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Sit & Spin

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Various Artists
Quisqueya En El Hudson: Dominican Music in Nyc
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

The Dominican Republic is the considerably less volatile half of the island it shares with the civil strife-plagued nation of Haiti in the Caribbean Sea. Dominicans have just recently broken the musical dominance of their regional neighbors, namely Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. The dance music known as merengue evolved from Dominican and Haitian folk traditions. It remains the Dominicans' musical export to the world and is now about as popular as Cuban and Puerto Rican-style salsa music.

It's no wonder that New York City, the US melting pot that holds the biggest population of Dominicans outside of their homeland, has helped spread merengue from street festivals to the jukeboxes of the world. Music serves as a social catalyst and meeting ground in myriad cultures, and it's no different here on this compilation, which features many Dominican artists who have performed in an annual summer festival in the Washington Heights area of the Big Apple.

Dominicans are as passionate about their musical heritage as any others from the fertile tropical islands of the Caribbean. On this 14-track compilation, many street performers as well as professional players bring the sound of the island nation into the greater surroundings. The styles are varied and include bachata, country music of the Dominican and the voice of the working class as well; salve, an Afro-Dominican vocal tradition; Cuban son and, of course, merengue. The salve is especially intriguing and features the call-and-response rhythms common in African music. Salves are sung on pilgrimages and gatherings dedicated to a saint. Merengue distinguishes itself from other music of the region with its heavy use of accordion and sax, and particularly the tambora, a drum played with both stick and hand.

Standouts on the collection include "Suite Folklrica Dominicana," a medley of Dominican folklore played on acoustic guitar, "Homenaje," a rip-roaring merengue track with accordion, and "Ya Lleg La Virgen," a definitive salve. A couple of Cuban sons (the backbone of contemporary salsa) are also included.

Track to burn: "Tierra Dominicana"
Grade: B+--Samir Shukla

The Secret Machines
Now Here Is Nowhere
Reprise

The Secret Machines want you to be patient: Both the band's limited output and sonic breadth have required it of you. But while the simmering, 6-song debut EP September 000 unfolded delicately and in drowsy good taste before deftly parading its melodic immediacy over the second half of the album, Now Here Is Nowhere lights the fire instantly... but it's still a slow burn. Nine-minute opener "First Wave Intact" effectively makes for a one-off mash-up of the EP's successes: It peaks with a rewarding flourish after nearly seven full minutes of driving, boisterous jam/psych/bar-rock revelry.

The venue-ready sound of Now Here... is loosely frantic and more palpably improvisational in spirit, but it's cohesive and farsighted enough not to succumb to the trappings of cringe-worthy excess. By turns suffocating and spacious, the album is surely not devoid of melody (see: "Sad And Lonely"), but rather cut through with it, sparingly and to great effect. And at its best the band can still play up its use of space like another instrument, such as on "You Are Chains," where subtle piano notes and gentle guitar-swirls build to a rewarding crescendo, and you never even thought to peek at your Casio.

Track to burn: "Sad and Lonely"
Grade: B+--William Morris

Various Artists
Shanti Project Collection III
Badman Recordings

The third volume of the Shanti Project Collection -- which benefits AIDS sufferers and other patients living with terminal or chronic illnesses -- does precisely what the first two did: excel at being far greater than the sum of its already considerable parts.

The folks at Badman Records who put these together eschew the notion that drives most Various Artist compilations: that the listener is going to troll through the rubbish to find the one or two cuts they find mix- or iPod-worthy, then never spin it again. Instead, the Shanti... records gather new, rare, live and unreleased tracks -- Ark-like, two at a time from each band -- with the express intent of creating a thematic -- at least sonically speaking -- whole.

On this new one, cuts from Arab Strap, the Black Heart Procession, Califone, Kinski and Sigur Ros are gathered together to create a lush, soothing and melancholic soundscape. Flowing seamlessly from BHP's opening dirge, "Exit Out" (an original), to the breath-taking close of Kinski's live 10-minute crescendo-fest, "Schedule for Using Pillows and Bean Bags," Shanti...III is a great taster for newbies and a must-have for the already converted, as well as a great way to help out the folks these collections were made for in the first place.

Track to burn: "Exit Out" (Black Heart Procession)
Grade: A---John Schacht

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