While the Middle East has been marked by civil wars and refugee crises, the region’s metal bands distilled chaos into music and wrote some of the best albums of the year.
“Thoughtless Sounds,” Max Jared’s debut Shemspeed release and the first on Shemspeed’s new folk imprint, Soul Snack Records, follows the blueprint for sentimental adult contemporary rock laid out by Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson: light accessible vocals, sensitive acoustic strumming and unobtrusive tunes. Like those other artists, Jared’s lyrical pallet assumes a sacred hippie slacker pace, empathetic about others but still so sleepy. “It’s cold outside but I’m warm in my bed / others are hopefully living okay,” he sings on “Roots,” a track emblematic of disengaged concern. Maybe look outside and find out? Later on the song he muses that “Our generation will soon be the world / So what kind of change comes with it?”
Michael Goldwasser, the son of a Reform rabbi, leads the Easy Star All-Stars. He talks about ties between Jews and Rastafarians and why Israel is the next big reggae scene.
Jewish Images in the Comics: A Visual History
By Fredrik Strömberg
Fantagraphics, 304 pages, $26.99
Ladino artists are working to keep their historic Sephardic culture relevant and fresh. The story is playing out at the inaugural world music festival in Gibraltar.
Though she has been involved in the Ladino music scene since Neil Armstrong strode the moon, Ljuba Davis’s new release, “East and West,” is her debut album. The 43 years Davis has spent kicking these songs around orally before committing them to permanence rings throughout the album. “East and West,” unlike comparable recent ladino records (like Sarah Aroeste’s “Gracia”), eschews contemporary sounds in favor of what seems, at first blush, like canonical melodies.
“Ride,” the debut album from New York City-based band Caramelo, has global ambitions worthy of its name. The opening track, “The Girl is Gone,” sets the tone for the rest of the album when Jewish singer Sara Erde trades smooth fly-girl R&B vocals with flamenco artist Alfonso Cid. While Erde’s voice is immediate, alternating rapidly between English and Spanish, Cid’s is bombastic and distant.
Any artist working in “World Music” (likely the vaguest genre for which Billboard tracks sales) has to determine the role traditional sounds play in their compositions. They hang suspended between the present and the past; too much fealty to the canon and the recordings become academic exercises in evoking a world long gone. Update your sound too much and you risk severing your connection to the folk vernacular entirely. After all, all music comes from somewhere in the world but no one calls Lady Gaga “World Music.”