Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Yungchen Lhamo's second album for RealWorld is an intriguing and sometimes difficult work. Boldly moving away from the solo voice that dominated her first CD, she and producer Hector Zazou have constructed a complex set of songs that range from ritual to pop, utilizing semiclassical strings along with electric and acoustic guitar, with a very light touch of electronic ambiance. Zazou has an incredible ability to create dense layers of sound that never interfere with the central character of a piece--in this case the wide-ranging vocals of Tibetan singer Lhamo. The sounds gently usurp other cultures, with many musical references to India and China at the forefront, but jazz and European folk enter into the scheme, too. Perhaps one of the key pieces is "Heart," with an almost surreal Finnish kantele (zither) linked to the sky by some indefinable drones and terse violin lines. There are some clichéd jazz guitar lines here and there, and the occasional drift into New Age "mood" music, but these elements survive because we are presented with a voice of such distinct character and grace. Lhamo is a singer of beauty and control, and Zazou has found a setting for Lhamo's voice that surpasses expectation.