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Heard round the world

Brazilian Lounge
Brazilian Lounge
By various artists

Putumayo World Music: 2006

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Turkish Groove
Turkish Groove
By various artists

Putumayo World Music: 2006

Buy it on CD now from Amazon.com
Buy it now




Paris
Paris
By various artists

Putumayo World Music: 2006

Buy it on CD now from Amazon.com
Buy it now


These reviews first appeared in Turbula in June 2006.

Back before iTunes and the Internet re-shaped the musical landscape (so we're talking, what, last year?), a popular pastime among hardcore music fans was to argue which label had the most impressive catalog – if you could have every album issued by any one label, which would it be?

Jazz fans would go back and forth over Blue Note vs. Verve, folkies would debate Rounder vs. Vanguard, blues hounds Alligator vs. Black Top, classical longhairs CBS vs. Angel.

But for world music, there is Putumayo and ... well, Putumayo. Not that there isn't a lot of really good international music on other labels, but Putumayo's brightly illustrated compilations are in a league of their own – as three of their most recent releases illustrate.

First, there is the geographic breadth of Putumayo's catalog. While most labels concentrate on one style or region – Afro-pop, say, or flamenco – Putumayo's staff clearly has an all-encompassing curiosity. While the current crop range from Paris to Turkey to Brazil, previous collections have taken in every corner of the world. Only the Rough Guides compilations have the same sort of geographic adventurousness, and their catalog isn't nearly as deep.

More importantly is how good each CD from Putumayo is – they do their homework. Their compilations have a track record of highlighting both acknowledged masters and talented up-and-comers of whatever style or region is the focus of a particular compilation. There is a bio of each artist, so if you are really smitten by a style or artist, you can use the Putumayo disc as a sort of jumping-off point for further exploration.

So on "Paris," we get a dozen tracks highlighting the contemporary café style known as nouvelle scene, descendant of the classic chanson. "Brazilian Lounge" captures the developing electronica scene in that music-rich nation, and "Turkish Groove" is an overview of current trends in Turkish pop.

Finally, there is the artwork – not since David Stone Martin at Verve and Miles Reid at Blue Note were giving their labels' 1960s jazz recordings a consistent feel has a label had such a distinctive look to its entire catalog. Putumayo's CD covers are the vision of artist Nicola Heindl, and are painted in bright colors with upbeat, sunny themes, making the label's releases immediately identifiable.

In 13 years, Putumayo has issued hundreds of compilations – not one has been a dog. Whether looking for an introduction to a favorite style of music or simply jumping into something new, you're unlikely to go wrong with any release from Putumayo.