Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-12-02


Pietra Montecorvino: Napoli Mediterranea (Taranta Power/Rai Trade, 2011) A featured artist in the John Turturro documentary Passione!, Montecorvino is a Neapolitan actress born in 1962 whose recording career began at 30. This album, dated 2003 on my copy, has seen at least four releases since then, and as music solely, with no lyrical clues beyond titles with "luna" and "mare" in them, its understatement is riveting. What Montecorvino wants the world to hear is the beatwise romantic grit of the Maghreb, where so many of her home port's most recent immigrants began their hard lives, reinvigorating the sweet romantic melody Napoli's emigrants sentimentalize. Though usually the percussion and guitar sound Euro-American, at times you can hear ouds and darbukas in there, and Elvis fans need to know what she makes of "O sole mio." A-

The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts, Vol. 1: Featuring Khaira Arby (JDub, 2011) This strange record would mean less without the bound booklet written by guitarist-vocalist, cantor's grandson, and transcultural seeker Jeremiah Lockwood. And it would mean rather less than that without the three songs by Saharan diva Khaira Arby, whose own Timbuktu Tarab is more consistent but less gripping. The band comprises Lockwood, a drummer, and three horn players who add major oomph to Arby's stately, impassioned showcases. Camels grunt, children trill, women chant. And then there's Lockwood, a deeply pretentious guy who sometimes puts his transculturalism over, but don't count on it. Thank Allah that Arby contributes some backup vocals as well. Thank Jahweh too, I suppose. B+

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