The term "cultural imperialism" is often used, justly, when Western musicians appropriate aspects of third world music for their own, watering it down to listener-friendly levels and giving scant acknowledgement to its original creators. Whereas this sort of approach has been the unfortunate rule, from Paul Simon to David Byrne, every once in a while a glorious exception emerges. Such an exception is Swedish percussionist Bengt Berger's Bitter Funeral Beer band. Berger, who devoted lengthy periods of study to West African music, particularly that of Ghana, assembled a large contingent of fellow Swedes, trained them in various aspects of West African traditions and, most importantly, chose Ghanaian folk themes with utterly beautiful and irresistible melodic lines from which to improvise.
EMI's two-disc collection Souvenir: 1989-1998 rather nicely chronicles the decade when the Rankin Family rose to prominence in the Canadian pop/folk scene and opened a floodgate of likeminded musicians who brought Celtic influences into the contemporary scene. The collection is evenly focused on their entire career, with a bit of emphasis on the albums North Country and Uprooted, but also properly serves as an end cap to an impressive career (the Rankins disbanded in 1999) and as a memorial to the late John Morris Rankin (1959-2000). It is the perfect place to start for the curious and a fine set for those looking for a comprehensive retrospective.
Those who liked the moodier, more atmospheric material on the last Mark Lanegan Band offering, 2004's Bubblegum, will find much to enjoy on Blues Funeral – an album that has little to do with blues as a musical form. Lanegan has been a busy man since Bubblegum. In the nearly eight ensuing years, he's issued three records with Isobel Campbell, joined Greg Dulli in the Gutter Twins, guested on albums by the Twilight Singers and UNKLE, and was the lead vocalist on most of the last two Soulsavers offerings. Produced by Eleven guitarist Alain Johannes (who also fulfills that role here as well as playing bass, keyboards, and percussion), Blues Funeral finds Lanegan in a musically ambitious place. His voice is deeper, smokier, but more restrained, even on the few straight-up rockers. The grain in his voice is more pronounced, offering a sense of coiled menace on each track, one that is ready at all points to explode the musical confines these songs erect, and to overwhelm them all. To his credit, he never does. While the album is sequenced seamlessly, with varying textures and dynamics, there are standouts.
2018 will be branded as “Gewandhausjahr”: Gewandhausorchester celebrates its 275th birthday and the inauguration of Andris Nelsons as new Gewandhauskapellmeister. 39 year-old conductor Andris Nelsons takes on the prestigious position as the 21st Gewandhauskapellmeister, kicking-off this new era with concerts during the Festival in Leipzig from 19 February to 11 March 2018.