From Cuba to Pennsylvania

Cha Cha ChaHello, 2015! The future is here now, folks (as is the present) -- welcome! I hope this finds you all recovering from the holidays and entering the new year with revived senses of purpose and peace, and a desire to hear great music. Here’s what I recommend to kick it off:

In late November, World Circuit, the label that launched the Buena Vista Social Club, released a collection of the best of Cuban singer Abelardo Barroso, taken from his late-1950s recordings with Orquesta Sensación. Cha Cha Cha features 14 songs from an era when the titular dance craze was huge not only in Cuba but around the world, thanks to the growing popularity of radio and records. The recordings that Barroso and Orquesta Sensación made for Puchito Records found the singer at the peak of his powers, and he and the band were considered the leaders of the popular genre.

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A Musical Amalgamation

Sweet Mama, Sweet Daddy, Come InAs another beautiful summer rounds the bend toward fall, I’ve been turning to music to help me reflect, transition, and swing into the cooler September days to come. For anyone who regularly follows my “Select Sounds” reviews, you know my taste often reflects a global range of musical amalgamations. This month is no different -- read on to find a variety of new music that’s sure to keep your spirits lifted as the autumnal equinox arrives and the sun dips south.

Named the region’s Best Traditional Folk Band by the Washington, DC, Area Music Awards, the Bumper Jacksons have been building their repertoire and reputation as one of the premier swing, roots, and country-folk bands in the Mid-Atlantic region. Their latest release, Sweet Mama, Sweet Daddy, Come In (CD, Bumper Jacksons), is a versatile romp of rollicking fun that blends ragtime street jazz with old-time country. Some sultry slow waltzes pepper the disc -- “Darkness on the Delta,” and a husky performance of Tom Waits’s “Clap Hands” -- but the party kicks into high gear with raucous tracks such as “When the Sun Goes Down in Harlem” and a percussive, bounding-freight-train cover of the bluegrass traditional “Darlin’ Corey.” Jess Eliot Myhre sings with a depth of soul that harks back to the great jazz chanteuses of bygone glory. When she puts down the vocal mike and picks up her clarinet or iconic handbuilt frog washboard (which she plays wearing white gloves with thimbles sewn to the fingertips), her array of raw, natural talent is in full bloom. Guitar, pedal steel, bass, trombone, and a suitcase trap kit round out the flavors of the full band. Fans of the Squirrel Nut Zippers or Madeleine Peyroux will appreciate this fun-loving bunch of great young talents.

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Shannon’s Picks for Spring

Whatsnext?After a long, grueling winter, you must be as ready as I am to usher in spring -- to throw open the windows, breathe deeply, and welcome the warmth of a sunbeam on your brow as you shake off any latent hibernation blues. Here’s some fresh new music to help.

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol’s Whatsnext? is just the thing for the return of spring. The jazz pianist and scholar’s compositions blend diverse influences from his roots in Turkey and Greece, to his jazz training at Berklee College of Music in the US. To realize his vision for this album, Sanlikol gathered a big band of 15 horn players, four drummers, electric bass and guitar, and, on some tracks, a second piano player and composer. “Palindrome” is a ten-minute-long musical tale in which eastern and western themes are woven into a sonic magic carpet. “Gone Crazy: A Noir Fantasy” is full of intrigue and theatrical nuance, with a swinging groove at a frenzied pace. The album is also available in a limited edition of hand-pressed vinyl in a beautiful sleeve of blue cloth, and includes the CD as well. Whatsnext? is a fitting title for this beautiful recording -- as soon as it ends, you’re left asking just that.

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Folk Songwriters, Master Pickers, and Storytellers

DriftwoodOut of Binghamton, New York, comes Driftwood, a four-piece acoustic string band -- fiddle, banjo, guitar, double bass -- that blends folk, rock, and jazz with talented songwriting to create, for their self-titled third album, a genre-defying masterpiece of 11 tracks. Driftwood has garnered attention for their live shows, having played over 500 unique venues since 2009. The new, self-produced Driftwood, out December 3, was recorded in a church outside Ithaca, New York, and expertly captures a warm, live sound filled out on several tracks with percussion and piano. “Before I Rust” features fiddler Claire Byrne’s arresting singing over a lush, swelling orchestral backdrop. Alternatively, “Company Store” is instrumentally sparse, turning the attention to the group’s vocal harmonies and skilled songwriting, which in this case tells the tale of an old, lovelorn prospector.

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Eclectic Summer Sounds

Pokey LaFargeAs summer unfolds, I’ve found myself balancing my listening: some old favorites alongside some new discoveries. I’m happy to recommend the following discs for your lazy, hazy listening pleasure:

St. Louis-based musician Pokey LaFarge teamed up with Ketch Secor, lead singer for Old Crow Medicine Show, to produce LaFarge’s new self-titled release, out now on Jack White’s Third Man Records. LaFarge’s style incorporates a devotion to days gone by, from his fedora, pinstripe suit, and his greased-back hair to his penchants for a high falsetto and parlor guitar, with some ragtime clarinet, cornet, and kazoo thrown in for good measure. The sound of this self-described “innovator and preservationist” is reminiscent of music of the early 20th century, but comes barreling into the age of contemporary Americana with unbridled enthusiasm. “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” recalls the big-band swing sound of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, while the colloquial “Won’tcha Please Don’t Do It” is pure western swing and honky-tonk. Themes of riverboats, summertime, dancing, and idyllic romance are prevalent, and LaFarge’s unique voice can convince you that all you need to cure what ails you is to slip off to a countryside bar, sip a refreshing beverage, and shake a leg -- excellent summertime advice!

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