CD REVIEWS

 

LES AMAZONES D’AFRIQUE, République Amazone (RealWorld): 4 STARS

A supergroup of West African women artists including Angélique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyaté, Nneka and Amadou & Mariam’s Mariam Doumbia champions gender equality, justice and the diversity of African music on this multilingual, spirit-boosting set. The universality of their thrillingly sung feminist message binds a dozen dubby tracks produced by Mbongwana Star bassist Liam Farrell, with elements of funk, blues and Malian folk diversifying the sonic mix. Profits from defiant lead single “I Play the Kora” benefit the Panzi Foundation, which aids victims of sexual violence. Highlights: Kidjo’s throbbing “Dombolo,” Rokia Koné’s “Mansa Soyari,” the collective’s “Anisokoma.” realworldrecords.com/amazonesdafrique

ETHAN GRUSKA, Slowmotionary

(Sire): 3½ STARS

The Belle Brigade guitarist presents himself as moody pop balladeer of the keys throughout this quietly intense set. He plies his six-string for acoustic tracks like the jangly “Reoccurring Dream,” but the album’s defined by more ruminative songs like “The Valley” (“If childhood defines you can it ever be behind you?”). Subtle production touches — cello here, electronic beats there — oddly enhance the impression of discovering Gruska singing to himself alone in a cavernous room. Highlights: “Time is the Healer,” “The Egotist” (“There’s an emptiness in the hypocrite whose thoughts are what he offers when it’s not the thought that counts”). ethangruska.com

RUTHIE FOSTER, Joy Comes Back

(Blue Corn): 3 STARS

The multiple Blues Music Award-winning Austinite embraces her eclecticism throughout this warmly produced record of emotional survival. Like Bonnie Raitt, Foster molds diverse genres — blues, gospel, rock, soul, folk — into her own rootsy blend, and here her formidable church-trained vocal chops elevate songs by Black Sabbath (a righteous take on “War Pigs”), Chris Stapleton, the Weepies’ Deb Talan, Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder with yearning, hope and healing. It lacks the galvanizing uplift of some previous albums, but it’s genuinely moving. ruthiefoster.com

HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF, The Navigator (ATO): 4 STARS

“I just wanna prove my worth on the planet Earth and be something,” Alynda Segarra spits on angry piano ballad “Pa’lante” (“go forward”). Collaborating with Michael Kiwanuka/St. Paul & the Broken Bones producer Paul Butler, Segarra reaches beyond the rustic, New Orleans-flavored instrumentation of 2014’s “Small Town Heroes,” stitching her husky vocals into a thickly textured weave of Latin and funk rhythms, surf-toned guitar, bomba drumming and doo-wop harmony while tracking musical alter ego Navita’s ventures to fictional places (“Rican Beach”) and real-life themes of ancestry, immigration and meaningful purpose in life. hurrayfortheriffraff.com