Politicians climb the greasy pole, make speeches from their own assholes, deny the climate’s fate foretold, gag voices that they can’t control, the arts hold out a begging bowl, and the band plays on and on and on on the Titanic. The silver swine trough is always filled, and it’s the poor who foot the bill—but it’s all right, Ma, we got the Olympics.
Together Through Life
Words and music carved by a master, with a combo that includes Los Lobos accordionist David Hidalgo. Check “If You Ever Go to Houston”, which takes a line from Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special” and weaves from it a raw and rambling lost-love tale.
Bob Dylan performs "If You Ever Go To Houston".
World-music star Oumou Sangare has been mostly absent for the past decade, raising a son. The Wassoulou nightingale is back on top of the tree, her voice as supple and nuanced as ever, leading a superb ensemble that draws on 50 musicians.
Oumou Sangaré's "Seya".
You can hear the winds and the heat of the Sahara in Tinariwen’s trance-y blend of call-and-response Tuareg songs with meshing electric guitars, traditional rhythms, handclaps, and hand drums. Includes a great DVD documentary to provide context.
Rupa and The April Fishes
San Francisco’s Rupa and the April Fishes are the top world-music fusion outfit on the West Coast. Indo-American leader Rupa Marya sings mainly in French and Spanish, blending European, Hindu, and Latin traditions into a unique Bay Area cocktail.
Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits
Sí£o Paulo–born, New York–based Cyro Baptista is a percussion crazy man who can’t stop making music and instruments. These restlessly imaginative, shape-shifting songs percolate with jazz, Brazilian rhythms, Middle Eastern melodies, and musical wit from a quartet that includes Matisyahu keyboardist Brian Marsella.
Le Vent du Nord
La Part du Feu
Montreal-area quartet Le Vent du Nord is hailed in Europe as Canada’s best roots-music band, but is little known out west. Strong traditional and original songs from Quebec—foot-clogging rhythms with hurdy-gurdy and fiddle as leads.
Things About Comin’ My Way
Vancouver’s Steve Dawson is mastermind, producer, guitarist, and bandleader on this fine tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks, the greatest blues and folk outfit of the ’30s. Great tracks from the likes of John Hammond, Bill Frisell, Geoff Muldaur, Bruce Cockburn, and Madeleine Peyroux.
French sextet Lo’Jo mixes rock, funk, and dub with cabaret and circus styles, Romany and eastern European traditions, and northwest African rhythms and instruments. Songwriter and lead vocalist Denis Péan is a poet who travels far, in every direction.
Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara
Tell No Lies
British guitarist Justin Adams (ex–Robert Plant) and Gambian one-string riti fiddler Juldeh Camara create great new world music, giving a hard contemporary edge to timeless West African rhythms and melodies.
Vieux Farka Touré
Another African album of searing electric guitar, from the son of late desert-blues legend Ali Farka Touré. Vieux has inherited Dad’s axes and deep knowledge of Malian traditions, but whereas the father drew on John Lee Hooker and the blues, the son looks to Hendrix and rock.
More contributors' picks for the best albums of 2009:
Read John Lucas's picks for 2009.
Read Mike Usinger's picks for 2009.
Read Adrian Mack's picks for 2009.
Read Alexander Varty's picks for 2009.
Read Steve Newton's picks for 2009.
Read Jenny Charlesworth's picks for 2009.
Read Tony Montague's picks for 2009.
Read Gregory Adams's picks for 2009.
Read Lucas Aykroyd's picks for 2009.
Read Martin Turenne's picks for 2009.
View all ten contributor's picks on a single page.