Framed to celebrate 15 years and 100 releases by IRL Records, the label's founders have brought together a retrospective double album of great tracks by their top shelf artistes such as Tinariwen, Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara, Xaos, Dub Colossus, LoJo and the Malawi Mouse Boys. These in themselves would make for an outstanding release. But these tracks have also been handed over to various talented music producers for a second CD of highly imaginative remixes that take these pieces of music to whole new realms.
The opening track - Oualahila by Tinariwen - highlights the Touareg group's trademark chants and pulsing guitars of the original but the Transglobal Underground remix brings beats and rhythms to the fore to drive the sound along beautifully. The Malawi Mouse Boys are another case in point - their original sounds are very analogue - to the extent of being created on makeshift instruments made from recycled materials, accompanied by glorious East African harmonies. These have been enhanced by an unexpected drum and bass production that creates something altogether different.
Similarly, Albert Kuvezin's Central Asian Throat singing brought something very special to the original Dub Colossus track "A Voice Has Power" - and the Insentisi Remix revisits the track and enhances it with whole new layers of ambience, understated beats and harmonies. If you like dancehall, drum and bass, dubstep and ambient, this is definitely one for you to
You may have seen Billy Bragg popping up in the Australian media recently - he's been in the country to play at Bluesfest and to spruik this 2016 release. It was recorded in situ on a Trans American railroad journey with his old friend and producer Joe Henry. On it, they revisit classic songs about the US railroad by the likes of Hank Williams, Leadbelly, the Carter Family, Glen Campbell and others and have come up with sensitive, touching modern-day accoustic versions of their own.
Recorded in plush sleeping cars or in the cavernous halls and waiting rooms of the great stations, there is an ambience that gives real atmosphere. Half-way through "The L and N Don't Stop Here Anymore" there is the echoing noise of massive doors opening and closing in the background which only serves to enhance the recording.
Joe Henry's voice is a revelation to me, and Bragg himself is visiting whole new registers and sounding better with age. After four days crossing the country, they pulled into Los Angeles at 4:30am, recording their final song in Union Station accompanied by the first chirpings of the dawn chorus.
M.I.A., AKA Mathangi Arulpragasam, has stated that this CD release - her fifth - is to be her last full album. If that's the case, it's a worthy last will and testament. It brings us her usual totally unique combo of global beats and hiphop: Brought up in Columbo and London, her family were asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. Her youthful urban London patois is delivered in rhymes that are always quirky, amusing and arresting - sometimes with an almost child-like sing-song delivery that makes for real ear-worm material.
A compassionate understanding of what it is to be a refugee always shines through. "Borders" is the standout track for me but there is much to like about this release, and various tracks have featured regularly on Local Global Show playlists these last few months. Unusual collaborations, from Anoushka Shankar ("Go Off") to One Direction's Zayn Malik ( "Freedun" ) make for a diverse range. The badge on the CD booklet proudly states "MIA - Uniting People since 2003" and one can only hope that, even if this is her last full album, she continues to do so into the future.