Album of the week (October 20, 2019)

Indila – Mini World (France)

Adila Sedraia goes by Indila. Her debut album, Mini World, went diamond and platinum in both France and Belgium.
This is very powerful pop material. After a few catchy tracks to warm up, she fully blasts out a brilliantly melodic mix of Middle Eastern and French pop, and manages to get a perfect balance between the two styles. The album is both sophisticated and accessible, with the music and the vocals mixing nicely. Very first solid album and a pleasure to listen.

Album of the week (September 21, 2019)

Bitter-Sweet by Bryan Ferry (England)

Review by Matt Collar

Building upon 2012's The Jazz Age, and his acting turn as a cabaret singer in the 1930s Netflix drama Babylon Berlin, Bryan Ferry returns to his love of urbane classic jazz with 2018's Bitter-Sweet. Recorded with longtime collaborator/pianist Colin Good, Bitter-Sweet finds the Roxy Music frontman once again embracing the vintage 1920s and '30s big-band swing he first explored on 1999's As Time Goes By, and which he and Good brought to fruition with The Jazz Age. However, whereas The Jazz Age featured instrumental reworkings of many of Ferry's best-loved songs, Bitter-Sweet features Ferry singing jazz versions of both Roxy Music songs and songs from his solo career. Featured on the album are the six songs the singer contributed to the Babylon Berlin soundtrack, including "Alphaville," "Reason or Rhyme," "Bitter-Sweet," "Dance Away," "Chance Meeting," and "Bitters End." As arranged by Good and Ferry, these are all wry and romantic productions that evoke the smoky ambiance of Babylon Berlin's Weimar Republic-era setting. Elsewhere, Ferry transforms the new wave sophistication of "While My Heart Is Still Beating" off 1982's Avalon into a slinky, half-lidded crawl, and similarly mutates the pop exotica of his 1985 title track "Boys and Girls" into a slow-burn flamenco fever dream. Particularly compelling is Ferry and his orchestra's snappy rendition of "Sign of the Times" off 1978's The Bride Stripped Bare, in which the original track's driving guitar lines are transposed to a puckered trumpet lead. This is haunting jazz sprinkled with the golden dust of Ferry's glittery rock past.

Album of the week (September 9, 2019)

III by Sorten Muld (Denmark)
Whereas the previous album, Mark II, relied on electronics and voice, this time they've brought plenty of "real" instruments into the mix, giving a much wider variety of tonal colors and textures. But the sonic heartbeat remains the electronics, whether samples, loops, or beats. They avoid the obvious rhythms -- you won't find any house or drum'n'bass here, for example -- and give the song what it needs, rather than trying to push it into any pre-planned formula. As before, they rely on traditional texts (and often traditional tunes, too) from Denmark and other Nordic countries, and they keep the blood and gore ballads as their specialty -- more killings and intrigue per verse than gangsta rap. Singer Ulla Bendixen's voice has developed during their hiatus. It can still be both seductive and commanding, but it's taken on more nuances and emotions, able to convey everything more clearly and subtly. But the whole band's come a long way. By comparison, Mark II was very raw, the kind of album that beat you over the head. This one brings you inside, every bit as powerful, but more thoughtful and measured, an approach that works well with this material. Think of them as electronic punks who've grown up and developed into resourceful, skillful musicians who are renewing the past for a club generation.

(Review by Chris Nickson)

Album of the week (September 2, 2019)

Forever Young by Alphaville (Germany)

Forever Young is the debut album released by West German synth-pop/rock group Alphaville on September 27, 1984, by Warner Music Group. The album is Alphaville’s most critically-acclaimed album, and an estimated 2,000,000 copies have been sold. Reviews of the album are generally positive, with one reviewer calling it “a classic synth pop album” and “a wonderfully fun ride from start to finish.” It charted well, hitting the Top 20 in six European countries (and hitting #1 in two of them), but it failed to make an impact on the US charts, faring no better than #180.

The lyrics of Summer in Berlin may contain a subtle reference to the 1953 East Germany uprising that started on June 17th.

Album of the week (August 25, 2019)

Danse Memoire, Danse by A Filetta (Corsica)

This album is a tribute to Aimé Césaire and Jean Nicoli.

From the liner notes:

«What can Aimé Césaire, a huge Martinican poet and playwright appearing in the Hall of Fame of the twentieth century, an important politician (Mayor of Fort-de-France and Member of Parliament for Martinique) have in common? trained in the great schools of the Republic and Jean Nicoli, modest teacher who taught in Upper Senegal (the current Mali) in the late 1920s before returning to Corsica to become one of the leaders of the resistance during the second World War ?
Both are islanders, attached to their native land, and men of refusal: they reject very clearly the colonialism and the sufferings inflicted on the weakest. One is the descendant of African slaves and the ardent defender of the concept of "negritude" that he invents, the other is revolted by the plight of the African people in the name of "progress" and "the civilization "of colonialism. Both passionately love Africa. 
Communists, they denounce the misdeeds of capitalism that crushes men and civilizations. When the time comes, they pledge against fascism and Nazism and tirelessly defend their ideas; "The idea, this unwelcome fly" will write Césaire in his "discourse on colonialism".
To his children, Jean Nicoli executed on August 30, 1943 by the fascist occupant, will leave these few admirable words: "... At four o'clock I will be shot. Have in front of you Papa happy and smile proudly in the street ... I die for Corsica and for the party. As a mourning you will both wear a beautiful head of More and a big red carnation ... ".

Album of the week (August 10, 2019)

Nouveau Flamenco by Ottmar Liebert (Germany/Spain)

Ottmar Liebert’s most famous album gave a new genre its title, and the New Age market a new champion. From the liner notes:

Nouveau Flamenco represents a spirited new sound emanating from Santa Fe. Its magic blends the heart and soul of the Spanish gypsy guitar with a contemporary groove, a sound mastered by Ottmar Liebert. Liebert's classical guitar training is flavored by jazz and pop influences, and his music expresses what is inseparably universal and deeply personal. The ancient dramas of sorrow and joy are released and artfully transformed for the listener of today. Nouveau Flamenco is truly acoustic poetry with elegance and passion.

Album of the week (July 22, 2019)

11 de Novembre by Sílvia Pérez Cruz (Spain)

Over the past decade, Catalan vocalist Silvia Pérez Cruz has lent her delicate voice to a wide variety of projects (most notably with her band las Migas), but 11 de Novembre is her first proper solo album.

Also for the first time, Pérez Cruz composed and arranged all the material, and co-produced the album with Raúl Fernández Refree. Pérez Cruz’s effortless eclecticism breezes through songs that touch on folk, acoustic jazz, fado, flamenco, Cuban, and Brazilian music, without losing her own identity.

She is equally at ease singing in four different languages (Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, Galician), or setting poems by Feliu Formosa, Maria Mercè Marçal, and Maria Cabrera to music.

A deeply personal, beautiful album dedicated to the singer’s father, who had recently passed away

Album of the week (July 8, 2019)

Anian by 9bach (Wales)

9Bach is an alternative folk group formed by Welsh singer-songwriter and pianist Lisa Jên and guitarist Martin Hoyland, a veteran of 1990s alt-rock band Pusherman. The group now includes Ali Byworth (drums and percussion), Dan Swain (bass guitar), Esyllt Glyn Jones (harp, vocals), and Mirain Roberts (vocals). The sextet’s name puns on “nain”, the word for “grandmother” in north Wales; “bach” means “small” in Welsh.

Album of the week (June 30, 2019)

Phantom Songs by 17 Hippies (Germany)

The review below is by The Guardian UK

A sophisticated, quirky band from Berlin who sing in German, French and English, 17 Hippies have spent 16 years developing an unlikely style that mixes French chanson and German cabaret with Balkan gypsy music and Americana, with a dash of anything from calypso to Middle Eastern styles thrown in. The Hippies are currently a 12-piece band, and they play anything from accordion to brass, violin to ukulele and banjo, sounding at times like a cool European answer to the equally hard-to-categorise Pink Martini.

Like those easy-going American mavericks, they are excellent musicians and have a fine female singer, Kiki Sauer, who is at her best here with the gently edgy Ton Étrangère, which matches chanson with what sounds like the muted backing for a spaghetti western. Elsewhere, singer Dirk Trageser tackles eastern European dance influences on the brass-and-accordion-backed Biese Bouwe; a third vocalist, Christopher Blenkinsop, echoes Leonard Cohen on Across Waters; and there's a jazzy, brass-and-violin reworking of Captain Beefheart's Gimme Dat Harp Boy. A few more songs from Sauer would have been welcome, but this is a brave and entertaining global fusion that deserves international success.