Shades of Grey
Getting mix tapes from your friends is usually cool, even if it’s your Christmas present, but would you pay $17.99 for one? You might if it was mixed by a legendary West Coast hip-hop and jazz DJ/producer to showcase some of the funkiest rare grooves in his immense collection. That’s right, Shades of Grey ain’t no downtempo sleeper—this vintage vinyl is FUNKY! And the cuts have been dredged from so deep in the Greyboy archives that you can hear the dust. At least that’s how the mixmaster explains the scratchy sound of tracks by the likes of Leroy And The Drivers and the John Frigo Sextet.
Who? Exactly. But Shades of Grey is more than a rerelease of obscure funk relics. This comes from the man who mixed up albums like Freestylin’ and Mastered the Art and produced Greyboy Allstars Karl Denson and Robert Walters. This is turntabulary genius at work. Greyboy slices and dices, loops and scratches the funk, soul and jazz into a seamless 60-minute party soundtrack. It’s Greyboy’s “mix-tape” debut, a fine demonstration of his talents and a revival of artists you will hear nowhere else. From the first track, Richard “Dimples” Field’s “Finger Lickin’ Good,” your booty will be shakin’ whether you like it or not. (Yogesh Simpson)
Just one year after Po’ Girl’s self-titled debut, the genre-blending Canadian duo is back as a trio with its sophomore effort, Vagabond Lullabies. The group began as the side-project of Trish Klein from Vancouver folkies the Be Good Tanyas and Allison Russell of Celtic band Fear of Drinking. The two have developed a following with the sultry, acoustic blend of folk, jazz and blues on their first album, and have since added Diona Davies’ fiddle to the mix.
What sets Po’ Girl apart from so much soothing coffee-shop folk is the infusion of unlikely instrumentation and nuanced arrangements. On Vagabond Lullabies, the jazzy, bluesy and reggae influences have been toned down in favor of more traditional folk. The laid-back, old-timin’ flavor is kept fresh by the piano, banjo, clarinet and the mostly compatible spoken word raps by poet C.R. Avery on “Take the Long Way Home” and “Driving.” But the extra spices in the stew sometimes overwhelm the subtler, simpler flavors; part of the charm of the first record was a lean, raw soulfulness and stylistic variation that get lost under the rich polished texture of Vagabond Lullabies. (Yogesh Simpson)
Now here’s a collection of tunes that actually deserves the over-used descriptor “infectious.” Daby Toure is from Mauritania but had a diverse upbringing that included stints in Mali, Senegal and Paris. After touring with a couple of bands, he took some time and shut himself away to work on a solo album that eventually got picked up by Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. This is that album, and it exemplifies the common claim of world-music nuts that you don’t necessarily have to understand all the words to have a good time.
Daby is a melody hunter and his songs are simple and groovy. He’s sort of a one-man band, and most of the songs on this album are built on bass melodies with detailed percussion, guitar and digital effects layered on top, most of which he plays or creates himself. Composer Cyrille Dufay collaborated on the album and plays keyboards and handles the sparse electronic sounds. The electronic elements complement and augment the traditional elements without compromising the illusion of acoustic space in any of the songs. The lyrics deal primarily with traditional African themes of thankfulness, moral principles and tributes to ancestors and leaders. Most are penned by Daby and sung in his soft but dynamic voice. This is great African pop music. (Colin Ruggiero)
Nobody was too terribly surprised that Bebel Gilberto, Brazilian bossa legend Joao Gilberto’s daughter, could sing a mean samba. Who, however, could have anticipated the success her first release, Tanto Tempo, would have, not just in Brazil but around the world? Four years later, she has released an eponymous follow-up to show us that her music has evolved but still contains the magic that first caught our ears.
One of the most significant aspects of Tanto Tempo was the artful use of electronic decoration on primarily acoustic songs. This is a balance that a lot of artists have tried to achieve and one that’s very hard to get right. Gilberto’s newest again walks that fine line with the sophistication required by such a smooth bossa nova album. Bebel Gilberto was produced by Marius de Vries (Madonna, Björk, Annie Lennox) and recorded in New York, London (with a full string section), Salvador (Bahia, Brazil) and Rio de Janeiro. Accordingly, it has a metropolitan/international/lounge feel to it, and Bebel sings nearly half of the songs in English.
With a second great album, Bebel is a solid addition to the long list of Brazilian music gods and goddesses. Her eyes are on the horizon, but she retains a tight grip on the light, hypnotic tunes of her father’s generation. (Colin Ruggiero)