By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Rokia Traore,Tchamantché (Nonesuch)
I don’t speak French, and Malian born Rokia Traore sings in the language, but that doesn’t matter. She could be singing the collected lyrics of LMFAO on Tchamantché and I’d still be transfixed by her voice, her phrasing, the way her music floats through the room and lands softly on your eardrums. Amadou & Miriam get a lot of the ink, and deservedly so when it comes to Malian pop music, but Traore travels somewhere more ethereal. Guitars wend and percussion dots, but they take a gentler and quieter journey. This, her fourth album, is her first for Nonesuch, and should have brought her a bigger audience. “Zen” ought to convince anyone, and her take on George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” rivals both Billie Holiday’s and Barbra Streisand’s versions. Really. She’s that good.
Various Artists, Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890–1950 (Dust-to-Digital)
If 2009 was a year of future sounds and fresh directions, it was also a year in which a few labels dipped way, way back to create curated collections that were as, er, indie and free-spirited as any hipster band. Mississippi Records out of Portland, Oregon, continued to issue shocking LP-only collections of pre–World War II blues, gospel and world music (Mata La Pena: A Compilation of International Music was a big hit on our turntable this year). And the Atlanta-based Dust-to-Digital label released Take Me to the Water, which focused solely on songs about baptism recorded before the rock & roll era. It’s a gospel collection, basically, which collects country and blues music without regard to race or denomination. Call-and-response a cappella shouts sit next to Washington Phillips’ fiery “Denomination Blues Part I” and the Carter Family’s “On My Way to Canaan’s Land.” The release is packaged as a book and features beautiful reprints of vintage baptism photos, as well as a typically smart essay by cultural critic Luc Sante. If you want to hear the sounds of ghosts swimming, look no further.