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Album Review

Coming off the triumph of his brilliant Edge of Heaven album (on which he adapted vintage Chinese pop music to a modern and often blues-flavored idiom), guitar god Gary Lucas is back with a duo effort featuring Indian singer Najma Akhtar. And while Rishte is a very enjoyable album, it doesn't quite achieve the same level of transcendence as Edge of Heaven did. It may be because the blues blends better with Chinese pop music — which, like the blues, tends to center around pentatonic melodies — than with Indian music, the fundamental hallmark of which is enormous melodic complexity. Granted, Indian music shares with the blues a tendency toward slides and microtonal ornaments, but still: asking a singer like Akhtar to tackle Skip James' "Special Rider Blues" is a bit like asking Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to sing "Happy Birthday." The bends and tonal shadings of the blues are like nursery rhymes compared to the epic poetry of Indian microtonal elaboration. At its best, though, this album really does soar. Those moments include the utterly beautiful title track, on which Akhtar's sung melody is both keening and sweet over a lovely accompaniment of acoustic guitar and tabla, and the hair-raising "Parda," on which Akhtar is given free rein to really show off her astounding skills and crystal-clear voice. And it goes without saying that Lucas' guitar playing is brilliant throughout.

Rishte, Najma Akhtar
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