Sunday, July 26, 2009

MAMER - Eagle (Realworld)

A gentle and intriguing album of modernised rural balladry from the grasslands of central Asia. Mamer is an ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang in the west of China who once had a brief flirtation with world music fame when his alt-country group IZ drew the attention of former BBC broadcaster Andy Kershaw. Mamer's accomplished and reflective (if slightly patchy) new solo CD continues that folk feel. Centred around acoustic guitar and the dombra - a traditional Kazakh lute with two strings that possesses a harsh and earthy sound when strummed - the album is full of mild, undulating tunes bathed in a tastefully-configured arrangement of subtle studio effects, traditional instruments (jaw's harp ever-present, ghijek and kobuz fiddles probably under-used) and judicious electric guitar.
Mamer possesses a deep, even bass voice - often double-tracked - that rides tunes that owe more to bucolic Kazakhstan modes than that of high and plaintive Chinese folk. Highlights include Celebration, a dombra/banjo duet (or is that duel?) with Bela Fleck, and Proverbs, which is maybe a tad heavy on the programmed effects but rescued by a sonorous display of throat-singing by Hanggai's Ilchi. Best of all are the intertwining guitar and dombra and squawking jaw's harp on the title track, and Blackbird, a haunting sing-song Kazakh-folk sing-along with a nagging melody that feels like it's been around forever. You'll find yourself humming it for days after hearing it.
Elsewhere it gets slightly uneven, the production and 'modernising' approach perhaps having too much sheen for songs whose tunes and arrangements cry handle-with-care. A sparser, snappier approach to these nevertheless always-intriguing songs, with a stronger accent on the choppy sound of the dombra and subtleties of the fiddles, might have improved results slightly. A decent enough album - indeed excellent in place - but there's a lot more to come from this fascinating musician in future, one suspects.

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