CHEB I SABBAH, Devotion (Six Degrees): Having explored northern Africa on 2005’s excellent
“La Kahena,” Algerian-born DJ Sabbah reaches back to India for more spiritual
inspiration, at times evoking memories of 2002’s raga-rooted “Krishna Lila” as
he twines Hindu, Sikh and Sufi traditions with electronic beats and production.
Guest vocalists include qawwali Master Saleem, who graces Nusrat Fateh Ali
Khan’s “Kinna Sohna,” and Harnam Singh, who warbles hypnotically over the
dub-fused “Haun Vaari Haun Varaney.” The trippy title track incorporates
ringing bells, birds, praying girls and muezzin calls from the streets of
Varanasi — very real yet otherworldly, in keeping with the rest of this
moving album. Release party at Temple Bar in Santa Monica Saturday.


OTIS TAYLOR, Recapturing the Banjo (Telarc): Taylor strives to “recapture” or recontextualize
the banjo — generally associated with bluegrass, old-time and Appalachia

— by reminding one and all of its true land of origin: Africa. Aided by
Keb’ Mo’, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Corey Harris and Guy Davis — who have
all also reclaimed the blues as an African-American art form — Taylor
prominently positions banjo on 14 tracks (half of which he wrote) about the Ku
Klux Klan, Tecumseh, slavery, black cowboys, injustice, absinthe and murderous
lovers. Neither minstrel-y nor Dixieland, the songs are defined by deep,
sometimes enthralling grooves (“Ten Million Slaves”), but without the
atmosphere that usually envelopes Taylor’s “trance blues.” The most
light-hearted moments occur during the Creole children’s tune “Les Ognons,”
Hart’s sprightly turn through the traditional “Deep Blue Sea” and Mo’s
philosophical “The Way It Goes.” Dick Weissman’s sharp liner notes round off
the thought-provoking package.


PATTY LARKIN, Watch the Sky (Vanguard): Longtime New England folk-pop queen Larkin’s newest
truly is a solo project: she wrote, produced, engineered and played everything
herself. Larkin’s vocals resonate close and clear as an inner thought,
surrounded at times by percussive loops but more often by rippling echoes of
her own voice over a variety of acoustic and electric instruments (including toy
organ), some played in unorthodox fashion, as she sings mostly of solitary
hopes and journeys. She experiments with electronic sounds, but the music’s
spare and dreamy rather than sterile, and resolutely personal.