St. James Infirmary Blues - (featuring Rhiannon Giddens/Michael Ward Bergeman/Reylon Yount)
If You Shall Return...
Heart and Soul - (featuring Lisa Fischer)
Audio Mixer: Kevin Killen.
Liner Note Authors: Cristina Pato; Sarah Small; Johnny Gandelsman; Kinan Azmeh; Michael Ward Bergeman; Haruka Fujii; Rob Mathes; Yo-Yo Ma; Colin Jacobsen ; Shane Shanahan; Wu Man; Jeremy Kittel; Sandeep Das; Kojiro Umezaki.
Recording information: Africa Studio, Bamako, Mali; Avatar Studios, New York City; MSR Studios, New York City; Son Natural, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain; Zona Dolce, New York City.
Director: Christopher Marion.
Photographers: Lyle Owerko; Sam Matamoros.
The potential buyer encountering this release by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble is apt to form several mistaken impressions of its contents. From the track list and accompanying description you will learn that it is "the companion album to the Morgan Neville documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble." And the long list of "featured" artists suggests the type of lazy, all-star album famous artists tend to phone in during the later stages of their careers. Neither of these impressions correspond with the considerable riches here. The music is entirely effective independently of the little-publicized film. And, more importantly, the real "featured artists" here are not the named stars (who skew toward younger members of the new acoustic scene like bluegrasser Sarah Jarosz), but the members of the Silk Road Ensemble themselves. The structure of the album, as with so many of the creations of these remarkable artists, is unique. The Silk Road members, and a few visitors, select music of personal significance to them, many of them related in a general way to the theme of home. Then, a guest musician with skills appropriate to the music was added. With a range of source material running from Heart and Soul to Mali to the Balkans to East Asia, the resulting fusions are never less than interesting and are often marvelous. Sample the much-recorded St. James Infirmary Blues (track 11) in its unique realization here with accordionist Michael Ward Bergeman (one of the guest Silk Roaders), Chinese yangqin player Reylon Yount, and the wonderful blues-country vocalist Rhiannon Giddens, a border crosser herself. The album gives insights into the histories of the Silk Road players, and indeed into the musical and personal depths that have made this ensemble one for the ages, and its leader a true musical exemplar of our time. ~ James Manheim
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