Lal Meri / self-titled
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2009, Volume 16, #7
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Tue July 7, 2009, 10:30 PM CDT
Over the last few years, San Francisco’s Six Degrees has issued a number of interesting albums. From Cheb i Sabbah’s electronic re-creations of Indian devotional music to Niyaz’s flirtations with Sufi dance tunes, the company fearlessly has allowed its artists to explore the intersection between modern and traditional sounds from all corners of the globe.
At first glance, the self-titled debut from Lal Meri seemed to fit seamlessly into Six Degrees’ mold. For starters, Carmen Rizzo — the group’s primary writer, mixer, and producer — also works with Niyaz. In addition, the band appropriated its name from an ancient Sufi folk song. Finally, there is nothing in the resumés of Lal Meri’s other two members — multi-instrumentalist Ireesh Lal, who previously worked with Hot Sauce Johnson and Animastik, and Nancy Kaye, a jazz singer with two previous releases under her belt — to suggest that their collaborative effort would deviate significantly from Six Degrees’ standard formula. Yet, there is something in the alchemy of how these three creative forces make music together that has resulted in a wonderfully engaging world beat album.
Stylistically, Lal Meri’s songs are somewhat scattered. Somehow, though, they manage to hang together in a compositional sense while maintaining the interest of the listener. This is partly due to the fact that most of the tracks on Lal Meri’s eponymous endeavor are sung in English. To this end, Kaye is a very accomplished and confident vocalist who uses her jazz training to slide seamlessly in and out of Middle Eastern motifs. At times, she sounds a bit like Beth Orton — the British singer/songwriter who sparked a movement in the late 1990s by successfully mixing folk and electronica. At other moments, Kaye’s voice is reminiscent of a cabaret singer from the ’50s who has been trapped in a Turkish border town for so long that her music has started to echo the local Sufis in the corner coffee bar.
Perhaps without intending it, Lal Meri has found the missing link between Western European and Middle Eastern popular song. On every one of the 11 tracks on its debut, listeners can hear stylistic mélanges that never sound forced or feel poorly conceived. On some cuts like More Songs for the Moon, warm, bebop-influenced bass lines encounter ouds and tablas. Elsewhere, as Kaye convincingly sings in a Gazal style, the title tune plays like a lost Bollywood classic. On Give Me Your Light, trumpet phrases that were drawn from Miles Davis’ repertoire intersect with fractured, dub-influenced verses, all of which resolves in gentle, trip-hop grooves.
In the end, none of this deconstruction adequately describes the music that the members of Lal Meri have worked so hard to create. More than most other bands of its type, the group has successfully used its disparate influences to concoct a style of music that is unique and all its own. ½
Of Further Interest...
Lal Meri is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box