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Serious Tam
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cd cover As the global market for musical variety continues to mature and broaden, it reaches ever further afield in search of novelty. George Telek's eponymous Papua New Guinea ensemble demonstrates the potential benefits, offering manifold satisfactions to the musical thrill seeker. The traditional core of vocal and percussion on Serious Tam exerts a simple yet profound power, especially on the more deliberate tracks, with swelling, climactic choruses. Guitar and bass are pleasingly integrated into the mix; the synthetic and electronic contributions are self-effacing, and limited to grace notes and gap filling. Telek's own tenor vocals are disciplined, articulate, soulful, and powerfully supported by an excellent chorus.

"Midal" sets the strategy for the most effective songs on the recording: gently rolling strummed bass and deep drums beneath Telek's slightly nasal vocal, accompanied by restrained falsetto harmony on verses, the drums waxing urgently on the chorus as vocals coalesce into stirring, simple melody, circled by haunting aspirations, nearly visible auditory ghosts on the wind. "Bunaik" begins with a slow, assured percussion shuffle featuring tuned logs, with Telek's breathy, astringent vocal once again unfolding into power and depth on the chorus, the harmonic density of the vocals simultaneously given flight by string-like synth and grounded by the insistent tuned percussion. Deep, rumbling drums counterpoised against a rock-steady background strum emphasize the chanting, ritualistic melody of "Go Ralom," its dense harmonic delivery suggesting greetings to the rising sun. There are two versions of "Tolili," a fisherman's lullaby, the first sung solo by Telek, the second in a higher key, rendered majestic with driving drums and a flute. The quick bouncy drum romp and joyous melody of "Waitpela Gras" reveal the lighter side of Telek.

Serious Tam introduces a unique sound, simple yet dramatic, as suggestive of a Celtic trance as of Pacific styles. - Jim Foley

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