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The Graham Album Review #1838

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Black Masala: I Love You Madly
by George Graham

(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/2/2015)

With the commercial music scene so full of dreary imitation, musical cliches and totally phony computer-processed sounds and voices, and a lot of the commercial media stuck in time about four or five decades ago in classic rock, musical eclecticism seems to be more needed than ever. World Music has been a breath of fresh air for those trying to get away from the pop music grind. In recent years, world music styles have been mooshed together with abandon. Sometimes, it ends up being mostly a novelty, sometimes it’s pretty bad, but once in a while, it ends up being both interesting and fun. This week, we have another of those very eclectic world music projects that is full of energy and a great infectious spirit. It’s the new release by the Washington. DC, area group called Black Masala. Their new, second album, is called I Love You Madly.

As part of the trend toward eclectic world stylistic mash-ups, a fair number of these groups are from the USA. I suppose it’s only natural for this country of immigrants to be a place where a lot of stylistic elements will come together. And in recent times we have had music from American bands like the one led by California guitarist Joss Jaffe, Mariachi el Bronx, from the New York borough of same name and Red Baraat. Black Masala comes from a music scene that has brought us groups like Thievery Corporation and its various offshoots. Black Masala’s particular mix includes New Orleans brass band influence, Indian Bhangra music, Jamaican ska, Eastern European including hints of polka, some occasional moments of swing-era big band sounds, plus dollops of rock, soul and funk. The seven-member group, who formed in 2012, has a prominent horn section, including a sousaphone who serves the role of the bassist. They play with a lot of energy, and there is a band member whose full time duty is on the accordion. There are male and female vocalists so there is a lot going on, and it’s done with a sense of good fun, with the music very likely to induce a good time on the dance floor.

The band keeps things generally at an upbeat tempo, with a lot of the material in minor keys, which helps to evoke Eastern European or Gypsy influence. There are a couple of instrumental pieces as well, which help to keep the energy level up, on this relatively short album.

Opening is the title track, Love You Madly, a song that’s full of energy that hints at a wild Gypsy party with a mutant polka band thrown in. <<>>

Too Hot to Wait shows some of the band’s ska influence and features the vocals of the band’s Kristen Long. <<>> The horns get a chance for soloing. <<>>

Bhangra Ramo shows where some of its influence comes from, in its title, with its mix of Indian Bhangra and a kind of whirling Eastern European dance sound. <<>>

Cool Breeze is the first of the instrumentals and after more laid back start, the band lays in with lots of energy. <<>>

A kind of twisted big band sound provides the underlying influence for the track Sounds of the Underground. The song also has some lyrics with something of a message. <<>>

Devil Sunset is another curious mix of influences, hinting at reggae at times, with lyrics are kind of eulogy. <<>>

Haute Cultura is the other instrumental which is also dominated by the horn section. The band again looks to Eastern Europe for some of their influence, except for the New Orleans brass sound. It’s a fun, danceable tune that also has some interesting musical moments. <<>>

Black Masala gets funky on the tune Oh No What Can I Do? And they succeed nicely, with their other wider ranging influences filtering into the mix.

I Love You Madly, the new second album by the Washington, DC septet Black Masala is another fun record that mixes world music and American influences liberally. The New Orleans style horn section, including the sousaphone who replaces a conventional bass, plus the mix of Eastern European, funk, ska, swing and Indian Bhangra, and the enthusiasm shows by the band with its high energy level, makes this record one that is hard not to want to dance to. The band’s eclecticism is quite successful artistically. They mix styles skillfully in a way that’s impressive in how well they do it without sounding like a culture clash. The musicianship is first rate and the music has a fair amount of substance to it, in terms of the musical creativity of the compositions themselves.

The one area where the album falls down, and rather badly, is in sound quality. I’ll be charitable to give it a C-minus. It embodies almost everything that is wrong with the state of recording in these days of loudness wars fought with nuclear weapons. The album is horribly over-compressed to be loud all the time, and the horn section especially suffers from an over-driven sound. It may be loud, but in the process, the sound comes off as in-your-face, but lifeless, one-dimensional and not at all warm or inviting. This is high energy music. The recording should be allowed to let the excellent musicians convey that without squashing everything to be the same volume all the time.

Black Masala is a first rate band who are among the growing numbers of groups who make fun, energetic world beat mash-ups that show a good deal of imagination.

(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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