A few weeks ago I was feeling a wee bit stressed out for various reasons, and thought it might be nice to fill the car CD player with relaxing music. It was also kinda cold, as I recall, so I went for sounds from warm climes. Here's the rundown:
1. Various artists, Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters: Instrumental Collection. Picked this up in a giveaway bin at a past job around the time it came out in 1995; I tend to pull it out every few years and give it a spin or two, think to myself how pleasant it is, then put it back. Certainly does the trick in terms of calming jangled nerves, although in larger doses it's a bit too slack for my taste, so I actually took this out of the rotation first. I attribute the slight Muzak-y tendency to the fact that the label, Dancing Cat, is a subsidiary of Windham Hill. The only names I recognize on the lineup are Keola Beamer and Sonny Chillingworth, although I admit that I know next to nothing about the genre.
2. Kaouding Cissoko, Kora Revolution. Another freebie, and another disc that I play once or twice every few years. (Confession time: what first caught my eye was the cover art, and, believe it or not, the typography. 'Cuz I'm weird like that.) Interestingly, I tend to think of this as an instrumental album, but it turns out there are vocals all over it (the lyrics of which are translated and contextualized in the detailed CD booklet). That's a testament to the power of the kora playing here, which is incredibly lovely even if I don't get the "revolution" part. Cissoko has appeared on albums by Baba Maal and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and if you like those guys, odds are good you'll enjoy this.
3. Various artists, Putumayo presents Cape Verde. I'm going to assume that if you know any musician from this series of islands off the coast of Senegal, it's Cesaria Evora. (If you don't know her stuff, better get busy.) Evora has one track here, but there are eleven other performers as well, and just about all of them sound fine in my book. Putumayo compilations can be hit-or-miss, but this seems pretty solid, steering clear of the label's Easy Listening for Sipping Espresso and/or Shopping tendency.
4. João Gilberto, João voz e violão. A really strong (if too-brief) collection of songs, most of which Gilberto has recorded elsewhere. The twist here, which I'll attribute to producer/protege Caetano Veloso, is that the sound is totally stripped down--nothing but JG's super-quiet voice and unaugmented guitar. Of the three or four Gilberto albums I've heard, this is an excellent starting point. Unlike discs 1-3 above and #5 below, I play this one fairly often; in fact, it took up residency near the bedroom CD player for about two or three years as a quiet-time staple.
5. Caetano Veloso, Orfeu. Speaking of Caetano, here he is in soundtrack-composer mode, creating new music for a remake of Black Orpheus, alongside covers of songs from the original. Some of this is orchestral instrumentals, some features vocals, and the range of tempos and textures is all over the map. I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction to Veloso, but it has many interesting moments. (Bonus: handsome booklet, with lyrics in both Portuguese and English plus stills from the movie that make me want to see it someday soon.)
6. Voodoo Child/Moby, The End of Everything. Sure, people give Moby a hard time for his ambient/instrumental projects (hell, some people give him a hard time just for being Moby), but I happen to like this a great deal: it's fairly low-key, with some majestic moments now and then, the whole of it bearing real emotional weight. I had this on as background as a party once and at least two people bought copies the next day. My only beef: what's the point of having a pseudonym if you're going to announce who you are on the album cover? So much for the anonymity of electronic music. (This being a Moby album, there is one of his characteristic mini-essay rants in the booklet, though it's mighty short and can be summed up in its final line: "Animals are not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on.")