If you're frightened by the idea of "world music", try this gentle mix of blues and beats from Putumayo, who put together compilations of music from around the globe. It really is guaranteed to make you feel good.
"World music" has become a term that puts many otherwise adventurous music fans off a CD before they even give it a chance.
Brought up on a steady diet of pop and rock, many people are put off by the idea of a CD full of instruments whose names they can't pronounce, or whole choirs of "ethnic" singers wailing away in strange and disturbing tongues.
Well, if you're at all intimidated by "world music" then Putumayo's Blues Lounge is the gentlest introduction to the genre imaginable.
Drawing on the gentle rhythms and expressive vocals of mid 20th century blues, funk and soul, Blues Lounge is essentially a compilation of remixes by modern electronica producers. The idea is by no means revolutionary - literally dozens of other producers and artists from across the spectrum of music have used a similar formula to great effect. In fact the formula - warm, bluesy lyrics mixed with synthesized beats - spawned an entire new genre of electronica called "chill-out" towards the end of the '90s.
The success of the chill-out sound is easy to understand. The warmth of its old-school roots is the perfect contrast for the sharp edged coldness of synthesized beats, like a beautifully tart granadilla sauce cutting through the creamy sweetness of vanilla ice cream. Perhaps the most commercially successful example of this fusion came from Moby, whose seminal release Play (1999) sent ripples through electronica (and music in general) that are still being felt today.
How you feel about Blues Lounge will depend very much on what kind of music you buy.
If you like to be challenged by music, or feel that you are at the cutting edge of the latest sound, then this album will disappoint you badly. Its gentle rhythms never deviate from the comfortable pattern established by Moby and his imitators. In fact it even features the excellent "Run On", a track from Moby's Play.
But if you're just after an ear-pleasing experience, give this a whirl. The majority of the mixes are of good quality and some - like Tangle Eye's well balanced version of "John Henry's Blues" - are superb. One or two meander into bland-as-paste territory (like "Pablo's Blues"), but the rest stand up to repeated re-listening very well.
It's debatable whether Blues Lounge should really be classed as "world music". The chill-out sound saturated the airwaves so fully during the late '90s that it's hard to believe that anyone could still consider this compilation exotic. You could also argue that Putumayo are exploiting a passing fad for profit and betraying their high-concept mission to "connect the traditional to the contemporary". But those arguments really miss the point. Putumayo care about music that is "guaranteed to make you feel good", and these tracks should do the trick.
- Alistair Fairweather
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