Dub Colossus, Addis Through the Looking Glass. Mix Ethiopia and the United Kingdom, shake well and then stir it up hard. Dub Colossus is the result, and their ability to blend elements of traditional African music, jazz, dub and reggae hasn't been heard before. At least not quite like this. When Nick Page, aka Dubula, went to stay in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he knew he'd found a new inspirational home. On the band's second album, the roots of African music take on more emotional control, spinning a mysterious vibration that runs through all the songs. Singers Tsedenia Gebremarkos Woldesilassie, Sintayehu "Mimi" Zenebe and others hone in on the heart of their homeland, turning the songs into a rich and swirling creation. When Dubula and the other musicians throw in, the party really takes off and cannot be stopped. It's the kind of album that holds the world music banner high, offering sounds that listeners of all persuasions can immediately grab onto. It's a mix of several worlds, and shows that what the ears hear can take the lead in discovering new territory. Step high.
Stephen John Kalinich & Jon Tiven's Shortcuts to Inifinity and Yo Ma Ma's Symptomology. This is like a musical Certs: it's two, two, two albums in one. That two different groups get credited is a testament to Stephen John Kalinich and Jon Tiven's dedication to originality — they've been rule-breakers for decades and decided it's too late to stop now. Yo Ma Ma consists of the pair under the names Stevie Nobody and Jack #ashtag. Say what? The music is a rootsy blend of down home rhythms and funky lyrics laced with just enough celestial moments. Considering Kalinich made his early rep writing with the Beach Boys' Dennis and Brian Wilson, it'd be an error to expect anything different. The other album under Kalinich and Tiven's names, with Sally Tiven on bass and drummer Cody Dickinson, plays like a possibly lost Rolling Stones session, with song titles like "I Believe in Elephants" and "When I Leave My Body" pointing the way to the stars. It's mix made in the heavens, and leave it to co-producer Mark Linett to make sense of the whole affair. In an iTunes world of brevity and pop bombast, leave it to these two veterans to wipe the slate clean and dream up their own visionary vistas. Brian Jones is smiling somewhere.
Muddy Waters & the Rolling Stones, Live at the Checkerboard Lounge Chicago 1981. Finally, the English band that did more to turn young Americans on to real-deal blues than any othert aggregation brings it all back home and plays with the Big Daddy. Sort of. This jam session in a Southside club in the Windy City isn't really the full Rolling Stones, since Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are nowhwere to be found, but sometime-pianist Ian Stewart does show up pounding the keys with fine spirit. Muddy Waters holds himself with all the fire and grace you'd expect from the father of them all, and fortunately he still has the spirit in him. Mick Jagger, on the other hand, comes across as more of a cheerleader in a gym suit, jumping in on occasion and doing his best to claim a spot onstage. Keith Richards and Ron Woods throw down some slicing guitar, and the way they smoke cigarettes in tandem mark them as the real Glitter Twins. Bluesmen Junior Wells and Buddy Guy never really hit blast-off, as Wells by then was more of a showman than a cut-your-throat singer and harp player. But it's all in big fun and shows where so much of America's musical soul started, even if in 1981 Chicago's blues world had almost evaporated. At least the audience can see it's not always only rock and roll after all.