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Leyla McCalla

Vari-Colored Songs


DixieFrog (DFGCD8752)

If you know Leyla at all it is likely to be as a result of her guest appearances on previous tours and recordings with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This CD however is her solo debut and it's a real cracker, and so titled I assume because of the various inputs and influences that have contributed to its making.

Firstly there is Leyla herself. Born in New York to Haitian parents and now living in New Orleans, she clearly retains  a strong commitment to her Black, Caribbean and Creole heritage, This is evident in her musical DNA which not only incorporates her Haitian roots but has also absorbed the folk-blues, americana and a whole lot more since she took to music with the cello as a child. And then there is the recording of this album as a tribute to Langston Hughes, the American poet, novelist, playwright, columnist and social activist. This tribute is more than just a written or spoken acknowledgement as Leyla has built a number of the songs herein around Langston's poetry, thereby adding a certain literacy to the songs that most songwriters can't hope to emulate.

Not that this literary bent can be discerned by these ears on all the tracks, as a number of them are Haitian-language folk songs; beyond my linguistic limitations, I'm afraid. On these tracks I'm restricted to enjoying them purely on a musical level, which is no stretch at all as they are uniformly beautifully sung by Leyla and sensitively played by her supporting musicians.

It is indeed a big plus on this album that the approach to the music and the quality of musicianship from Leyla and her handful of contributors is never showy. The music always serves the song and not the other way around, and arrangements are complex and busy when they need to be or limited to a simple strummed banjo or gentle fiddle and pedal steel guitar, as and where required. For me, this is the key in keeping this whole album direct, fresh and immediate and just how I like them. I for one am now a committed fan. Do yourself a favour, become one yourself!

Review first posted to this website October 2013

Review Date: April 2018

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