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The New Music Review

Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 17:03

Janka Nabay – Bubu King – 3 out of 4 stars

Hailing from Sierra Leone, Janka Nabay has been called “the undisputed king of Bubu music,” a mix of electronic and classical Sierra Leonean vocal and rhythmic styles. Clearly, Nabay believes this as well given the title of his new EP, and it’s hard to dispute his self-appointed title. Only four tracks, each distinct and fluently constructed, the fact that the lyrics are in another language makes it impossible to know what’s being communicated. However, the fundamental and universal beauty of music is that it can transcend those boundaries. “Eh Congo” make the biggest impression, truly avant-garde in the cadence Nabay and his background singers use – it offsets the music wonderfully, taking a simple three note hook and utilizing their bursts of words to symphonic effect. Even you’ve never heard of Bubu music, there seems to be no better place to start than with Janka Nabay, the modern day king.

Mason Reed – You Can’t Come Back From Heaven – 3 out of 4 stars

The raspy vocal stylizings of Mason Reed sound like a mix between Bob Dylan and Charlie Daniels – a little strange, a little jarring, but befitting the musical genre he’s working in. Just a five-track EP, You Can’t Come Back From Heaven contains enough distinctive work to make it worth seeking out. Most notably, the track “Poor Old Man” adeptly mixes honky-tonk rhyming with surrealistic imagery: “Poor old man, he’s dead. Slipped off the roof and he hit his head. There’s a spot in front of my house where the concrete’s still…red.” It’s an impressive song, authentically retro, shifting gears frequently, never settling for the same ol’, same ol’. When he’s not spinning a playful fable, he lays himself bare. “Not Perfect” demonstrates the gravitas his voice can attain, especially in a ballad such as this: “This time you’ve hurt this/ taking me down your rotten road.” Reed’s music seeps with the wisdom of someone who’s been around the block more than just a few times – he understands himself and his cultural roots.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks – 3 out of 4 stars

What’s most impressive about the new album from indie rock band Ted Leo and the Pharmacists isn’t necessarily the music, itself – after all, very little of it could be called “great” or “groundbreaking.” Nevertheless, there’s a significant quantity of music and the majority of it comes infused with genuine passion and is meticulously detailed, whether it’s a fast-paced punkish piece like “The Stick” or the more reverential indie jam “The Mighty Sparrow.” Lead singer Ted Leo’s diversity must be commended first. Not just in vocal variations, but in both tone and rhythm, he’s shifting from track to track, with seamless ease. Here’s a lyrical sample from “Woke Up Near Chelsea,” that best expresses the dual success of words and tone: “Well we all got a job to do/and we all hate God/ but we all got a job to do/we gonna do it together.” It’s not nearly as menacing as it sounds, even more commendable, for taking something that could be one-note, down-trodden to excess. There’s rarely a dull moment here – fans should heartily enjoy.

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