MADE IN MEDINA
So-called "world music"—or, in Rachid Taha's case, the Middle Eastern rai sound—isn't usually identified with punk rock. But rai gone hardcore is the best way to describe the Algerian-born, French-raised Taha and his new CD. Rai is a popular outgrowth of traditional rhythms and lyrical styles, featuring Egyptian percussion, mandolute and keyboards, to which Taha adds Zeppelinesque guitar riffs. His music is sharp, edgy and deeply spiritual. His social outlook hardened by life as an Algerian youth in anti-immigrant France, Taha nonetheless immersed himself in the sounds of Western music, and those influences are abundant here. Several of the disc's tunes were recorded in New Orleans, giving Made in Medina's Eastern melodies a funky bottom that definitely increases his crossover appeal. Although Taha's CD includes a few tracks awkwardly mired in Francophonic techno crap, Made in Medina still rocks the casbah and beyond. The album's opening track, "Barra Barra," has the same trippy energy as Led Zep's "Kashmir." The next track, "Foqt Foqt," artfully combines Middle Eastern strings with charged-up electric guitar, an onslaught of wailing punk rock vim that features a seemingly enraged Taha barking, "Foqt! Foqt!" over and over. You don't need to speak Arabic to understand his message—or to enjoy his wild new form of rock & roll. (Nick Schou)
Sometimes feeling bad sounds pretty darn good. Frost's third full-length album finds her wondering (repeatedly) about the possibilities and limitations of love. Some lines can border on the mawkish ("Let me melt into your starry eyes"), but most ring true, especially when filtered through Frost's smoldering alto. Her vocals are a perfect match for the fireside intimacy of the acoustic, often country-inspired ballads that make up much of the album. The only two upbeat songs are the whimsical title track and the sure-to-be single "Cars and Parties." After a few rounds of this unsentimental ode to the majestic strip malls of Texas, you'll find your index finger permanently attached to the BACK button of the CD player. It'd be wise to move on, though, because the next track is the first of several down-tempo lullabies reminiscent of Beth Orton or Bettie Serveert. Their mellow melancholy sets the tone for the disc—a pulse of soft percussion, waning violins and diffident organs that sound as though they were recorded on a dim and desultory Sunday evening. The CD seems minimally produced until you note the subtle flourishes and unusual instruments thrown in at opportune moments, effects that accentuate Frost's seasoned songwriting without obscuring it. She may lack the bite and ingenuity of bare-bones acoustic wizards like Kristin Hersh, but Frost excels at her own balmy blend of heartache and harmony. (Kristin Fiore)
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