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Najma Akhtar and Gary Lucas
Rishte
World Village ( www.worldvillagemusic.com)

A blend of India and blues? Why not? Many a more far-fetched fusion has succeeded. Besides, vocalist Najma Akhtar and guitarist Gary Lucas have always been amenable to stretching out, with Akhtar’s heavenly wail nailing everything from ghazals to techno to a collaboration with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and Lucas providing picking for artists as diverse as Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley. Rishte is actually a simple affair: Lucas’ guitars and Akhtar’s voice are joined only by a rotating trio of tabla players, violin on two tracks and an occasional drone, and it’s the stripped-down approach that makes the album pure dynamite. The two main ingredients play off each other with a mixture of familiarity and surprise, not only in the way Lucas’ spirited playing often jolts Akhtar and the tabla accompaniment to a level funkier than even Bollywood, but how Akhtar returns the favor by bringing out a more finessed side of Lucas that could have him matching chops with any Indian classical master.

There’s a natural ease to the whole project that kept putting me in mind of the hookups between Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara, and like those blues-goes-home-to-Africa albums, Rishte is more than what you might assume the sum of its parts to be. That is, until you listen and discover the silky elegance of Akhtar’s Indian roots intact even in the face of Lucas adding sounds that’d be a good fit with bluegrass, folk rock or some of the experimental stuff he’s done in the past. Most of the songs are sung in Urdu, with a couple of English-language spellbinders (a way cool cover of Skip James’ “Special Rider Blues” and “Soul Taker,” a delightfully creepy ballad of the supernatural) thrown in for more than good measure. Call this “Indian Blues” if you’re seeking an easy label, but it’s really just a marriage of words (written mainly by Akhtar) and music (courtesy of Lucas) that happens to be especially harmonious. -Tom Orr

CD available from cdRoots

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CD available from cdRoots

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