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Tuesday Reviewsday: La Santa Cecelia, Rokia Traoré and the songs of Blind Willie Johnson

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The latest album from the L.A.-based band La Santa Cecilia is a typically eclectic collection.
Humberto Howard aka. Armando Cor
Image of the band, La Santa Cecilia

 This week on Tuesday Reviewsday, our weekly new music segment, Take Two contributor and music journalist Steve Hochman joins guest host Deepa Fernandes with a list of new songs.

 This week on Tuesday Reviewsday, our weekly new music segment, Take Two contributor and music journalist

joins guest host Deepa Fernandes with a list of new songs.

La Santa Cecilia - Buenaventura

It’s not like La Santa Cecilia has lacked recognition. The Los Angeles band’s “Treinta Dias” album won the 2014 Grammy Award for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album. Here's a song from that album, "Ice El Hielo."

Steve says the new album, Buenaventura, has the feel of a band fully coming into its own, rising to the kind of cultural/regional leadership position associated with a band to which it is inevitably, if misguidedly compared: Los Lobos.

The band carries the Los Angeles legacy of Latino culture, embodied in bilingual approaches to a range of pop and Latin American folk styles, accordion and all. “Pan-American” is a term the band prefers. But the sound and range of this album is La Santa Cecilia’s all its own — and not just because of the forceful voice and presence of singer Marisol Hernandez, a.k.a. La Marisoul.

“Nunca Mas,” for all the breezy beats, is a serious song about migrants’ search for justice, for belonging, for dreams and possibilities, as such a strong follow-up to 2013’s powerful portrayal of the plight of undocumented immigrants, “Ice El Hielo.” Such community perspectives thread through the album as a whole, poetically not polemically.

Rokia Traoré -  “Né So”

The album title, “Ne So,” means “home” in Rokia Traoré’s native Malian language, Bambara. The spoken-sung title song, though — pointedly in Bambara, French and English — is about the millions of people who in recent years have had to leave their homes for life as exiles or refugees. Not to mention those who did not survive the journeys.

The whole album is something of an examination of the concept, or concepts, of home. That involves love and fear, roots and restlessness, belonging and, well, longing, in some places as broadly reaching as the title song, in other places to the intimate extreme of a relationship.

And that’s in the music as well as the lyrics, the sounds rooted in West Africa, but reaching around the world — reflected in the mix of musicians, some from Mali and neighboring countries, but also contributions from such esteemed figures as Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, American artist Devandra Banhardt and thew album’s producer, England’s John Parish, best known for his many collaborations with P.J. Harvey. 

Home, both as a physical location and artistic base, is something Traoré has grappled with throughout her 20-year recording career, as she’s become an international presence both as a performer and resident, relocating from Bamako to Europe in the early years of that. A lot of that came into play when she moved back to Bamako in 2009 with her young son, only to find the divisions and strife that would explode into full civil war in Mali a few years later.

Various Artists - God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson

So many rock, blues and folk artists have taken on or borrowed from Blind Willie Johnson songs — Led Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” perhaps the most prominent — that it’s perhaps too easy to overlook the fact that Texas-born Johnson, who recorded only 30 songs in sessions between 1927 and 1930, wasn’t so much a bluesman as a fiery, singing street preacher, and that his songs were Christian gospel through and through.

There’s no overlooking that on this vibrant tribute. Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, Cowboy Junkies, Blind Boys of Alabama, Sinead O’Connor, Luther Dickinson, Maria McKee and Rickie Lee Jones all firmly embrace the true religion power of these songs — no irony or obfuscation, no secularization. The results, brought together by album producer Jeffrey Gaskill, are both powerful and personalized statements, true to tributee and tributors at every turn.

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