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Sam Shalabi, "Eid"

cover image The looming silhouettes of the pyramids on the cover give some idea of what to expect on Sam Shalabi's latest release. Born in Egypt and finished in Canada, Eid is an eclectic and ecstatic album. Each track sounds like it was pulled from a local radio station in Cairo yet no two pieces sound like they came from the same station. Shalabi fuses Western and Arabic music without straying into trite, watered-down fusion territories.

 

Alien8

Sam Shalabi - Eid

Given the recent explosion in interest in Arabic, African and Middle Eastern music thanks to labels like Sublime Frequencies and the almost rabid reissue schedule of '70s Turkish psychedelica, it is hard to not compare Shalabi to these seemingly never ending scores of artists. I must admit, he compares quite favourably as he hits a lot of buttons that a lot of these other releases do not. Firstly, the quality of the recording is obviously far superior and secondly, the druggy nature of the music captures my ear to a far stronger degree than many of the Turkish bands that have been unearthed in recent years.

"Jessica Simpson" takes the white hot guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix and White Light/White Heat era Lou Reed and transposes it to another continent. (Take the quotation marks out of that sentence and you get a dizzying thought.) I do not know if Shalabi himself plays this solo, as there is a list as long as my arm of performers in the sleeve notes, but whoever is hitting those guitar strings knows what they are doing. This is followed by "Eid," a very different piece altogether. Repetitive melodies go in and out of sync with each other, stringed instruments sounding like they are bending space around them. The effect is mesmerising on a number of levels.

Unfortunately, the album dips in quality with a couple of somewhat pedestrian pieces. In fairness, anything coming after that title track is always going to come off worse. However, it is not all downhill as Shalabi brings things back on track with "Billy the Kid." Elizabeth Anka Vajajick's vocals sound strong but in danger of falling apart, like there is only so much emotion that can be forced through a human throat.

Overall, Eid is a patchy but frequently brilliant album. When it is good, it burns like an immense bonfire and at its weakest it at least still gives off enough light and heat to keep the listener close. Its huge cast of players (over 30 contributors) is both its greatest asset and its downfall; dozens of styles and instruments are used but even if this approach works, it causes the album to stumble from time to time. Still, it is difficult to let these faults mar the better points of Eid. On the strength of its best tracks, this album is well worth investigating, even if it is a track by track dissection from an online download vendor.

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Review of the Day

DEVENDRA BANHART, "REJOICING IN THE HANDS"
Young God
He possesses the unkempt street-hustler looks of Vincent Gallo, the psychotic vulnerability of Syd Barrett, the spooked lonesomeness of Skip Spence, the instrumental dexterity of Robin Williamson, the naïve sincerity of Tiny Tim, and a voice that sounds like a cross between Marc Bolan's early T. Rex warble and the evocative wail of Karen Dalton. After his superlative debut Oh Me Oh My..., many were quick to heap praise on Devendra Banhart, hailing the 23-year old singer-songwriter as a peerlessly original voice. With such obvious musical precedents for Banhart's intimate, acoustic songcraft, this adulation seems a bit overstated. Despite what has been said, Devendra Banhart hasn't reinvented the wheel. He has, however, used his considerable lyrical and melodic gifts to create a handful of idiosyncratic recordings that speak volumes for his songwriting talent. Oh Me Oh My... was immediately distinctive not only because of Banhart's quavering vocal delivery and incredible fingerstyle, but also because of its willfully low-budget recording aesthetic; the songs were self-recorded live-to-tape on sub-par cassette recorders, Dictaphones and answering machines. Two years on, Devendra Banhart has achieved a modicum of success, championed by Michael Gira, with a home on his Young God label. Although Banhart and Gira could easily have opted for an artificially studied recreation of the low-fidelity distortion and tape hiss of the demo reel, the right choice was made on Rejoicing in the Hands to present the performer in a simple, clean studio recording. The tracks on this new album sound every bit as live and spontaneous as the Oh Me Oh My... sessions, but the technical advantages of the studio recording highlight every velvety pluck of the guitar strings and every nuanced vibration of Devendra's labored vocals. Because these songs are refreshingly free of extraneous debris and contain only minimal, unobtrusive backing, Rejoicing is a marvelous showcase for Banhart's songs and performances. Each track is a miniature masterpiece; few exceed the three-minute mark, but each has the immediacy and resonance of déjà vu, as if Banhart was pulling from some vast collective-subconscious archive of archetypal sing-along folk melodies. His lyrical themes are fascinating as always, strange re-combinations of dime-store mysticism, humorous reverie and the odd fanciful passage of surreal wordplay. On the title track, he is joined by the legendary Vashti Bunyan, the elusive songstress who recorded the acid-folk classic Just Another Diamond Day and promptly disappeared from view. Their lovely duet is an affectionate homage to the placid simplicity of the 60's British folk revival. - 

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