Danny Michel and the Benque Players Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me

Danny Michel and the Benque PlayersBlack Birds Are Dancing Over Me
The rootsy pop of prolific Canadian singer-songwriter Danny Michel has earned him a large and loyal following. He takes a significant stylistic detour on this, his tenth studio album, with superb results. The Benque Players are a group of musicians from Belize, and the album was recorded on their home turf. The resulting fusion of Western pop and world music brings Paul Simon's Graceland to mind. There was a slight whiff of cultural expropriation in Simon's work, however, but there's no such aroma lingering on Black Birds. This is clearly a collaboration between equals, as shown by the willingness of Michel (himself a top-notch producer) to hand production duties over to Ivan Duran (a Belizean studio owner/musician/producer with a strong reputation in world music circles). Backing vocals, horns, Gaifuna drums and a wide range of percussion instruments merge seamlessly with Michel's sweet voice and well-crafted material. "Just the Way I Am" and "The First Night" are tender love songs, "Into the Light" is richly rhythmic and "Break It You Buy It" is a dynamic, apocalyptic eco-protest song ("Where do we go when the world runs out?"). The only minor flaw is the disc's brevity: just over 31 minutes. Like that pitcher of sangria, it disappears a bit too quickly. For those us who can't afford a winter vacation in Central America, this gem is a lovely musical substitute. (Six Shooter)