Susheela Raman - Love Trap
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Susheela Raman
Love Trap
Narada (www.narada.com)

cd cover This second release from Anglo-Tamil singer Susheela Raman resonates with a perplexing beauty, rooted as much in the playful, innovative production in which her breathy vocals are set as in the vocals themselves. Raman's voice is a marvel, precise even when swooping between quarter-tones, its natural reedy gentleness effortlessly transformed into raw power in accordance with obscure and surprising compositional logics intuitively abetted by the supporting production, dense with both traditional instruments and modern effects.

On the title track, a rush of synthesized drone ushers in a laid-back bongo-rocking lounge ambience, Raman's slurred vocal insinuating in middle reverb distance, more suggestive of the main theme for a late-sixties James Bond film than the Ethiopian tune on which it is modeled; silly but fetchingly so, a daring triumph over tackiness. On "Sarasa," a gently rolling African rhythm based on quiet, bouncy acoustic guitar and a lagging, slushy trap drum, Raman's calmly passionate vocal discovers an echo, both twin and complement, in Djanuno Dabo's alternating verses. "Amba" provides a haunting, dramatic march, Raman's swoops and quarter-tones suggesting a honeyed dalliance, a lassitude only achievable by the greatest craft, Radik Tiullush's Tuvan throat-singing and otherworldly Igil fiddle luring the center of the tune into deep mystery.

The dramatic and compelling "Manasuloni" is possessed by a driving, galloping beat and clanging electric guitar chords, Raman's vocal contraposing a compulsive languor, following the changes in rhythm so tightly that it seems to be donning and casting them off like clothes. Over the insistent jazzy instrumental bed of "Half Shiva Half Shakti," Raman suggests a dissonant fury without resorting to either dissonance or fury, the center dominated by thrilling Karnatic vocal percussion exercises cast as ominous group rap. The final track, "Blue Lily Red Lotus," starts with a drone reminiscent of the intro to the title track, tuned tabla tarang leading into vocal melody featuring some lovely high notes, the whole suspended in frozen time, finally shattered by an accelerating frenzy of percussion to the end.

Love Trap has set me thinking about the role of lyrics in world music, a term itself understandable only when applied by listeners outside the music's home culture, a term of exoticism. Raman sings only two tracks in English, the remainder of her lovely vocalizing thoroughly incomprehensible to most listeners, including myself, an invitation to enjoy her voice unconstrained by meaning. Her surprisingly faithful cover of Joan Armatrading's "Save Me" fails to break this spell, perhaps because Armatrading's lyrics are so gnomic and vague. But the title track, with its pellucid celebration of love as lust, seems grating to me, precisely because I am required to confront linguistic meaning and am thus constrained in my enjoyments. Like the English transcriptions of other songs printed in the liner notes, this comes to seem a distracting imposition.

Fortunately, the haunting beauty of Love Trap is sufficient to quell such concerns, encouraging compulsive listening, although few of us can aspire to actually sing along with Susheela Raman. - Jim Foley

Available from cdRoots


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