07 June 2007

Cuban, Ska, & Blues... Down Under (CD Reviews)

When you think of blues, Cuban dance music, and reggae, and classic Jamaican ska, you naturally think of a setting involving kangaroos, right?

No? Well then you may not have in your hands the latest releases from AIM International. It's an odd trio with little musical overlap but lots of soul. These releases aren't even showing up on the AIM website yet (though the official US release date was in May), so here's a first glance.

First, Cubanismo -- a project that began after the band played Australia's East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival, the nation's largest outdoor festival. The result is the 11-song album Greetings from Havana. The release of the album gives US audiences a taste of what they've been missing out on, since the US government has not allowed Cubanismo to play in the US for the last four years.

Also caught up in US politics is blues diva Marva Wright. It's not hard to guess the pervading topic of her new album, called After the Levees Broke. Katrina and its aftermath make for great blues fodder, particularly considering that Wright and her band members lost everything in the storm. The songs include "The Levee Is Breaking Down," "Katrina Blues," and the gospel-tinged "Change Is Gonna Come," which takes on a poignant new meaning in a post-Katrina context.

Rounding out the trio is the new Skatalites CD, On the Right Track. It's only the second album of originals from the band, which is better know for their ska covers of songs ranging from the Beatles to James Bond. The sound is vintage Skatalites, though some of the song names reflect the album's origins: "Outback Ska," "Uluru Rock," and "Outback Dub."

Says keyboard player Ken Stewart: "Some say all island peoples have a similar vibe about them. Oz is a big island but similar vibe, and although there's plenty of modern stuff, you get a feel of the ancient with the Aboriginal culture and seeing species of animals that exist nowhere else on earth."

Kudos to AIM for these projects. I can't wait to hear what they come up with next.

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