CD Reviews

HAMZA EL DIN

Escalay (The Water Wheel)

(Nonesuch Explorer)

Recently reissued as part of the wonderful Nonesuch Explorer series, 1971's Escalay (The Water Wheel) is the classic album of Hamza El Din's lengthy catalog, the sound of his native Nubia, a region that had recently been destroyed by water from the Aswân Dam. The title track is a tone poem, an evocation of the village life of his childhood. An ox, led by a boy, constantly turns the water wheel that irrigates the fields. The circular lines on his lutelike oud are simple, repetitive, and masterfully hypnotic. Drones rise and fall, speed up and slow down, while short melody lines flicker over the top, growing more complex; on top, El Din's voice is as parched as the desert, bringing the shimmer of a heat haze down on the disc. With his original, impressionistic Middle Eastern minimalism, El Din forged a new Nubian-Arab style. (The oud is an Arabic, not a Nubian, instrument; it's as foreign to the country as bagpipes are to the U.S.) "I Remember," by the great Egyptian composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab, allows El Din to show off his remarkable oud technique, with swift, daring lines; at times you'd swear two instruments were playing. The final cut, the traditional Nubian "Song With Tar," is just that: El Din accompanying his resonant, emotive singing with the tar drum. This is simply one of the most powerful and singular albums to come from North Africa, and it rightly marked El Din as one of the forces of what would be called world music. CHRIS NICKSON

Hamza El Din plays On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., 206-547-9787, at 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 1. $18 general admission/$16 discount. Part of the Earshot Jazz Festival.

BEULAH

Yoko

(Velocette)

Beulah, are you breaking up with me? Sure, it's amicable and all, but reading about the demise of San Francisco's indie-pop powerhouseafter nearly a decade and four recordshas been nearly as depressing as listening to the group's fourth full-length and swan song, Yoko. Which makes sense. Miles Kurosky is one of few lyricists who make feeling bad sound oh-so-good. Kurosky isn't sad, just cynical, and he's constructed a unique niche within confessional songwriting, verses constructed from broken epithets shared with therapists and ex-girlfriends. Yoko is hardly a stepladder to the optimism of "Yes" (as Ono might have intended). Instead it's a floor strewn with shards of glass that Kurosky reads like tea leaves. "Landslide Baby" details a lovers' quarrel in which Kurosky's partner states, "I do believe that you hate yourself," over a grocery bag full of instrumentation, from trumpet to a stable of guitars and piano. "My Side of the City," harnessed by a fuzzy electric guitar, promises to kiss and make up via a soup-can telephone conversation. "Hovering" finds Kurosky at his most fragile, attempting to preserve the more positive moments, holding them captive in a bell jar. The song's protagonist watches the planes go by, wishing they could remain in suspension for just a few minutes longer. Like the planes, trains, and significant others detailed, Yoko is all about comings and goings. Sadly, this is one accomplished group gone too soon. "Wipe Those Prints and Run" appears as a modest stab at goodbye. It's too late. Beulah have left an indelible mark. KATE SILVER

Beulah play Graceland with John Vanderslice and Jen Wood at 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 1. $12 adv.

THE BLOW

The Concussive Caress, or, Casey Caught Her Mom Singing Along With the Vacuum

(K)

When Khaela Maricich spots two people about to kiss, she doesn't just see two pairs of lips moving closer to each other. She also sees the air between the couple heat up; she feels their hearts beat faster; and most of all, she hears the secret songs inside their heads. A high-sensor receptor of the invisible and the in-between, Maricich collects what she picks up and then records her field studies as the Blow, her solo recording and performance-art persona. A psychic eavesdropper's dream come true, The Concussive Caress takes listeners inside the heads of a diverse array of characters: a young player on the prowl who believes his car will score him the ladies, a sympathetic friend who understands her companion's need to be held all the time, a daughter who hears disturbing messages when her mom's voice is played backward. Maricich's own personalitysensitive and humorousseeps into the songs, turning each narrator into a sympathetic, temporary hero and giving the inner monologues a cohesive wrapping. This is a K Records release, so recording guest stars abound: Mirah, Anna Oxygen, Jason Anderson, and other Dub Narcotic regulars contribute. But the Blow keeps each song sparse: If a song is driven by a sequencer loop or a phased guitar line, that's often its only instrumentation, giving the songs a hushed, intimate feel that strengthens the confessional accounts of their narrators. CHRIS LORRAINE

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