Lhasa De Sela
The Living Road

Born in New York State, raised by nomadic parents in Mexico and currently residing in Quebec, Lhasa De Sela has led a life many of us can only imagine. Throw in a stint singing in the circus accompanied by an accordion-playing trapeze artist and you might begin to understand the inspiration behind her enigmatic new record, The Living Road. Only four of the album’s 12 tracks are in English, but the mysterious ambience of the album is heightened, if anything, by a lack of comprehension.

In the seven years since her last release, La Llorona, De Sela has been hiding out in France, working for a one-ring circus run by her three sisters: a clown, a contortionist and a tightrope walker. From a cauldron of languid, lilting, orchestral arrangements, De Sela’s deep, breathy vocals conjure the musical equivalent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism. Some songs—“La Frontera,” for instance—have an understated, almost pastoral grandeur. Others, such as “Anywhere On This Road” and “Small Song,” hang on the brink of cacophonies Tom Waits might envy. With percussion like hooves on cobblestone streets and horns out of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, De Sela invokes the untamed nature of the Arab bars and cafés of Marseilles and Toulon in this captivating and sensual record. (Yogesh Simpson)

The Duhks
The Duhks
Sugar Hill

On Jan. 16, the Duhks, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, signed a four-album deal with Sugar Hill Records. The North Carolina label is home to some of the biggest names in folk and roots music, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Dave Grisman included. The Duhks eponymous debut is a showcase of traditional French Canadian, Appalachian and Celtic musics injected with jazz, salsa and unbridled youthful exuberance. The five twentysomethings each bring something different to the mix, but the suturing of individual global styles is seamless.

Frontwoman Jessica Havey belts out soulful vocals backed by Leonard Podolak on the banjo, Jordan McConnell on guitar, Tania Elizabeth on fiddle and Scott Senior on a variety of percussive devices, including a Cuban hand drum. Banjo and bass legends Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten, respectively, make guest appearances, which Fleck co-produced. Stylistically the songs range from sparse, haunting ballads (“Mists Down Below”) to all-out foot-stomping fiddle/bagpipe instrumentals (“Gene’s Machine”). And as if all that weren’t enough to keep listeners interested, The Duhks throw in covers of tunes by Sting and Leonard Cohen as garnish. This is a gluttonous listening experience. (Yogesh Simpson)

Pink Martini
Hang On Little Tomato
Heinz Records

For a band founded by a Harvard-educated pianist and accustomed to playing with symphony orchestras, Pink Martini is a lot of fun. Said pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale describes his band as “musical archaeologists.” An example is found on “Kikuchiyo To Mohshimasu,” originally recorded by a Japanese band in the ’60s. After resurrecting and rearranging the song, Lauderdale and the band went to Japan to record the track with slide guitarist Hiroshi Wada from the original recording.

Officially there are 12 pieces in this Portland-based ensemble, including horns, strings and vibes. Most tracks are original and many feature the charming vocals of China Forbes, who sings in French, Italian, Croatian, Spanish and English. Pink Martini has played at the Cannes Film Festival and the opening of the Frank Ghery-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But despite its principals’ erudition and savoir-fair, the music is perfectly at ease in your living room. Lauderdale hopes to serve as “background music to a love affair or to vacuuming around the house.” The tone is light and romantic, but with plenty of surprises. So break out the cocktail shaker, slip into something polyester and hang on, little tomato. (Yogesh Simpson)

Josh Rouse

Josh Rouse fans beware: The title of Nashville was an afterthought. Unlike his 2003 release 1972, peppered with pre-disco flute and violin authenticating the title, the only Nashville-idity on “Nashville” is a little pedal steel.

That said, perhaps the Nashville Rouse refers to exists only in his own Nashville experience. Ten seconds into the first track, “It’s the Nighttime,” we know this album is not from Nashville’s belt-buckled set. Nor is it chip-on-the-shoulder alt-country. This is polished Nashville pop, and the tunes are undeniably catchy. Rouse is not afraid of using geeky vocal non-lyrics—”bah dah bap bah”—in fact, he does it with panache. Overall, the lyrics are predictable, but here and there Rouse lures us into listening closely: “maybe later on/after the late late show/we can go to your room/I can try on your clothes.”

Rouse retains his characteristic wispy pout throughout this apparent farewell to the titular city. He also retains many of the guest artists who made 1972 such a treat, revisiting a sound that—like Nashville at its best (and sometimes worst)—is as smooth as a polyester leisure suit. (Caroline Keys)

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