Stick around long enough and dive music becomes hip. Think honky-tonk, tango, the blues, fado, and Greek rebetiko. A superb practitioner of the latter is Turkish-born, London-based Çi?dem (“Cheedam”) Aslan. Her latest, Mortissa, honors the feisty women who sang in rough fishing port bars and brothels. She may romanticize their lives a bit, but there’s nothing soft about the muscular passion with which Aslan sings. The music sounds like it came from a blender into which Greek, Turkish, Balkan, North African, and klezmer music were tossed—all of those lands and cultures were once part of the Ottoman Empire. It also sounds very modern in places, because Aslan is less interested in folklore than in channeling the fire, sorrow, laughter, and pluck within the rebetiko tradition. Aslan’s voice is supple and laden with ornamentation and emotion, but has hints of pop modernity. Call it yesterday meets today.
Known for its work on film soundtracks, this Chicago group employs a heady mix of styles on its latest release. Opening with “Movie Music Kills a Kiss,” the album moves quickly from genres like country and folk to more experimental rock and indie realms. The title cut is a delicate duet that gently builds over what sounds like droning synths, while “Frosted Tips” trades in more uptempo waters with jabbing horns and a lyrical refrain of “watching the new world die.” Both song titles and song lengths stretch out on the record’s second half with “A Thin Skin Of Bullfight Dust” and “moonbath.brainsalt.a.holy.fool” coming in at nearly six and nearly seven minutes respectively. Still, it’s the short, closing track “turtle eggs /an optimist” that may play best in a theater. Over wordless gurgles and electronic blips, Califone treats listeners to an amalgam of sounds perfectly suited for rolling credits.
(All Hands Electric)
Songwriter Zachary Cale offers a haunting, smoldering set of acoustic guitar-based songs on Blue Rider. Though Cale says he used bluesman Skip James’ minor tuning for the repeating fingerpicking patterns that form the skeleton of the songs, this is not obviously bluesy music. Atop the acoustic guitar, in pleasantly chiming harmonies, electric guitar parts echo in a reverbed distance. Cale’s singing takes some getting used to, thanks to its high-register nasality, but that phenomenon is quickly overtaken by the spell the songs weave. Cale seems to easily conjure wide-open vistas and a wistful feel that hails from the country end of the charts, if, thankfully, without the overblown production values and stultifying subject matter that genre now offers. Cale resides somewhere in a realm between indie pop style and rootsy guitar traditions. He brings his rollicking fingerpicking habits to town this week, when he plays the Elevens in Northampton on Oct. 6.