In the 21st century world of the Internet and digital downloads, the notion that recorded music can be an actual object as well as an auditory moment in time is rapidly becoming a quaint concept, and it changes to some extent the way recorded music travels through this world. These days, of course, it's stored on servers and portable handheld devices, gazillions of bytes of ones and zeros that are transferred mysteriously and sight unseen from one digital realm to another. But it wasn't always so. This wonderful, quirky, and fascinating anthology was compiled by Baltimore record shop owner Ian Nagoski from his personal collection of old 78s, brittle black discs made of ground stone, shellac and carbon that he found stacked and tucked away in countless thrift shops and attics. The 78s collected here were recorded all over the planet, from Bali to Scotland, and had somehow found their way into a stack of records in some dusty corner of a darkened attic, black mirrors, if you will, of their time in the world. That glorious feel of random and wondrous discovery is all over this set, and the music here is strange, beautiful, and rare in a way that will soon be impossible to replicate. Nagoski presents Syrian violinists, Balinese gamelan players and Chinese opera singers side by side, all of whom made recordings that then entered the world as actual objects and consequently traveled in simple and mysterious ways through that world until they came to rest in Nagoski's line of vision as he sifted through stacks of such objects, all of which also made their own journeys, touching lives at every leap in time and space. There's so much to marvel at here. Gong Belaloewana Bali's gamelan piece "Kebyar Ding, Pt. 1" sounds like a living and breathing music box fed through a giant bellows. Scottish Pipe Major Henry Forsyth's "Mallorca" is full of all the elegant sadness the human spirit can hold. The Paul Pendja Ensemble's zippy West African rhumba "Ngo Mebou Melane" is an explosion of joyous sound. Uilleann piper Patrick J. Touhey's "Drowsy Maggie" is nervous and vigorous, belying the tune's title. M. Nguyen makes his monochord dan bau sound like a gloriously demented slide guitar straight out of some Delta dream on "Nam Nhi-Tu," which was recorded in Saigon in the 1930s. Track after track on Black Mirror startles and delights, and the accumulation of all of it makes one wonder what other lost treasures, what other black mirrors of times and places and distant lives are stacked in the back of that old junk shop on the corner, for these pieces, in addition to being pleasures to listen to, are objects that have traveled and touched people along the way. That concept, that one can actually hand another a piece of music, a living, breathing piece of music created and captured in another time and place, and that that music can move from hand to hand and place to place until it is all but lost and half forgotten until someone like Nagoski rediscovers it, is fast slipping from our lives. Oh yeah, you can get on the web and do a virtual search, but this collection is for those who understand that virtual isn't exactly real. It is, by definition, only almost real. The selections on Black Mirror are real. They've traveled. They've been lost. They've been found. They live again and still as very real objects in this very real world.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett