Reviews July - September 2009


La Musique (2009) - ♪♪♪♪♪
Dominique A (France)

Dominique A has stated in several media that late Alain Bashung's dark 2002 album, L'Imprudence, was a turningpoint for him. After hearing that album he decided to take matters in his own hands and bending his musical career to more artistic waters. Some might even say darker waters because the desolation that speaks out of ‘L’imprudence’ has formed a standard detail in A’s work. After ‘Tout sera comme avant’  (Everything will be like it was before) and ‘L’Horizon’ (made with Bashung’s team) many fans of his former albums left off. Unwisely because the musical course that Dominique has taken is intriguing, daring and artistically very interesting. Freed from the restrictions of a record company Dominique started to work on a new album at home fiddling with with 80s-style synthesizers, catchy choruses and flagrant pop beats. Dominique was inspired by recent re-releases of OMD, 70’s  Patrick Juvet and the Blue Nile and during the mix in Brussels all fell into place. Although the original idea was to make a solely electronic album Dominique added guitars and other acoustical instruments to get a warmer sound. Simply entitled ‘La Musique’ the album is a baffling piece of French/European popmusic which keeps the listener on the edge of his seat thoughout the album. The album is diverse and stylish, but it never turns dull or slick. The first two tracks are already good but from ‘Nanortalik’, ‘Qui est tu?’ and ‘La Musique’ you are definitely hooked. And this stays until he takes you to ‘Hotel congress’ and finally to ‘La fin d’un monde’(the end of a world) that softly swoons you to the end when the needle (or laser) finally skips. Dominique A has a much lighter voice then Bashung but in intention he gets very close to the master himself with this new album. And for those of you who buy the vinyl edition (or limited cd) Dominique has a surprise by adding a second album called ‘La Matière’. The second album is somewhat more acoustic but is certainly not filled with left overs. Whatever may come Domonique’s first independent debut is a success.

Listen and watch 'Immortels'

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Yürüyorum düş bahçelerinde (2009) - ♪♪♪
Sezen Aksu (Turkey)

Only a year after the great album release ‘Deniz yildizi’ (‘Starfish’) Turkish leading pop singer and composer is already back with a new release: ‘Yürüyorum düş bahçelerinde’ (‘I’m walking in the dream gardens’). The album is obviously a continuation of the ‘Düş bahçeleri’ (‘The dream gardens’) album from 1996, on which she performed some of her songs that had been covered by other artists. The album consists of two cd’s and a dvd. The first cd has acoustic arrangements, the second more electronic arrangements. The dvd contains a video installation to promote and support the recognition of the modern arts in Turkey. Since Sezen’s songs were covered by more than 100 artists it must not haven been a very difficult job for her to select songs to fill up two cd’s.

But is the result as good as most of her regular albums? Well, yes and no. Sezen did not take the easy way and really arranged and recorded the songs very beautifully. Furthermore, I think it was a wise decision to release two entirely differently arranged collections of songs as two separate cd’s. You can choose which cd you want to listen to, depending on your state of mind: the first traditional one with many sad ballads, or the second, modern one with more mid/ and up/tempo songs. Usually, Sezen mixes traditional folk influences with modern rhythms and instruments, fusing them into her own unique and personal style. For this project, she obviously did not want to fuse them together. This results in a very beautiful first cd, with 15 traditional folksy ballads. Sezen sings perfectly, and the melodies are mesmerizing. But 15 ballads in a row becomes a bit too much towards the second half of the cd… The second cd with more modern, electronic arrangements is an entirely different thing. It contains ballads, up-tempo and mid-tempo songs. Therefore, the cd is a lot more accessible. It sounds as if Sezen really had a great time recording these poppy songs, not having to bother about the folksy stuff…

Highlights of the first cd are definitely the first two tracks, ‘İzmir yanıyor’ (‘Izmir is burning’, originally recorded by Ferhat Göçer) and ‘Unutamam’ (‘I can't forget’, originally recorded by Mustafa Ceceli). Simple, but beautiful piano and violin arrangements, to support Sezen’s great voice. ‘Elveda’ (‘Goodbye’, originally recorded by Aşkın Nur Yengi), with rich arrangements (orchestra, electrical guitar) is another great track and proof of Sezen’s ability to express intense emotions. Closing track ‘Muhabbet kuşlari’ (‘Budgerigars’, originally recorded by Alpay) is one of the most traditional songs on the album with Turkish instruments and arrangements.

Onto the highlights of the second cd, with more electronic arrangements… First of all there is the great opening track ‘Tören’ (‘Ceremony’), a new mid tempo song by Mithat Can Özer with a great melody and modern arrangements. This songs is followed by the fantastic up-tempo Euro dance track ‘Kibir’ (‘Arrogance’, originally recorded by Hande Yener’. The beautiful newly arranged ballad ‘Gidemem’ (‘I can't go’) can certainly considered as one of the albums highlights, just like the very modern Turkish rap-influenced song ‘Gelsin hayat bildiği gibi’ (‘Let life come how it comes’), Euro dance track ‘Bekleyimde görelim’ (‘Let's wait and see’, originally recorded by Korn) and the electronic-ballad ‘Söz bitti’ (‘Word out’, originally recorded by Sertab Erener).

My conclusion: ‘Yürüyorum düş bahçelerinde’ is a very good album that superstar Sezen Aksu obviously really enjoyed recording. The collection is a great treat for her many fans. I hope Sezen will be putting the same enthusiasm, drive and energy in her regular next album with new songs...

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Kino (2008) (DVD-release:2009) -♪♪♪♪
Intars Busulis (Latvia)

The Talsi born singer did a dapper attempt to get to the Eurovision final this spring but as it turned out his music is a bit to difficult for a festival like that. As also with his latest album ‘Kino’ that was released in Latvia at the end of 2008. Although Intars has gained fame as a participant (and winner) of jazz festivals ‘Kino’ has nothing close to jazz. The album is filled with an eclectic mix that shows traces of rock, folk, vaudeville and new wave. And like his Eurovision performance for most listeners it takes a few spins to fully appreciate what he is doing. With his musical partner Kārlis Lāčis he cooked up a tasteful pop album of which some West European artists could be jealous. Tracks like ‘Katrs Ceturtais’ and ‘Davai davai’ are intelligent songs that show the talent the duo has. On ‘Puteklis’ and the Balkan beats influenced ‘8.00’ Instars can display his talents on tuba and trombone. ‘’ even sounds like a lost Red Hot Chili Peppers track picked by a Latvian punk band. Epic closing track ‘Celš’ rounds up the album nicely. And if the Latvian language isn’t your thing the entire album is also translated in Russian and added as an extra cd. This also symbolizes to me the state Latvian culture is in right now with a subsequent amount of its citizens only speaking the Russian language (although Latvian is chosen as the primary language) and the country searching for their cultural indentity. Latvian press was raving about the album stating that ‘Kino’:”sets the tone for Latvian experimental pop - music, packed with contemporary details and emotions which lyrical code is understandable and easily accessible to listeners”. If that is true is for you to decide but at the least ‘Kino’ is a refreshing attempt in intelligent pop from the Baltic states. And Intars performed the entire album at the National Opera this year which is now also available on DVD. PS don’t try to translate his name in English with Google … I can’t imagine ‘Anal Punishment’ can be a correct translation.

Listen and watch a live performance of 'Celš' and 'Davai davai'


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Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Soul (2009) -♪♪♪
Jan Delay (Germany)

If there is such a thing as Deutschfunk Jan Delay would be it’s flag bearer. After a period of silence and side projects (Delay contributed to Udo Lindenberg’s latest album to name just one) it was time for his third album. Together with his musical partner Kaspar ‘Tropf’ Wiens he spend a year and a half creating a mix between Soul, Funk and German pop whilst playing with German language. With songs from Johnny Guitar Watson, Prince, Chic, Udo Lindenberg and Nena on the I-pod the result is unsurprisingly very funky. But for Delay it’s also a big step from his previous album that came directly from his hiphop/reggae roots. Although already an original artist the new album is an artistic attempt to blend American black music with German cabaret.

Much of this is also thanks to his new band Disko no1 which makes it possible (also live) to create a German soulrevue. With only turntables and beats the warm sound of a real horn section would have been dearly missed. The soulrevue resemblance is even notable in the background singers that are called (in the tradition of background singers like the Ikettes) the ‘Delaydies’. You might resemble Delay as the German alternative to British artist Jamiroquai. Where or what is the German factor you might wonder? Mostly it starts and ends with Delay himself. His approach to give subtle comments on German society is heavily rooted in the old German Cabaret tradition. His comments on modern day and particularly the shallowness of modern day life and the entertainment industry are comical with a bitter undertone. For instance on ‘Oh Jonny’ Delay gives a cynic reality check to ‘johnny average’ who lets his opinion being led by watching his TV. ‘Kommando Bauchladen’ is about what sense there is in the international war on terror and ‘Abschussball’ is a soundtrack for adult urban life. Of course also the album title is a subtle notch to Uli Edel’s classic movie ‘Kristiane F – Wir kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo’ about the drug and disco scene in Berlin in the 70s where 14 year old Kristiane is drawn into a downward spiral of a hedonistic drug fueled life.

But there is more typical German to Delay like his way of ‘speech-singing’ (think Hildegard Knef or Falco). It may resemble rapping (like he used to) but it is not. The nasal intonation stayed (this puts Paul Royal off) but with ‘Kinder vom Bahnhof Soul’ Delay took another step forward with a convincing album. It’s not disco, it’s Disko with a ‘K’ and a capital D.

Listen and watch 'Oh Johnny'


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Ona I on (2009) - ♪♪
Sylwia Grzeszczak & Liber (Poland)

Although ‘Ona I on’ (She and him) is viewed as Sylwia Grzeszczak debut album it is rapper/musician Marcin Piotrowski aka Liber and comrade ‘Tabb’ that are responsible for most of the tracks. Sylwia knows them from earlier work with Liber & Tabb’s hiphop crew Ascetoholix (Sylwia contributes to their 2006 album) and apparently felt an entire album was a possibility. Due to Liber and Bartosz ‘Tabb’ Zielony’s hiphop background ‘Ona I on’ has a very ‘urban’ feel. Don’t be mistaken, Sylwia is a talented singer who earned recognition since childhood when she participated in  the TV talentshow ‘from kindergarten to Opole’. And her vocal contributions to the album are OK, with Liber holding the raps to a minimum. But she is also in interpreter of songs which holds the risk that she becomes the victim of the producer she works with. In the case of the Ascetoholix team this sometimes comes out positive like the tracks ‘Bogini’, ‘Zyje sie raz’ and the percussion driver title track. These tracks have that eastern European vibe. ‘180 stopni’ is even a true euro track with midtempo Hi-NRG beats. Too bad the singles ‘Nowe szanse’ and especially ‘Co z nami bedzie’ hint so shamelessly towards American R&B. ‘Co z nami bedzie’ sounds so directly ripped off from a known worldwide charthit that you have to check twice to be sure Grzeszczak, Liber and Tabb wrote the track themselves. The duo (or should I say trio) has it in them to become the Polish alternative to German acts like Ich&ich or 2raumwhonung but still have some effort to make before reaching that point. For now it is not a bad album with some nice tracks but it still lacks the originality and most of all Polish identity to become a good Europopmusic record.

Listen to 'Ona i on'


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La république des Meteors (2009) - ♪♪♪♪
Indochine (France)

Indochine has been around the pop music scene in France for many years now. The adults grew up, matured and so did their music. This latest cd continues the sounds of their last few albums (‘Paradize’, ‘Alice & June’). So the band around singer and main songwriter composer Nicolas Sirkis - who turned 50 years old this June - might not provide us with the most innovative of albums, that does not mean at all that this record is not worth listening to. On the contrary, ‘La république des meteors’ is probably one of the best ones Indo made since the mid nineties.

It basically has everything a good Indo album needs: an appealing concept, great melodies, mature texts, a self assured singing front man and creative instruments and arrangements. At some points there is somewhat more focus on acoustic instruments than before and if you listen well, you can distinguish even an accordion and a ukulele. But this does not mean the heavy guitars have disappeared entirely, they are still an important aspect of the Indo-sound, together with the familiar new wave electronics. One of the album’s main themes is the first world war, which has been underlined by the many dark and moody pictures in the booklet. It is almost as if Indochine wants to remind us that wars are still around and the suffering they cause too - they seem to be an inevitable aspect of mankind. Many of the songs explicitly refer to this theme, such as ‘Un ange à ma table’ (‘An angel at my table’), ‘Union war’ and ‘La lettre de metal’ (‘Letter of metal’). This last song being a letter from a father to his son before he had to leave for war. (The original letter is printed in the booklet.)

Apart from these serious songs, there is also enough pop/rock songs we know so well from Indochine. And there is even a cover of ‘Je t’aime tant’ (‘I love you so’) from famous French wave/punk duo Elli & Jacno. In short, Indochine presents us with an album that does not offer anything new, but they took the best ingredients and mixed it into a delicious Indochine-record.

Listen to 'La lettre de metal'


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Kol prašvis (2009) - ♪♪
Gintarè Jautakaitè (Lithuania)

When travelling through Lithuania this summer, we naturally had to buy some pop music albums from this country. It appeared that record shops were very hard to find (second hand stores did not seem to exist at all) and that people in Lithuania purchased their cd’s mainly at big shopping centres, whit only a very limited amount of cd’s on stock. Anyway, the cover of the 2009 cd from Gintarè Jautakaitè somehow appeared credible enough to buy it. When we put the cd in the player of our car and continued our trip through Lithuania, at the first notes we both shouted: Enya! And that first impression turned out to be quite accurate for the entire album. ‘Kol prašvis’ is a collection of nine (very) slow, ethereal compositions in Enya-style, complete with many (synths) strings and Gintarè’s angelic voice. With corresponding song titles, such as ‘Sapnų lopšinė’ (‘Dreams lullaby’), ‘Žiema’ (‘Winter’), ‘Baltija’ (‘Baltica’), ‘Paukšteliai’ (‘Birds’) and ‘Tyla’ (‘Silence’).

After our holidays I tried to find out more about Gintarè on the web. She appeared to have graduated simultaneously from High School and Music Academy for Classical Piano studying classical piano and jazz improvisation at music the academy in Klaipeda, Lithuania. She immigrated to the United States in 1982 fleeing persecution of the Lithuania’s occupying government and secret service and she became a United States Citizen in 1983. In the 1990s she developed a music career in England, writing and producing her own music with artists and producers like Gus Dudgeon (Elton John), Neil MacLallan (Prodigy), Andrew Claxton (Dead Can Dance), Adam Wakeman (Annie Lennox, Travis), Gaeton Schurrer (Madonna).
In 1998 EMI Records and Sony Publishing signed her, and in March 2000 her album ‘Earthless’ was released. Some of the songs charted in the British charts (no. 13 and 24 on music charts and a number 10 on the club charts). In 2003 she released a second album, ‘Feathermark’. Listening to the song ‘Earthless’ on YouTube, she – again – makes me think of a very famous singer: Björk this time. But I have to admit that this song has much more power and sounds more interesting than the semi-Celtic sounds of ‘Kol prašvis’.

Gintarè herself must have felt that some of her first fans might have to swallow a few times when hearing this album. On her website, she states: “…but I can say that it will have a bit of a new direction from what I have done in the past. The direction is orienting me towards more of an ancient European roots of the Celts, Scandinavian and old Lithuanian sound and singing. For a long time I have been interested in this and now I get to convert my thoughts and dreams into music.” I guess this more or less explains it. She sings beautifully and an extra point for singing in her native language. And if you are (still) into Enya, this might definitely be something for you. Otherwise, make sure you listen to the album before buying it.

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Antepenultimate (2008) - ♪♪♪
Kasia Kowalska (Poland)

Okay, this review is kind of late - the album was already released in November 2008 - but since Kasia is one of Poland's leading female singers and it took her 5 years to release this album after her last one, we think this release can not be missed on this review page. The thing with Kasia is: you either love her or hate her. Her albums are very guitar rock orientated; the title of the album is a link to the Queens of the Stone Age. Her singing is very emotional, like emo rock acts from the States. Her lyrics (which I had to translate since I cannot understand them, obviously) are usually very dramatic and deal with relational problems. This album opens with an up tempo rock anthem 'Miłość, Treźwość i Pokora'. It is followed by two nice mid tempo songs ('Baby blues' and 'A ty czego'). Then 'Jaksłoncapromien', an intimate, more accoustic song with slide guitar and strings. The following few songs continue in this style, with single 'Maskarada' being one of the high lights, yet also one of the most accessible pop songs of the album. With 'Anhedonia' Kasia returns to the more straight forward guitar orientated rock song, followed by 'Spowiedź', which is a classic emo track. The album's closing track is 'Petla', a simple song with basically just Kasia's voice, accoustic and slide guitar. 'Antepenultimate' is one of Kasia's more adult and complete albums, with lots of variation in style and tempo. One might argue that there is not much room for innovation - which is true - but still, this is a very strong, solid pop/rock record, that confirms Kasia's position between the front league of Poland's pop scene.

Listen to 'Maskarada'


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Inoubliable (2009) - ♪♪♪♪
Georgette Lemaire (France)

After releasing her first single in 1966, Georgette Lemaire became one of Mireille Mathieu’s most significent competitors in France during the sixties and seventies. After a successful but relatively short carreer, it became silent around Lemaire in the eighties. In 1996 she recorded the album ‘Intime’, which remained unnoticed and in 2006 she sang on the movie soundtrack of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Munich’. Now, at the age of 66, Georgette Lemaire decided to come back – and how! ‘Inoubliable’ (‘Unforgettable’) is a dark and adventurous pop album, the sound very much 2009. It was produced, recorded and mostly written by Antoine Blanc, Georgette’s son. Georgette also co-wrote some of the lyrics. This young musician perfectly knew what songs and production was needed to facilitate his mother’s art. The result is an album with very interesting pop songs, modern (but not too...) arrangements, and Georgette’s voice in he lead – deep, dark and bitter. And so are many of the lyrics, like the following phrase from the closing track ‘Incertitudes’:

“we say that things go well - I know they can go poorly. I just want to take my path - achieve anything without my rival. Ah, my life, I am so used to it - ah, my life, it’s a pile of uncertainties”.

Other highlights on the album: opening song ‘Noir’ (‘Black’), ‘Rue Royale’ (‘Royal street’) and ‘Gill John’. But franly, this album does not contain any lesser song, it is exiting from beginning to end. Georgette somehow reminds me of other mature female singers like Marianne Faitfull and Emmylou Harris. She definitely chose a completely different path than her former competitor Mathieu (good for her!). Let’s hope this come back album will be the start of a second carreer and that many more albums like this will follow. Welcome back, Georgette!

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Pays sauvage (2009) - ♪♪♪♪
Emily Loizeau (France)

With the release of her debut album ‘L’autre bout du monde’ (‘The other side of the world’) in 2006, Emily Loizeau (1975) immediately positioned herself in the middle of the new promessing French artists like Camille, Emilie Simon and Olivia Ruiz. In a time where a lot of debuts are released by ‘artists’ who participated in one of the many ‘pop star election’, Emily has chosen a different path. Being the daughter of a French father and English mother, she speaks (and sings) both languages fluently. She studied classical music and worked in theatre, before dedicating her career to pop music. Her debut album was a high standard record, but based in the French pop tradition. ‘Pays sauvage’, her second album, is something entirely different. It is an exciting mix of French chanson, Anglo-saxion folk and blues. The songs are mostly self-penned and sung in French and English. Many talented artists collaborated on the album, like Olivia Ruiz, Thomas Fersen, Nina Morato and David-Ivar Herman Dune. And the French-American roots formation Moriarty accompanies La Loizeau on many of the tracks. This results in a highly creative, capricious and daring album. Not every experiment is successful – for instance the fairytale ‘The princess and the toad’, that was probably intended to be humourous, but in stead becomes a bit boring. On the other hand, there are many great tracks to compensate this, like opening track ‘Pays sauvage’, ‘Fais battre ton tambour’ (‘Go bang your drum’) and ‘La femme à barbe’ (‘The woman with the beard’). These songs stand out thanks to their folky sound, with lots of drums, horns and chanting choirs. With this great second album, Emily Loizeau conferms her position as one of the leading, innovative pop artists in France and Europe.

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NW8 (2009) - ♪♪♪
Guus Meeuwis (Netherlands)

Since ‘Kedang kedang song’ is one of the top keywords people type in when ending on our site we gather that Meeuwis classic party tune ‘Langs het spoor’ also reached the expats who have spend time in Holland. Also for them the new album ‘NW8’ will be a surprise. Recorded at the Abbey road studio’s the album left the traditional hoempa and is filled with serious rock and popsongs. Now this more serious move is not completely new. Since his operation (on his vocal cords) in 2006 Guus has been taking an interest in the more serious Dutch songwriters like Lenneart Nijgh and recently Robert Long. The first result was the 2007 album ‘No 7’, an album where he also started to work with songwriter JW Roy. The team returns for ‘NW8’ and are clearly more certain with each other. To be honest, the tracks on this album are some of the most convincing stuff Guus has ever made. The central theme is love (what else) but don’t worry it never gets corny. Songs like ‘Lang geleden’, ‘Denk ik alleen aan jou’, Nooit te laat’ and ‘Blijven’ are very well crafted. Not the usual pretentious watch-me-writing-intelligent-lyrics (like Bløf) but straight from the heart. One downside is that the centre of the album has a lot of slow down tempo songs. But then again the production of the new album also is a big step forward so we won't complain too much. The Dutch usually tend to overproduce albums, record multi layered in 36 channels and place the vocals upfront the music. Not this time, the Abbey Road team issued the band to play live and in doing so Guus’ vocals blend in perfectly with the music. The result is a pure album that is hopefully a new definition of Dutch pop/rock. Because this is not ‘kleinkunst’, it is no ‘levenslied’ and no copied American standard rock. It’s Dutch pop. And with ‘NW8’ Guus is having a go at the popularity of Dutch counterparts like Marco Borsato and Bløf.

Listen to 'Lang geleden' and 'Alles wat ik zoek' (fragments courtesy of muziekweb)

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L'equilibre (2009) - ♪♪♪
Emmanuel Moire (France)

Emmanuel Moire (1979) is one of the new French singers, emerging in the second half of this decade. Between 2004 and 2007 he portrayed Louis XIV in the successful musical ‘Le roi soleil’. In 2006 he released his first solo album, ‘Là où je pars’ (‘Where I go’). This album consisted mostly of ballades and although critics were mainly positive, it did not became a huge chart success. Now Emmanuel is back with a second album. He changed his style dramatically from ballads and mid tempo songs to an electronic based style. Fortunately, this does not mean that he sounds forced or mannered; what remained are his fine singing and the (mostly) subtle, romantic songs. But he added an interesting, modern layer of electronics to the songs, most of them now being in mid tempo. There are only two ballades, one of them being ‘Sois tranquille’ (‘Be quiet’), that he composed for his late twin brother. Emmanuel created his new sound together with co-producer Christian Lieu (Justin Timberlake, Lord Kossity) and mixer Jérôme Devoise (Archive, Mylène Farmer). The lyrics were mainly written by his friend Yann Guillon, who also contributed on his first album. The song ‘Habillez-moi’ was penned by Claire Joseph and Doriand. This resulted in a nice, modern pop album. It sounds very much like a combination of Etienne Daho and Pascal Obispo (two of the main French pop singers from the 80’s and 90’s). Only time will tell if Emmanuel will be able to build a lasting and influential career like these two singers, but for now, he released a promising second album!

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Giannadream (2009) - ♪♪♪
Gianna Nannini (Italy)

Gianna Nannini might be 53 years old by now, she is still one of the biggest pop stars in Italy. Her 2008 hit collection ‘GiannaBest’ was certified Diamond Award and her latest album entered the Italian album charts at no. 2. After having listened to ‘Giannadream - sono I sogni sono veri’ (‘Only dreams are real’), we can conclude that La Nannini made sort of a more traditional, melodic pop/rock album. The songs are mostly mid tempo, recorded with guitars, drums bass and strings. But, as always, Gianna’s voice has the lead part – and her she still sounds very good! The album has been produced by Gianna herself, together with Wil Malone, who also arranged and conducted the (beautiful) strings by the London Studio Orchestra. It all adds up to a very decent and solid album. The only thing is… it sounds a bit like we have heard it all before on Gianna’s previous albums. Even the songs are ‘okay’, but lack the catchy hooks from Nannini’s best songs. Only on the few experiments – for instance on the song ‘Siamo nella merda’ (‘We’re in the shit’), with a contribution from rapper Fabri Fibra – the result becomes really exciting and interesting. All in all this is certainly no disappointing album, but than again it is also not an outstanding piece of work.

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Miss Meteores (2009) - ♪♪♪
Olivia Ruiz (France)

When you take a listen to ‘Miss Météores’ it’s hard to imagine that only eight years ago Olivia Ruiz was a contestant in the first edition of Star Academy France. Even in the light of her former album ‘La femme chocolat’ (the title of her best-selling 2005 album) Ruiz makes an artistic step forward. I guess her marriage with musical partner Mathias Malzieu (lead singer of French rock band Dionysos) helps her to bring out more freedom in her work. But more independent artist help out on ‘Miss Météores’. The Austrian folk singer Lonely Drifter Karen, French Outfit Coming Soon and London-based indie rock band The Noisettes all lend a helping hand. Special interest goes out to Canadian rapper Buck65 who leaves his mark on the production. As he himself extensively incorporates blues, counry, rock, chanson and avant garde influences into his style (influenced by Tom Waits and Beck) this albums also displays this mixture. ‘Miss Météores’ sounds like a countryfolk album in popstyle. The risk of this is that the project can sound a bit over thought and thus lacking emotional value. Luckily on most songs Olivia stays on the safe side and with lyrics in French, Spanish and English she delivers some poetic and intimate songtexts. Exemplary is single ‘Elle panique’ in which the singer reports of her regular moments of selfdoubt. But there is more to enjoy like ‘Spit the devil’, poetic love song ‘Mon petit à petit’ and the sad ‘Le sale pleureur’ (the weeping willow): “The weeping willow is dying of watering in bad faith, paid by the sprinkler this time”. Highlight of the album is ‘Peur du noir’ ('Afraid of the black'), inspired by the movies of director Tim Burton, which features some rich and inventive musical arrangements. On this track her somewhat nasal vocals, some people can’t stand it, and the musical direction fall into each other like a puzzle. ‘Miss Météores’ is a good album but miss Ruiz should be a bit more confident with her new style to make it a perfect one. But still, a good choice when you’re looking for an intelligent French album.

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Planet Paprika (2009) - ♪♪♪
Shantel (Germany)

After his debut album ‘Disko Partizani’ Shantel profiled himself as the musical Partizan of Europe. Let’s reflect on that because the partisans were the guerrilla groups around Europe rebelling against the occupiers of WWII. They were highly involved with their local culture and in some cases even idolizing it. They were also very nationalistic and my guess is that the concept of the European Union would have outraged them. Shantel’s mission is completely the opposite with his mission to show the world that music has no frontiers. A partisan the other way round you might say his pursuit of genuine European pop music brings him to this his second album. Again influences from the Balkan, Roma culture, Maroccon Rai, Spanish folk and so on are brought together with Western electronic music. Tracks like ‘Sura ke mastura’, ‘Usti usti baba’ and ‘Binaz in dub’ feature singers and samples in local dialects while other have the maestro himself on vocals. ‘Being authentic’ even sounds like London partisane M.I.A. joined in to give some of Tamill Tiger flavour. With the track ‘Bucovina orginal’ Shantel sets the record straight with the Sabres of Paradise who used the theme on their 1994 EP ‘Wilmot’ but never credited it. Ok, with reviewing this album we do break our rule that artists have to sing in their own language (Shantel is German) and therefore we give it three stars. Also because the album is a good continuation of the previous one but not really features a new sound. Musically however this stays so very European that it deserves a place in the Europopmusic catalogue. And the lyrics are absurd anyway: “Some say I come from Russia / Some think I come from Africa / I’m so exotic and erotic / I come from the Planet Paprika’ (‘Citizen of Planet Paprika’). Catch Shantel with the Bucovina orchestra on tour this fall to keep your Balkan party going.

Listen and watch 'Citizen of Planet Paprika'


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To mój czas(2009) - ♪♪♪♪
Justyna Steczkowska (Poland)

‘This is my time’ is the title of Justyna’s tenth album and indeed it is. Those of you who logged on to her internet concert last month were witness of a very convincing performance under difficult circumstances. Justyna was the main attraction at what seemed to be a free festival in Torun. The audience was a bit tame but Justyna gave a flaming and convincing show that, to us, confirmed the image of a professional artist. And, all the vocals were live! Including the high notes. The show featured some songs from the new album that also sounds very mature and convincing. Musically, she picks up the path she took with her 2007 album ‘Daj mi chwilę’ (showing that her 2008 album with children's songs was indeed a experiment on the side). Taking in account that ‘Daj mi chwilę’ was already a good album, ‘To mój czas’ is even better. With most songs written by Steczkowska herself and under production of Hungarian producer Victor Rakonczai, Justyna dares to show her raw side and it suits her well. Singles ‘To mój czas’ (with a video by Gregory Gościniak) and 'Tango' (getting a standing ovation at the National Festival of Polish Song in Opole) are still more or less standard Justyna. But on the second half of the album this innovation becomes most evident. On tracks like ‘Dlaczego ty’, the albums highpoint ‘Proszę Cię - skłam’, the mysterious ethnic ‘Kim tu jestem’ and closing track ‘Dom’ she even dares to lay a bluesy rawness in her voice. On bonus track ‘Korytarze’ the heavy guitars and orchestra even battle each other over Justyna’s high voice. Now don’t expect a Gianna Naninni restyle, Justyna keeps it dosed, but it does something of the smoothness (some may call it slickness) of the production. ‘Yes, this is my time, still expanding, continuous run next, I want to live, live with each other in excellence’ is the main message on ‘To mój czas’. Justyna is ready... are you?


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Solo dal vivo - (2009) - ♪♪♪
Gianmarie Testa (Italy)

You could place Testa in a long musical tradition of troubadours and minstrels travelling the mainland and performing at the local festivals and courts. Nowadays these artists visit intimate theatres like the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. According to Testa, concerts are encounters with people who have a reason to come. He likes that intimate atmosphere and without his band to back him up ‘Solo dal vivo’ shows Gianmarie Testa at his most intimate. The private live experience is even more emphasized by the announcer at the beginning of the cd warning that photography is prohibited and requesting the public to switch of their mobile phones. Starting with ‘La nave’ (a cover of Angelo Ruggiero) Gianmarie immediately draws your attention with his dark voice. The resemblance with Paolo Conte is evident although Testa has a more small approach to his music. What can be heard is a collection of songs from his entire oeuvre, most of them previously appeared on ‘Da questa parte del mare’ ('On this side of the sea') and ‘Il valzer di un giorno’ ('The rod of a day'). Closing song of the album, ‘Come al cielo gli aeroplani’ ('As an aircraft in the sky') is the only new studio recording, with Piero Ponzo on sax and Indian harmonium and Nicola Negrini on bass. ‘Solo dal vivo’ could have been a boring exercise but it is not. After listening you can understand why Gianmarie choose this recording over the ones he did with his band. Yes, there is a sort of hum in the backsound, yes the public is mumbling and couching, yes there is the buzz from the monitors. But by keeping the recording so pure ‘Solo dal vivo’ is able to capture the magic of the evening and still do justice to the poetic lyrics of the songs. It’s like he’s performing in the privacy of your own home. So pour yourself a nice white whine, sit back, and enjoy.

Listen to 'Comete' and 'Gli amanti di Roma' (snippet courtesy of


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Special Manubre (reissue) (1977 - 2009) - ♪♪
Les Tueurs de la lune de miel (Belgium)

Warning this is no easy album! I always thought that the debut of Aksak Maboul in 1977 was the starting point for one of Belgium’s most artistic credible labels Crammed. Wrong apparently because parallel to that album the label released the debut of The Honeymoon Killers, or Les Tueurs de la Lune de miel as they called themselves then. Started by multi instrumentalist Yvon Vromman and aided by Aksak Maboul members the band started to perform around Brussels quickly gaining a reputation of being a ‘trouble band’. Not only were the improvisations an assault on the ears of the listeners, the band also made a sport to insult the audience or (allegedly) throw raw meat at them. After Marc Hollander started his label Crammed the band was invited to record their eclectic mix of German vaudeville (inspired by bands like Slapp Happy and Henry Cow), Belgian brass band folkore, jazz and rhythm & blues. Under production of Marc Moulin the result is as insane as their performance must have been. Manic tracks ‘Les petit oiseaux’ and weird reworks of ‘Petit papa noel’ and ‘La lecon de twist’ are followed by more ‘normal’ tracks like ‘Oh suzanne’, ‘Blankenberghe’ and the classic Neil Sedaka song ‘Oh carol’. In the eighties the band returned with more accessible albums and actually gained reasonable success around Europe. But this, their first album, gets two stars. Not because it is a bad album but because it is very very very difficult.

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Disque d'or (2009) - ♪♪♪
Vive La Fête (Belgium)

The Belgian Vive La Fête has been known for years as an excellent live band that set many a festival on fire. The band knows perfectly well what it is all about in pop music: a catchy tune, a danceable rhythm, and here and there a nice gimmick. Pop is entertainment, and that’s exactly what Vive La Fête offers. But do not be mistaken, this does certainly not mean that Vive La Fête is soulless. For the passion and love for music oozes back to you from the album. That is,  the start of the album knows a bit of a false start with the somewhat monotone and nagging 'Petit colibri’ and the unnecessary techno pestle 'Everybody hates me’. Its like the band itself would mark the transition into less experimental and more known waters with the intermezzo 'Naive' (allegedly a tribute from the duo to AC/DC). From here we encounter the danceable gaiety we came to love and you can pump up your volume to the max. ‘Je ne pourrais pas', 'Ce que tu penses de moi' and 'Elsangel (with the Cure-a forest riff) leaves your reviewer bounce all through the living room. Els Pynnoo's love for the French singer Michel Polnareff is clearly audible in ‘Mira’. Including organ and the parish hall rhythms. Danny (Mommens) and Els (Pynoo) show that the mix of simple beats, synths and wavering guitars is still not boring. Okay, very innovative, it is not. But who cares ... let the summer begin.

Listen to 'Je ne pourrais pas' and 'Mira' (snippet courtesy of


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Caféine (2009) - ♪♪♪
Christophe Willem (France)

That Christophe Willem (real name Christophe Durier) would win the fourth edition of Nouvelle Star (French version of Pop Idol) in 2006 was for many a surprise when the little thin man first appeared. Nicknamed ‘Le Tortue’ (the turtle) he swept the floor with the competition. And Willem has more tricks on his sleeve when you listen to his latest, second, album 'Caféine'. Skyrocketing into the French music scene he was able to get artists like Skye, Jennifer Ayache (of Superbus) and Zazie to write with him. Even Guy Chambers (famed for his work with Robbie Williams) produced a track (‘Heartbox’) on the album. The result is an electronic dance album highly tapping into the eighties synthipop. Openingtracks ‘l’Homme en noir’ and single ‘Berlin’ might set the tone but it is the second half of the album that Willem get’s a hold on the production and delivers some great poptracks like ‘Plus que tout’, ‘Fragile’,‘Coffee’ and ‘Tu te fous de nous’. Christophe’s strange androgynies voice often gets you on the wrong foot doubting wether it is him or a female singing. In that way he has something of a sort of disco Balavoine. And with that resemblance we also have the critical note. As the future probably will confirm ‘Caféine’ isn’t a timeless album. It’s use of electronics is to anchored in the here and now that it is highly doubtfull this album will make a long lasting impression. But for the time being Christophe Willem delivers an deliciously sweet and danceable album. Pop in it’s purest form, an album Kylie Minoque would eat her shoe for…hold on, there is the Australian popdiva herself joining in on ‘Sentized’. Now get of that couch and dance!

Listen and watch 'Plus que tout'


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