RCA Victor / BMG
Please pardon the effusive nature of this review. I am absolutely bowled over by Mammas, by its rich texture made from four fine female vocalists, and by its impeccable arrangement and production by French musician Philippe Eidel. Mammas is a collaboration between Eidel and a remarkable group of women. Spain's Equidad Bares has been praised in this column before, for her warm yet slightly raw-edged voice and her formidable abilities as a writer. Italian Lucilla Galeazzi is new to me, a wonderful singerwho uses an ornamented vibrato against a simple, folky sound. Hayet Ayad is an Andalousian singer born of Algerian parents in Strasbourg. Deep tones and a passionate delivery are her hallmark. Yiota Vei comes from Greece and is by far the most dramatic of the quartet that form the basis of Mammas.
They are brought together by Philippe Eidel, whose production credits include a recent Khaled album and soundtracks for film makers Peter Brook and Eric Rohmer. He has assembled a remarkable orchestra of both modern and ancient instruments, from a full string section to hurdy-gurdy (Guy Bertand is outstanding!), accordion, saz and tanbur; from woodwinds, electric guitars and bass to frame drums and castanets. The production is nearly flawless, creating a swirling series of Mediterranean patterns that frame the singers, bringing them to the fore or pulling them back into complex layers of sound. They use those voices individually, and in combinations of two to six, finding unique sounds for each and every track on the album. The themes are passion and mythology, portrayed in sweeping songs that have roots in tradition but that are unbound by convention.
What this all comes down to is a new and unique musical image of a "Mediterranean culture," one that derives its power from various regional sources, but one that rises above any specific ethnic or national identification. It is music made on its own artistic terms. - Cliff Furnald
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