There must be something about the summer months. It seems like every other bubble-wrapped package that shows up in the mail these days is stuffed with offshore audible treats. While I obviously can't review them all, here are a couple of albums that have been banging loudly at the New Times office over the past couple of weeks.
Buju Banton Presents Jamrock Classics Vol. 1 (Gargamel Music)
When it comes to consistency in reggae, few Jamaican artists in the modern age have delivered hit after hit, decade after decade, the way Buju Banton continues to do. He warrants lots of respect worldwide when he performs live, and that only helps to draw fans to his recorded music every time he releases something new. On his latest compilation, Jamrock Classics Vol 1., Buju turns the leadoff track into a home run. Chanting over the 3 Blind Mice riddim, Gargamel's powerful lyrics on the song "Cowboys" is reason enough to buy this disc. He and his flagship artist, New Kidz, ride the same riddim for "Curfew," and the results are just as impressive. Beyond Buju, a slew of topnotch reggae artists are also featured, such as Yami Bolo, Lutan Fyah, and Pinchers, whose song "Punk Me Out" is an album favorite. Don't sleep on Jah Cure's "January Morning," one of the best Cure tunes to surface this year by far. Visit www.myspace.com./gargamelmusicinc.
Mar Dulce (Decca)
If you've ever had the joy of traveling there, you'll know that the Rio de la Plata (the vibrant region that connects Buenos Aires with Montevideo) has a music culture unlike any other place in the world. The sounds bubbling up down there are a constant mix of old-school Argentinean tango and Uruguayan milonga with new-school electronics thrown in for good measure. It takes a deft ear to combine it all into one cohesive project, but that's exactly what Mar Dulce is able to achieve. The project culls some of the best musicians of that region into one supergroup called Bajofondo. They were originally the Bajofondo Tango Club, but the sounds on Mar Dulce are so far beyond tango that they had to change their name. What emerged is great South American lounge music. You can dance to it, make love to it, and fall in love with the album — all at the same time. Aside from having great musicians, Mar Dulce features all-star guest slots with Julieta Venegas, Elvis Costello, Mala Rodriguez, and Japan's Ryota Komatsu, all helping to make this one of the best albums of the year so far. Visit www.myspace.com/bajofondomardulce.
The Boy Bands Have Won (No Masters)
Yes, you just read that name correctly. English rockers Chumbawamba are back at it again with a new, 25-track album. If you remember them only from their lone U.S. hit, 1997's "Tubthumping," with its annoying "I get knocked down, but I get up again" refrain, you probably consider them a joke. But they've had a long, winding career as musicians/activists in the U.K., and the fact of the matter is: Their latest record is really good. Trust me, you're no more shocked by that than I am. With a clever album title, The Boy Bands Have Won focuses on strong songwriting, deft guitar work, and acoustic folk ballads that require real musicianship, not pop formulas. If anything, what stands out most is the group's courage to make an album like this, given their loud and boisterous punk/anarcho beginnings. On The Boy Bands Have Won, you'll hear loads of songs you never thought a group like Chumbawamba was capable of. Album favorites include "El Fusilado," the true story of a Mexican man who was shot ten times by a firing squad yet lived to tell about it, and "Add Me," a folksy backslap at today's MySpace culture. Visit www.chumba.com.
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