Women of the World: Acoustic (Putumayo World Music) begins with the exquisitely melodic "M'envoyer des Fleurs" sung by French chanteuse Sandrine Kiberlain. The song is in French, and thankfully the extensive liner notes include the English translations of every song on the compilation, which includes languages from all around the world. The liner notes themselves are also duplicated in Spanish and French.
On the whole, Women of the World: Acoustic is a warm and inviting wave of sound lapping at the eardrums. The production quality is high — each instrument and vocal is perfectly balanced to bring out the focus of the songs or musical styles. Of course, this is a Putumayo album, and one expects that sort of quality from it, anyway.
The song order is interesting as it moves from continent to continent, never staying in one hemisphere for more than three consecutive songs. Even so, there is a cohesive flow that renders these musical transitions nearly invisible. My linguistic acumen is limited to American English and some Spanish, so to my ear the languages sung on Women of the World: Acoustic are nearly indistinguishable. They quickly became sounds and vocalizations and lost any sense of meaning. This does not in any way diminish my enjoyment of the recording; it added to the sense of flow and easy transitions.
That being said, there are several tracks on this compilation that I favor over others. Emiliana Torrini's "Sunnyroad" and The Wailin' Jennys' "One Voice" are the only English-language songs, and as a result they are memorable in that I can understand what they are singing about. Also, the performers have fantastic voices. I've been a fan of The Wailin' Jennys ever since I heard them on A Prairie Home Companion a few years ago.
"Não se Apavore" (Luca Mundaca), "Wa" (Kaïssa), "Bida Maridau" (Lura) are all standout tracks because of the infectious percussiveness of the vocals. One of my favorite non-Western acoustic instruments, the bouzouki, makes an appearance on "Ola Ta Aiskola." Combined with the warm vocals of contralto Anastasia Moutsatsou, this track also ranks highly among my favorites.
Western audiences tend to associate acoustic music with our folk or old-time traditions, but the broad definition encompasses more than that. Women of the World: Acoustic deftly demonstrates that acoustic music can come in all sorts of shapes and styles, many of which are quite enjoyable to the Western ear.
This is Putumayo's fifth collection in the "Women of the World" series, and a portion of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to the Global Fund for Women. All the more reason to pick up a copy for yourself.