Natacha Atlas: Mounqaliba/In a State of Reversal (World Village)

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Natacha Atlas: Batkallim
Natacha Atlas: Mounqaliba/In a State of Reversal (World Village)

This great interpreter of Arabic music has made a number of appearances at Elsewhere for her sinuous voice and often remarkable songs. She could hold her own with TransGobal Undergrounds in the electronica-beat-driven world music end of the spectrum but her more traditional albums were much more persuasive.

This time out she goes for a broad conceptual piece with a large Turkish ensemble which brings together traditional songs, a version of Nick Drake's River Man which slides in seamlessly other than the noticeable feature of it being mostly in English, some originals and a version of Francoise Hardy's La Nuit est sur la Ville. 

Annoyingly however there are also spoken word interpolations (by various English-speaking "philosophers?") and interludes.

Musically this is as interesting as ever -- the chief player is string arranger and co-writer Samy Bishai -- and the discreet electronic touches (staccato chatter in Batkillam) act as a neat counterpoint to the swooning strings and Atlas' syrup-like melodic slides.

But with a few exceptions not much here really grips and those interludes ("show how a resource-based economy proposes direct solutions") sit at strange odds with the music. Sort of a concept album, but one with a very unclear agenda?

A disappointment. 

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