Feel good music is often like candy - a pleasant but noticeably empty-headed experience that revvs you up on with white sugar diet of singable tunes, simple rhythms, and lush but throwaway production tricks. The familiarity of the music is partly what makes it pleasant to listen to, guaranteeing it a place on Top 40 radio.
There's another kind of pleasure to be had, though. A more sensual, darker pleasure whose bitter sweet edge makes it more intense. Chocolate Lands draws much of its "world music" (i.e. folk music from countries that aren't the UK or USA) from artists who come from countries where poverty is endemic (these are mainly the ones who grow the beans). Though you may not understand the words, you'll sense an underlying blue note in many of the songs, mingled with a romantic longing. Like chocolate, the music is more bitter sweet than sweet, and all the more addictive for its beautiful moments of sadness.
By the end you might find yourself thinking: "How odd... this music actually sounds a bit like chocolate tastes." Accessible, but not like all the other sweets, with relaxed but non-pop world rhythms sweetly melting musical boundaries. It does have less than successful moments, though. Susana Baca's "Valentin" (Peru) awkwardly interrupts the flow of tracks that link so fluently from the glorious opening track, Toto Bono Lokua's rendition of "Lisanga" (Congo/Cameroon/Martinique).
But overall, Chocolate Lands delivers the sense of well being, the little warm glow and the desire for more that chocolate also gives you - but without the pimples, the weight gain, and the exploitative labour practices.
If you're faced with the rack of Putumayo choices (you'll find their stand or section in good CD shops) this CD is one of your best options. Although the music comes from places as stylistically different as Congo and India, it succeeds in proving that a good compilation is held together much better by mood and theme than by style and beat matching.
- Jean Barker
If you liked the sound of this, try Putumayo's Blues Lounge and Putumayo's South Pacific Islands
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID
Many tracks are individually appealing - Sushella Raman's percolating "Sarasa",' for instance. But with tracks from Congo, India, Brazil, Haiti, Hawaii, Cuba and more thrown in, it's hard to hear how it all hangs together.- Joel Brown for the Boston Herald
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