I've actually never seen any Nollywood films, although they've started screening to more general audiences in recent years. In fact, I'd never heard any of the music from those films either, until I picked up a copy of Harafin So (Sahel Sounds/Little Axe), a selection of hits from Kannywood films (the Kannywood variant is named for the city of Kano, which is center of northern Nigeria's film industry). As you can hear from today's 12 O'Clock Track, "Tofi"—a duet between Abubacar Sani and Fati Niger—the music reveals a strong debt to Bollywood traditions, particularly in the female vocal style. All of the instruments are synthetic, and the vocals, heavily Auto-Tuned as they are, sound nearly as plastic. I haven't decided whether or not I actually like the music, but there's no doubt that I'm gripped by it. It possesses that ineffable quality that only seems to emerge when one culture appropriates ideas from another, without fully understanding their meaning or nuances. I hope the misunderstandings never stop coming.
They prove to be the wild card on American Kid that makes the record appealing to me, injecting some well-placed grit and twang into the proceedings, putting me in the mind of more recent work by Emmylou Harris and Julie Miller. On a song like "Ohio," which you can hear below, the distinctive voice of Plant shadows Griffin's own pristine instrument, his harmonies scuffing up the blend, while on a hard-charging, blues-driven song like "Don't Let Me Die in Florida," the guitars do the damage. Most of the songs were inspired by the 2009 death of the singer's father, but her musings rarely fixate on a specific subject, instead meditating on mortality, spirituality, and the meaning of family (including a devastatingly effective take on the Lefty Frizzell classic "Mom & Dad's Waltz"). Griffin has tackled heady, serious subject matter before, but in my experience the production style of earlier records had buffed much of the heft away—here the warts are visible. It's a fantastic piece of work.
Her melodies are sweetly insinuating and while it would be nice if she added some uptempo rhythms into the ballads and mid-tempo nuggets, I can't say that I mind too much. The pretty tracks that percolate behind her singing are mostly acoustic, with guitar arpeggios complemented by fleeting washes of kalimba, strings, organ, and more generous heapings of harmony vocals. I haven't listened to The Still Life enough to say if it has staying power, but I'm expecting to find out soon. Below you can check out "The Rain."
Lang studied more than 600 Schubert songs and isolated the ones that include text personifying death; he then translated the words and recast certain fragments in his own writing, a five-part movement featuring Worden's gorgeous, tremulous voice—at once ethereal and forceful. She's supported by a gentle chamber trio featuring Muhly, Dessner, and violinist Owen Pallett. The CD concludes with the 18-minute piece "Depart," a kind of soothing afterlife expression featuring the multitracked cello playing of Maya Beiser and four wordless vocalists. As I wrote above, I've heard the music only once, but its haunting beauty connected immediately. Below you can hear the first part of the work.