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Third-time plucky

music Updated: Apr 16, 2012 11:27 IST
Amitava Sanyal
Amitava Sanyal
Hindustan Times
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Rabbi III
Third album written and performed by Rabbi Shergill
Universal, Rs 150
Rating: ****

Indie nomad Rabbi Shergill has come out with his third harvest in seven years, an album named III. The title is apparently a tribute to one of Rabbi's idols, Led Zeppelin, the band that named its first four albums by their order of publication. Rabbi wasn't so orderly with his earlier titles. His sound, too, has evolved. But at the heart of it seems to be the same old plucky sardar.

Rabbi hits us with a surprising mix of influences: some solid rock lining, a rare dose of cabaret burlesque, some Punjabi dhol back-up, and some riffs reminiscent of his first album.

As with his earlier works, Rabbi has wrangled remarkable production work on this album too. The recording and mixing bring out a breathtaking clarity and balance. If there is one thing I miss it is a translation of the Punjabi lyrics, a trick that helped Rabbi's first album gain a wide listenership. It's all the more important because Rabbi is a political animal, an emotional versifier, and, to enhance the effect, a rare bard with a rare beard. One needs his words.

The first song's leitmotif — 'You swim in my Ganga, you swim in my Yamuna/ Your forehead is the open sky' — sets the tone. 'Cabaret Weimar' is a dhol-lined, vamped-up parody that could star in a tongue-in-cheek Punjabi version of the film Moulin Rouge, if it ever could be dreamt up, and comes complete with a pitch shift four-fifths of the way in.

The incantative 'Tu hi', the pedal pushing 'Tu hai khubsurat' and the guitar-themed 'Zero dubidha' all come from a mature rock stock. In the liner note for 'Aadhi kranti', Rabbi says with characteristic naughtiness: “... My Mesa Boogie Lonestar (amp) drove the nice English lady upstairs to tears and cop-calling.” The next track, the melancholic 'Song for Picku', comes as a nice foil.

This tight album is unlikely to be as popular as Rabbi's first one; but then, those who like it might treasure it more.

Food For lounge Lizards
Lounge seems to be creeping into the shelf space being vacated by Sufi. But despite the mini revival, there hasn't been much to get excited about. The anodyne Anoushka Shankar, the ambitious Karsh Kale, and even the venerable Hariprasad Chaurasia have not given us music that's likely to last. It's more departure lounge than arrival.

Together, an album featuring Talvin Singh on tabla and Niladri Kumar on sitar, brings a whiff of freshness into this market with a spare sound, some modern phrasing of Hindustani classical tunes, and trip-happy tempos.

The best feature is the duo's clear and patient storytelling. The sitar-only 'Pink', for example, drips with sexual longing. The tabla-only 'Play', on the other hand, conjures up a skipping child. The clapping in 'Ananta' transports you to a mirrored dance hall. And it's all conveyed without a word — that's the secret of this album's success.

Talvin Singh's tabla meets Niladri Kumar's sitar
EMI, Rs 395
Rating: ****

Flyte takes off
Online store Flipkart launched its MP3 service, Flyte, last month. Digital music is already a sizeable chunk of sales for all big producers, but there isn't any robust digital distribution channel except Nokia's Ovi store. With its clean look and prices of RS 9-15 a pop, Flyte could be to the PC-accessed internet what Ovi is to the mobile apps market.

Digital distribution is changing our listening by taking us back to the early days of vinyl records, to the era of singles. Listeners no longer have to buy whole albums to get the one song they want. (On the other hand, they do not have the pleasure of serendipity that a well-laid album can provide.)

The trend also frees your reviewer from the drudgery of having to go on about albums one doesn't want to. For example, the only track from the new Sajid-Wajid soundtrack, Housefull 2, I want to talk about is the item number, 'Anarkali disco chali' ( Mamta Sharma's affected drawl is like the ornate, capricious movements of a female flamenco dancer in front of the somewhat rigid, predictable strutting of Sukhwinder, the male in the duet.

But the song's tune isn't half as exciting as its words, which have a Jugni-like free spirit built in. Sameer's lyrics — 'Chhod chhaad ke apne Saleem ki gali, Anarkali disco chali' — are as mischievous as they are empowering. Sample some more: 'Beat ko top kara de/ Thoda sa trance baja de/ Mujhko ik chance dila de/ Main ghoom loon, main jhoom loon.'

Rather than treating the woman as an object of the male gaze, as most item numbers do, it projects her as someone who knows her mind, claims her space and commands the dance floor. What a way to go!