CD Review: SONGS OF THE VOLCANO (Bob Brozman and Papua New Guinea Stringbands) - 18-Oct-05
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SONGS OF THE VOLCANO (Bob Brozman and Papua New Guinea Stringbands)

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18 October 2005

Papua New Guinea Stringbands with
Bob Brozman: Songs of the Volcano

By Robert Burke

Guitarist extraordinaire and academic Bob Brozman is one of the most prolific talents in music today. He is a Professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has released over 25 albums, tours worldwide, is a founder of International Guitar Seminars and has published many writings in his areas of musical expertise.

This is a man obsessed with music, learning and sharing. If you have seen him perform live, you know what I am talking about. His contagious passion and encyclopedic knowledge made him the perfect choice to pull together this fantastic new CD and DVD project set to be published on October 25th and entitled "Songs Of The Volcano".

There are so many great things to say about this release, I guess I will just start with the packaging. The CD and DVD come in a slim digipak, which I'm a big fan of not only for environmental reasons, but because jewel cases crack and just don't look as good. When you open up the digipak you'll find an extremely informative and well-written booklet, a CD and a dual-sided DVD.

Riverboat Records was thoughtful enough to make sure that people on both sides of the pond would have no issues viewing the DVD since each side is encoded for a different region. This was such a breath of fresh air in an environment where major labels are making it harder to listen to the music you buy the way you want. You will not find any copy protection schemes here. The CD runs over 70 minutes and the DVD is just packed full of information and live performance.

This is not only a fantastic "album", but a immersive learning experience. If you soak "Songs of the Volcano" in as I did you will surely come out a more knowledgeable person.

It starts with an idea to record the stringbands of Papua New Guinea, which is one of the very last places on earth that acquired the guitar. The island has developed its own unique style of playing and singing devoid of any influence. This alone makes it a must-hear recording. As the world becomes more global and connected, truly original composition unmarred by popular culture becomes increasingly difficult to find. This record is not only the best representation of this, but it may be one of the last.

Bob Brozman has really soaked up world music in his recent past and he is a master of many guitar styles. Fans of his will not be disappointed with the clips of Bob playing alone and completely blowing your mind . However, this CD/DVD is really about the Papua New Guinea stringbands. Bob acts more as a producer, pulling everything together and using his likable and hyper personality to find the musicians and make them feel comfortable.

He does play with the stringbands, but in a supporting role only. I didn't really understand this and honestly, it was one of the only things that kept this from being a perfect 5 star review. Although he pulls it off perfectly and I understand that having his name on the music will help sell more discs, I could not help but feel he was an outsider. By having him play along with the stringbands the separation from the western world is compromised. Of course, I am speaking in purely intellectual terms, not musical ones.

The recording process brought together many stringbands from across the island (about 60 musicians). The idea was to record the different styles in order to capture a good representation of this mostly unheard genre. Bob brought along instruments and strings as these items are nearly impossible to find on the island. Many times musicians create strings from unwound bicycle cables. Mr. Brozman also is involved with a foundation to bring necessary equipment to musicians in third world countries so that they can continue to create.

The music itself relies on a unique "5 key" open tuning, which gives it an airy, full sound. It has a definite island feeling, but not like anything I have heard before. Most of the bands have multiple guitarists and singers. Some play in unison, while others play a bass line and others add slide or single note accents. The vocals build into a beautiful chorus of voices that transcends the simplicity and repetitiveness of the music. Western music could learn much from the sounds found here.

Beyond the 70+ minutes of music to explore, the DVD gives insight into Bob Brozman, the project itself and the lives of the native people, including their struggle with the volcano that has destroyed the city of Rabaul twice in this century. It is truly fascinating to watch the music come together. This is a community event devoid of ego. When you see the musicians eyes light up when they put on headphones and hear their music recorded for the very first time, it touches your heart. In these modern times when music is driven mostly by corporations, ego and greed "Songs of the Volcano" is a curative shot in the arm. It will give you faith in music again and more importantly it will give you faith in humankind.

Bob Brozman - King of the National Guitar

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