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Music Review: Indie Round-Up – Women and Children First

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Various Artists, Women of the World Acoustic

This is one of those CDs that works equally well whether you listen to it closely or play it merely as feel-good background music. Each listener will no doubt find some of the international voices captured here more captivating than others, but every track is pleasing. The Greek singer Anastasia Mousatsou's cool, distant tone doesn't thrill me the way Sandrine Kiberlain's sexy voice does, for example. On the other hand, although I tend to prefer strong or more mature-sounding voices, I've always loved Emiliana Torrini's cellophane-feathery singing, and the folky track she offers here, "Sunnyroad," doesn't disappoint.

Though the artists hail from lands as different as Cameroon, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Chile, the CD has a remarkable consistency of energy and tone. This could be interpreted in a negative way, as a result of Western instrumentation finding its way into ethnic musics of all stripes. But while the differences among these tracks may not bang you over the head, each artist has a uniquely valuable creative voice that you can appreciate by listening with a little care.

The extensive liner notes to the nicely packaged CD provide background on each singer and song. The catchy "Bida Marianu" by Lura, who hails from Lisbon's Cape Verdean community, is one of my favorites. The Colombian singer Marta Gómez's heartbreakingly simple "Paula Ausente" ("Absent Paula"), with its silvery, pan-Latino feel, tugs at the heart. Another top track is the subtle, insistently rhythmic "Sekna," by the Algerian singer Mona. Its lyrics sum up the compilation: "In my life there are too many stories/One thousand and one stories/They make me laugh, cry/They make me sad or happy/But they are all part of me/And they are all in my heart."

At least, that's what the translation says. Other than Torrini’s track, only one song here, the beautiful and aptly themed closer "One Voice" by the Canadian group The Wailin' Jennys, is in English. And that's just fine, because this CD is written in the world's language.

Hear clips here. A portion of the proceeds go to the Global Fund for Women, which supports women's and girls' human rights internationally.

Asylum Street Spankers, Mommy Says No!

Indie Round-Up doesn't often cover children's music, as we have our hands full with the gazillions of CDs supposedly made for adults. When it's one of our favorite bands, however, we're delighted to make an exception. The Asylum Street Spankers have always made music steeped in humor, both clever and goofy, so it seems a natural thing for them to have produced a kids' album.

And a very nice one it is. That is not only our opinion; we subjected the CD to the precocious judgment of H-Bomb, who just turned seven, with positive results. The album has the Spankers' usual combination of thematic silliness, musical integrity, and rainbow-colored energy. As always, the band is centered on acoustic instrumentation. (It's famous for performing without any kind of electronics – no amps, no microphones, no nothin'.)

Here, instead of songs about silly adult matters like sex, drugs, and drinking, the Spankers sing of silly child matters like boogers, monsters, and superheroes. What could be better?

This reviewer, though no expert in the field, thinks it's safe to say that good children's music doesn't "sing down" to kids, and this CD meets that requirement. The Spankers recognize that kids are just as smart as us grown-ups – they just know less about certain things, have some different concerns, and boast better senses of humor.

Christina Marrs the musical saw player, Sick on violin and guitar, Wammo, and the rest of the Spankers translate their old-timey country and blues almost effortlessly to the kids' genre. (Those names – Wammo, Sick, and so on – weren't made up for the occasion.) Songs like "You Only Love Me For My Lunchbox, "Don't Turn Out the Light," and "Training Wheel Rag" deal with superficiality, envy, fear, inferiority – troubles that plague humans of all ages. The inclusion of Nirvana's "Sliver" and Harry Nilsson's "Think About Your Troubles" is a nice touch that further shows the band's respect for kids' appreciative ears. But with all that, the pervading mood is one of good times and humor.

If you have kids in your house, or kids to buy gifts for, or kids stomping around in the apartment upstairs, definitely consider picking this CD up for them. You can hear samples (and buy the disc) at the Asylum Street Spankers website or at CD Baby.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.