We were more than a little surprised when we received an email a while back from the World Music recording label Putumayo, asking us if we’d like a review copy of their latest release, Tribute to a Reggae Legend adventures at Rothbury in the summer of ’09, in which we had good things to say about King Sunny Ade and his African Beats . Who knows?!
What we DO know is that we LOVE Reggae music, all you got, and we’re huge fans of Bob Marley; heck, we were the first kids on our block to have a copy of The Wailers’ seminal “Catch a Fire” album back in 1973! We’ve also been fans of Putumayo for many years, going back to their collaboration with Rhino Records in the early ’90s, which produced “The Best of World Music Volume 1: World Vocal,” long a favorite of ours. Other sets, such as “Putumayo presents Brazilian Groove” have also maintained a prominent presence on our play-list over the years, so we were only too geeked to hear what they had to offer with the Marley tribute, and told them, “Sure, send it!” They followed that up by sending us another new release shortly after, entitled “Putumayo Presents: Yoga,” described as “A soothing collection of songs for yoga, meditation and relaxation.” So now we have TWO new collections to review, and after spending some time listening to both, here are our thoughts on each of them.
“Tribute to a Reggae Legend” features 12 songs, most of which we’ve heard previously and some we haven’t, performed by artists we’ve never encountered before, including Three Plus, Robi Kahakalau, Rebelution, Caracol, Céu, Rocky Dawuni, Freshlyground, Northern Lights, Julie Crochetière, Funkadesi, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars and Playing for Change. Each song is impeccably performed and recorded, and all are very easy on the ear, but after repeated listening, we are ultimately left with the feeling, “So what?” We’d rather listen to the original versions, and two or three times through this set is enough for us. Kim’s observation is that this is “Reggae elevator music,” and while I feel rather more kindly toward it than that, I’d likely only play it again as background music for social gatherings. You can listen to sample tracks and get an idea of what’s going on with this collection.
“Putumayo Presents: Yoga,” a collaboration between yoga instructor and musician, Sean Johnson and Putumayo, does exactly what it’s intended to, providing a reflective, soothing collection of songs that, again, works best for us as background music. The musicians are all new to us, and include Lucknow Project, Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band, Shantala, Wah!, Ben Leinbach & Geoffrey Gordon, Karnamrita Dasi, Niraj Chag, Amounsulu, Gaura Vani & As Kindred Spirits, Susheela Raman, Krishna Das, Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze, Lama Gyurme & Jean-Philippe Rykiel and Yogini. Performances and recordings are all excellent, but only Devaki by Karnamrita Dasi really moves me, with an almost Midival Punditz-like groove that soars above the other selections. Lest one thinks that this reviewer comes to this music with unsympathetic ears, not only have I have practiced yoga and meditation for many years, I also logged more than 25 years on stage singing and playing, so I want to like this more than I do. For us, something like here.
Both of these collections live up to the high technical standards that we’ve come to expect from Putumayo, but in the end, demonstrate that music can be played and sung with deft technique and still leave the listener wondering if that’s all there is. Your mileage may vary, but that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
Reporting from Day-twah,