Every month, Utne Reader presents free, downloadable music gleaned from current and upcoming releases on independent music labels. This sampler was curated by editor in chief Christian Williams and editorial intern Kevin Mataraci.
Totó La Momposina
One of Colombia’s foremost musical ambassadors for more than 60 years, Totó La Momposina has dedicated nearly all of her life to the celebration of her country’s rich musical heritage. Her 1993 album La Candela Viva is widely considered one of the touchstones for anyone interested in the mesmerizing amalgamation of African, indigenous South American Indian, and Spanish influence that comprises Colombian music. Now, in a celebratory reimagining of that seminal album, the original recording session of La Candela Viva has been remastered as well as enhanced by the addition of more instrumentation and singers, most notably Totó’s own granddaughters. The result, Tambolero, reintroduces a classic album to a new generation of listeners, and fulfills an important objective for Totó. “While I respect the word ‘folklore,’ to me it means something that’s dead—in a museum. Traditional music, or the music from the old days is still alive; many people are working with it and it’s always evolving.” Here’s the lead track “Adios Fulana” from Tambolero, out now on Real World Records.
Kaia Kater might appear slightly out of place with a banjo in her hands. At 21 years old and a Quebecois of Afro-Carribean descent, there are few folk musicians who share her profile. Kater’s new album Sorrow Bound proves there is no mold to fit in order to make authentic folk music. Though she is one of the youngest acoustic performers on the folk scene, her melodies and lyrics echo Appalachia, and her sound shows off a deep understanding and respect for Appalachian music, culture, and history. Here’s her original tune “Southern Girl” off Sorrow Bound, out now Kingswood Records.
While the two members of the experimental duo RighteousGIRLS utilize conventional instruments (Gina Izzo – flute, Erika Dohi – piano), their approach to making music is anything but on their debut album gathering blue. Featuring a variety of compositions from some of the biggest figures in contemporary jazz and new music, gathering blue is the perfect platform for Izzo and Dohi’s adventurous playing style. That, in addition to some post-production bells and whistles, make gathering blue a riveting and entertaining listen. Here’s the aptly titled “GIRLS,” composed by Pascal LaBoGathering blue is out now on New Focus / Panoramic.
One of the defining aspects of traditional folk music across the world is how freewheeling it is compared to the rigid formalities of classical music. The two styles are fundamentally different in that folk music relies on improvisation and spontaneity while classical music relies on predictable notation. An interesting thing happens, though, when classically-trained musicians allow themselves to become untethered to the sheet music. A case in point is the klezmer quintet Big Galut(e), which takes a classical approach to performing folk music on its self-titled debut. Understanding when to follow the notes and when to feel the music, Big Galut(e) stays true to the freewheeling tradition of folk music while building in opportunities to showcase the virtuosity of its members. Here’s the original composition “Kalkutta Klezmer,” penned by Big Galut(e) co-founder Robin Seletsky. Big Galut(e) is out now.
Rayland Baxter’s music is sourced from the candy-blue river that runs through his imagination. Along the river’s banks are a tiny purple wizard, a darling deadhead from Bonnaroo, a pensive train hopper, and a nighttime garden tended by the lady of the desert. Baxter’s latest album takes the appropriate name Imaginary Man, and it’s a journey past the cellar door to his imagination and a ride down the river. Baxter started performing in 2010 and two years later released his first album feathers & fishHooks. Country and folk can be heard seeping through the cracks on Imaginary Man—genres that are more audible on his first album and likely due to the influence of his father, who played pedal steel guitar on tour for Bob Dylan through the ’90s and plays on both of Baxter’s albums. Still, his music is hard to classify; while it brings to mind an experience like psychedelic rock, the music seems to be more informed by dreams than anything lysergic. Like pop, the melodies trigger a sense of familiarity, but his lyrics are free of gaud and range from melancholic to soulful to gratified. Imaginary Man is out now on ATO Records.
The Dustbowl Revival
Guitar player and vocalist Zach Lupetin probably didn’t know what he was going to get when he posted a Craigslist ad intending to bring together other American roots musicians in Venice, California. Though Los Angeles isn’t often considered a beacon for roots music, Lupetin got some hits, and from that The Dustbowl Revival was formed. Perhaps best described as an Americana orchestra, The Dustbowl Revival plays an electric amalgamation of nearly every genre under the umbrella of roots music. The group has released four albums since they first got together in 2007, with members and instruments coming and leaving, creating a sort of musical collective. Their fourth album, With a Lampshade On, carries on the variety and genre mixing The Dustbowl Revival is known for, and finally captures one of the group’s great strengths: live performance. Recorded from two shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the album does a better job than most to bring you vicariously to the whiskey-doused dance parties that these live performances surely were. With a Lampshade On is out now on Signature Sounds.