Lila Downs
Una Sangre

If you didn’t make the Lila Downs concert a few weeks ago, you missed seeing a woman alone on stage bring an audience to tears with her voice. Lila Downs grew up in the Sierra Madre, a mountain range in Southern Mexico, but attended the University of Minnesota, where she studied anthropology and nursed ambitions of being an opera singer—a leaning you can still hear in her style. She became disillusioned with the music program, however, and left to follow the Grateful Dead before returning to Oaxaca to learn traditional weaving.

Cool. Now she tours and sings to a rapidly growing fan base between other projects, such as singing screentime in the recent movie Frida. Downs sings her own compositions as well as drawing on the rich history of native Mesoamerican myth, story and song. Her latest album, Una Sangre, is a great collection, impressively rendered with the help of her band, which includes acoustic bass player Junior Terry from New York, Yayo Serka on percussion (including a super-cool box drum called a cajon), and her American husband Paul Cohen on saxophone. (Colin Ruggiero)

The Radio Tisda Sessions

You might not have made it down to the Festival in the Desert—two days’ camel ride into the middle of Mali—this year, either. But you can still catch some of the desert grooves on Tinariwen’s new album, The Radio Tisda Sessions. The band was formed when the Tuareg (more properly, the Kel Tamashek) people were forced from their nomadic life in the Sahara by the Malian government. Band members met in an exile camp and began adapting traditional music, usually played by 30 or more musicians, to their exile lifestyle. They adapted lute and violin melodies to guitar and infused the results with hints of rock and rebellion. Theirs was a music of social and political protest, and, lacking mass communications systems, their music became the voice of other movements striving for independence from a repressive Malian government.

The tunes on Radio Tisda Sessions are primarily guitar and vocal arrangements, lean and gritty, with an ethereal drone quality to them. Think Ali Farka Toure. Although Tinariwen have been playing together for over 20 years, their cassettes have been banned until recently, and this is their first recording for a major label. Word is, they’ve been seen riding into battle with Stratocasters slung across their backs. That imagery alone is a good enough reason to buy this album. (Colin Ruggiero)

Beastie Boys
To The 5 Boroughs

It’s kind of weird to realize, on the eve of the new Beastie Boys release, that they’ve been at it for 20 years. Not to trip down memory lane, here, but it’s noteworthy that they’ve not only survived as white rappers longer than anyone expected, but that their music continues to be—all the more so with this truly kickin’ new disc—purely state of the art.

The approach this time around is minimalist, uncluttered and quick to the point (nearly all songs clock in at two to three minutes), bridging the simple grooves of the late-’70s/early ’80s to groups like cLOUDDEAD. Tasteful samples of conversations, religious records, true old-school rap (LL Cool J, Sugarhill Gang), The Dead Boys and even The Flaming Lips mix with smartass rhymes and left-field references that you can’t help giggling to.

But the Beasties are also none too happy with the state of politics, and they sound off righteously on “It Takes Time To Build” and “We Got The.” They also deliver what is possibly the best tribute to their hometown, post 9/11, with “An Open Letter To NYC.”

The Beasties are still growing up. Their methods are still super dope, and this is easily their best since Paul’s Boutique. (Bryan Ramirez)

Les Sans-Culottes
Fixation Orale
Aeronaut Records

France has always been pretty isolationist in its pop outlook. Inlook is more like it. They’ve never really seemed to have the band thing down, and even the few French bands that could accurately be described as “big” anywhere outside France can be a little perplexing. Air? What’s their deal? Has no one in France bought a new record since 1978?

But Great Ghost of Charlemagne, if Les Sans Culottes isn’t the most adorable band since Shonen Knife, I’ll eat a shoe with cheese on it and have the waiter massage my grandmother. Dirt-simple breakneck pop with glacially cool female vocals backing a hepcat who sounds like he wears Converse All-Stars with his kerchief and Breton fisherman’s sweater. The women wear mini-skirts and in real life probably look like they just stepped off the improvised set of Breathless or Vivre sa Vie.

They sing in French and English in the same song, and the less you speak of one, the more enjoyable it probably is. They also sing a song in Esperanto.

They have names like Mars Chevrolet and Kit Kat Le Noir. They wonder, lyrically, what the English is for “je ne sais quoi” in “Allô Allô,” hands down the catchiest slice of francophone Dada yeh-yeh since the Plastic Bertrand’s “Ça Plane Pour Moi.” They call each other “my little cabbage.” Sixty times in a row listening to it just isn’t enough. (Andy Smetanka)

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