Top Ten 2009

By Tom Cheyney

1.Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara, Tell No Lies (Real World)

More evidence that some of the best new "blues-rock" results when definitions are jettisoned, South and North joyfully embrace, and the Sahara stretches endlessly on a moonlit night.

2. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone (Anti-)

My wife gets a bit jealous of my fave female singers, and Neko gives her reason to be, with that gorgeous vocal honesty, deliciously tweaked Americana sound, and ear-turning lyrics.

3. Forro in the Dark at the Mint, Nov. 19

Just when I needed a jolt of live groove, these NYC-based Brazilian expats electrified with their fiery fusion of northeastern Braz, funk, rock, and fill in the blank.

 4. Syran Mbenza and Ensemble Rumba Kongo, Immortal Franco

Africa's Unrivalled Guitar Legend (Riverboat): Living Congolese guitar legend Mbenza and an all-star cast honor their late mentor, Franco, one of the giants of African pop, with a lovely tribute album that steers clear of maudlin nostalgia. 

5. Novalima at Grand Performances, July 25

Soulful, passionate Afro-Peruvianisms blended seamlessly with tasteful globotronics to knock the socks off one of the dance-craziest crowds ever at GP.

6. Quantic and his Combo Barbaro, Tradition in Transition (Tru Thoughts)

Columbiano tropical roots meet the modern age in this aptly titled album, with the arrangements ranging from stripped-down simplicity to string-section lush, and the African diasporic connection writ large.

7. Soul Power (Jeffrey Levy Hinte, director)

You may ask, "where's the folk?" here, but this documentary about the Zaire '74 fest in Kinshasa (part of the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" run-up) captures in engrossing verité style both the behind-the-scenes wheeling-dealing and onstage performance magic of an oft-overlooked yet groundbreaking mulitculti musical event.

8. Spiro, Lightbox (Real World)

The quartet's blazingly original instrumental take on English folk music swirls and builds into a hypnotic-melodic crossroads of trad tuneage, Philip Glass, and late-night raves.

9. Vieux Farka Toure at Troubadour, July 7

After invited guest Vusi Mahlasela seduced the audience midset, the son of Ali Farka and his band re-ratcheted up the rock-Malian trance-dance energy to the ecstasy point.

10. Vasen w/ Darol Anger and Mike Marshall at Skirball, July 23

A sublimely string-driven evening, with the three Swedes--a pair of Viking warriors and a "Where's Waldo" look-alike on nickelharpa-chopping up cords of Nordic lumber.