Climbing the Charts

B2M JapparikaIt’s been a big couple of weeks for new music releases.  First to find its way to me was the new single from B2M, the smooth-singing quintet out of the Tiwi Islands (the name is short for “Bathurst to Melville”).  “Japparika (Tiwi Theme Song)” is the band’s first released studio recording and proceeds from its sales will benefit the outstanding Tiwi Bombers footy team.  And since it debuted at #64 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart, let’s hope that’s good news for everyone concerned.

The tune starts out with a simple clap over a low muttering ensemble before opening up into chorus and verse alternately sung in Tiwi and English over an easy rhythm section.  As with the other songs that you can listen to on the band’s page at MySpace, the instrumentation is spare and the voices are what it’s all about.  There’s a little bit of hip-hop phrasing, plangent backing vocals, and sweet harmonies that make lots of folks think of classic Motown.

Stiff Gins Wind and WaterSpare instrumentation and the sweetest of vocal harmonies are the trademark of Stiff Gins, whose third album, the newly released Wind & Water has been a long time coming.  (Their previous, Kingia Australis, was released in 2004.)  For my money, it’s been worth the wait.  Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs’s harmonies are no less lovely than ever, but the sophistication of the tunes themselves has grown greatly; this is mature and beautiful songwriting.  And the complexity of the arrangements has kept pace with the Gins’ compositional growth as well.  The single “Diamonds on the Water” is the kind of song that you’ll fall in love with on first hearing and want to keep going back to over and over again.

Of the other songs on Wind & Water, after early listening, “The Shift” (watch it here) stands out with its fast, brushy guitar intro.  The opening, welcome-to-country “Yandool” helps to get the album in the groove early on.  “Go Go” starts off easy and slow but builds up into country-tinged excitement that wants to get the audience up out its seats.  Here’s a live performance of “Yandool” from the ABC Music Deli.

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Gurrumul RrakalaOf course the big news this week is release of the greatly anticipated second solo album from Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Rrakala.  So far, it’s only available on the Australian iTunes site, so my exposure to it is limited to thirty-second previews.  But it seems pretty clear from those brief clips that if you loved  his self-titled debut, you’ll not be disappointed by this new collection of songs.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release for the new album:

Rrakala taps into old songs from Gurrumul’s band, his family’s songwriting, his new material and presents a choice of songs that reflect deeper into his Aboriginal identity.  Showcased for the first time are his exceptional skills on piano, drums, nylon string acoustic guitar, electric and acoustic guitars. By opening up further, this album reveals more of his rich vocal harmonies which creates a deeper, more complex and as he says “more cultural and spiritual body of work.”

Album highlights include songs about longing, beautiful places, whispering trees, a funeral song and features Ulminda; a quasi-classical duet with Hohnen on bowed double bass and Gurrumul on guitar, singing about the mysterious power of the mind; indubitably a musical expression of their own connection.

There is a lot of familiar music here.  In fact, only four of the songs don’t appear on the Saltwater Band’s earlier albums Djarridjarri and Gapu Damurrur.  Of these, “Bayini” and “Djotarra” are perfectly in pitch with the tunes on Gurrumul.  “Wulminda” features an exquisite duet with Gurrumul on piano and Michael Hohner on bowed bass, while the album closer, “Banbirrngu” showcases on the strength of Gurrumul’s voice.  Several tracks on the new record feature Gurrumul singing without the harmonies that contribute mightily to the characterization of his singing as angelic: the falsetto overdubbing whose influence can be heard all the way to South Australia in some of the Iwantja Bands newer tunes.  As lovely as those harmonies are, I have to say I like hearing Gurrumul’s new tenor.

While I was researching this piece I stumbled on a great video that was posted on YouTube about two months ago featuring Gurrumul and Melbourne’s roots band Blue King Brown accompanied by the Chooky Dancers.  Here’s “Gathu Mawula Revisited”:

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Speaking of the Iwantja Band, their debut album is due out at the end of the month.  I suspect it will be quite a change of pace from the mellow music reviewed here today, but it’s the one album that I’ve personally been waiting for the most eagerly.  Stay tuned.

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