety is socket covers, with 62% of parents stating they use them. Socket covers were more important to parents than baby monitors and stair gates, but these items are not effective solutions.

David Holmes, Founder of Builder Guide commented, “The key message we need to get across to parents and home owners in general is that the only way to be sure you are protecting your children and your home from the various electrical dangers is with RCD protection. Replacing a consumer unit is paramount if the fuse box is old or does not include an RCD. Generally sockets are safe and socket covers will not give any protection against electric shocks should the installation be unsafe”.

Holmes continued, “As per the Electrical Safety Council’s recommendations, it is crucial home owners complete thorough checks throughout their home to understand whether there are any potential issues that need to be addressed, we are doing all we can to reinforce this message and I would certainly recommend all home owners download the Electrical Safety Council’s free ‘Home Electrical Safety Check’ app, which is available for iPhone and Android phones and allows people to complete some quick visual checks. If there are any issues the app gives solutions to simple issues and where more series problems are flagged then the app recommends getting a registered electrician to get the issue fixed”.

Builder Guide is one of the UK’s leading resources for finding qualified local trades professionals such as electricians for house wiring.

For more information visit builderguide.co.uk

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