The Unseen Guest
When most people go travelling, the prevailing reason given to parents, relatives, and friends alike is “I’m going to find myself”. However, after several weeks on the backpacking trail the most the modern day traveller finds are hoards of other travellers, oversized cockroaches with flip flop repellent armour, and a touch of the Delhi bellies.
Not so for Declan Murray as, when travelling through South India with his $5 guitar, he bumped into Amith Narayan and musical sparks began to glow. Move the clock forward a year and finding himself in a dead end job in Australia, Declan was more then happy to answer Amith’s call to ignite those musical sparks and promptly set off on a three month trek to Calicut in Kerala. The result is a global collaboration fusing elements of western lyrical delivery and chord progressions with eastern musical atmosphere into one of those albums that is so peppered with originality that it virtually carves out it’s own genre.
Disclaimer: Now, before I continue, I have a small confession to make. Looking at the album sleeve notes I soon realised that I didn’t have a clue as to what half the instruments used on this album actually do or sound like. While I can safely blame this on my distinctly western roots, it still leaves me none the wiser as to what a mridangam, a dholak, or even a ganjra actually sound like (even though I like to think the last one describes some sort of modified bong). Suffice to say that I would like to apologise up front for the clearly incorrect references to bongos, accordions, and the like…
Starting with a simple acoustic guitar, ‘Let Me In’ begins by blending in the bongos (sorry) and an eastern tinged string section, which gently wraps itself around the guitar’s main melody. As the song develops the strings become more integral to the tune by adding either a punchy feel or a laid back atmosphere in exactly the right places. Holding this all together is Amith’s delightfully discerning walking bass-line which manages to keep the tempo of the song both relaxed and interesting leaving Declan’s JJ Cale like vocals to their throaty, yet smooth delivery. All combined this is a perfect tone setter for the rest of the album, as the effortless blend of global influences work together to create something beautifully different yet eminently accessible.
‘In The Black’ carries on from where ‘Let Me In’ finished only this time the music leans more towards western blues, albeit with that distinct eastern flavour. The lyrics on the other hand are strictly universal. ‘I’m not asking for charity, just help me till the next time I get paid’ is the sort of lament which could quite conceivably be heard from a post Xmas consumer debt ridden underclass as it could from third world workers on a pittance a day (though i’m not for one minute saying their circumstances are the same).
However, social comments aside, if we are talking blues then the one track that stands out is ‘Listen My Son’. This is a as a real deep south foot tapper with a swamp tinged guitar and the sort of thigh slapping beat that conjures images of watching the world go by from the comfort of your front porch while tinkling out a tune on that old beaten up acoustic.
‘Out There’, on the other hand, is a completely different tune. Dancing along with the tempo of French cafi music it even manages to fit what sounds like an accordion (but probably isn’t) in places. However, this is a song about sticking two fingers up at the rat race, getting off the sofa, and getting out there to experience a completely different way of life. The distinctly bluesy chorus, gentle rhythm and poignant lyrics hark to place where deadlines don’t matter, political spin is ignored, and corporate bullshit is ineffectual, leaving those basic things in life to actually become important again.
In all this is the sort of album Sunday afternoons were made for. Relaxed in tempo, expansive in atmosphere, and provoking in thought. Perhaps my only criticism would be to request for a few more uptempo numbers which, judging by ‘Listen My Son’, they clearly enjoy doing. However, that said this is world music which has been around the world and come home carrying a lot of interesting mementos.
In short, a fascinating album which will appeal to all those with a streak of independence, a desire for free thought and a laid back attitude to life.
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