Concept Albums | The Essential 10 | Songlines
Monday, May 23, 2022

Concept Albums | The Essential 10

Nigel Williamson rounds up a list of great concept albums, from Nitin Sawhney's Beyond Skin to Angélique Kidjo's Remain in Light

Essential 10 Concept Albums

Hariprasad Chaurasia & Shivkumar Sharma

Call of the Valley EMI Hemisphere, 1995

This was conceived as an instrumental suite, tracking the day in a life of a shepherd; it’s a Kashmiri love story from dawn to dusk, conveyed via a series of exquisite ragas played by Sharma’s santoor and Chaurasia’s bansuri. Although essentially abstract, it works brilliantly as a concept purely by the music’s ability to create vivid moods and emotions.

Ry Cooder

Chávez Ravine Nonesuch, 2005

Utilising blues, ballads, various Mexican styles and songs in both English and Spanish, Cooder and a team of veteran Tex-Mex musicians including Lalo Guerrero and Flaco Jiménez evocatively tell the true tale of a Chicano neighbourhood in LA carelessly torn down in the 1950s to make way for a baseball stadium.

Debit

The Long Count Modern Love, 2022

Mexican-American producer Delia Beatriz (aka Debit) dives into the archives of the Mayan Studies Institute at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico to research ancient wind instruments of the Mayan civilisation for a suite of AI-triggered ambient soundscapes.

Read the Songlines review

Angélique Kidjo

Remain in Light Kravenworks Records, 2018

Talking Heads’ landmark 1980 album Remain in Light was deeply indebted to David Byrne and producer Brian Eno’s love of African rhythms. Angélique’s track-by-track reimagining of the original work began as a concert project, but she swiftly realised that circling the idea back to Africa felt so right that it demanded a studio recording to do the concept justice. 

Read the Songlines review

Seth Lakeman

A Pilgrim’s Tale BMG, 2020

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail, A Pilgrim’s Tale recounts the trials and tribulations of the passengers of the famous ship and the indigenous people they met when they arrived in the New World. 

Read the Songlines review

Liraz

Zan Glitterbeat Records, 2020

Liraz Charhi made Zan (Women) under clandestine conditions, covertly corresponding from her home in Israel with Iranian musicians, whose recordings were then smuggled out of the country. Adding electro beats and her own vocals in Farsi, she then created a sequence of songs paying tribute to the women of Iran, from child brides to freedom fighters. Her collaborators had to remain anonymous for their own safety, but Zan secured Liraz a Songlines Music Award

Read the Songlines review

Youssou N’Dour

Egypt Nonesuch, 2004

Recorded in Dakar and overdubbed in Cairo with oud and a classical orchestra, this Grammy-winning album not only pays tribute to the Egyptian music that Youssou heard growing up as a boy, but is also an homage to Islam and pan-African Sufism.

Our Native Daughters

Songs of Our Native Daughters Smithsonian Folkways, 2019

The racism and sexism experienced by African-American women down the ages is movingly explored by Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah. On a set of striking and intense songs, they draw on first-person slave testimonies and their own personal histories to create a narrative that is as much about resilience as it is about oppression. 

Read the Songlines review

Nitin Sawhney

Beyond Skin Outcaste, 1999

Ambitious and brilliantly executed, this album represented perhaps the finest flowering of the British-Asian scene of the late-1990s, as Sawhney, supported by a cast of guest vocalists, create a compelling suite addressing themes of identity and the search for self in a conflicted world. Full of lush and eclectic melodies, it remains a classic today.

Warsaw Village Band

Waterduction Karrot Kommando, 2020

Poland’s finest hit a broad and deep current with a set that sailed on the flows and eddies of the Vistula River, paying tribute to the unique culture of the ethnographic micro-region that has flourished around its fertile banks. ‘The river with its tributaries is like part of the bloodstream… We wanted to capture it in music,’ says singer and fiddle player Sylwia Świątkowska. 

Read the Songlines review

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