The follow up to Sawhney's excellent "Beyond Skin" was made in a distinctive way, by trotting around the planet recording the local music that took his fancy. Thankfully the global samples he keeps are not touristy or clichéd. It's all in aid of an individual Sawhney sound. The string arrangements, silky-voiced female singers, and caresses of Sawhney's ever-present acoustic guitar, are all dripping with good taste. For example, the Indian singing tablas, and quivering strings on "Sunset" are just used for colour, leaving the overall vibe of a chilled, crisply produced R+B. If there's "fusion" going on here, I can't hear the seams.
Mingled with the soulful silk of songs like "Nothing", there's some engaging instrumentals. "Acquired Dreams" blends trip-hoppy Rhodes doodling with exotic flute and strings. "Moonrise" grabs even harder with its salsa groove and the intertwining Spanish voices of Cheb Mami and Nina Rocha Miranda. On "The Preacher", harmonica grinds and an insistent shuffle give a dark backdrop to Terry Callier's earnest soul singing. The most effectively simple song is the lickable ballad "Walk Away" featuring Nina Miranda's fragile voice decorated with the gentlest drops of piano. After yet another stylistic veer on the rap-metal "Ripping Out Tears", Sawhney's real personal treat is saved for the end. The title track is a masterpiece in dynamics, accelerating from its fractured beginning to a final frenzy, fuelled by Indian percussion.
The right-on message included with the packaging, questioning the nature of progress in society, isn't belaboured in the music. Even the "Street Guru" tracks, where a cab driver in Chicago (Jeff Jacob) muses about the inhumanity of modern city life, are made more entertaining by their nifty backing music. A sample of Nelson Mandela's voice appears on "Breathing Light", but this slinky flute-led instrumental, propelled by itchy beats, is oceans away from stadium rock political posturing. The only heavy-handed inclusion was the news clips of the Columbine shootings, as crude evidence that "developed world" is a misnomer. But the most important message, as Mandawuy Yunupingu says on "Developed", is that "music is the universal language".
June 9, 2005