Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra's sensual vocals and intriguingly varied roots may carry just enough mystery and allure to unlock the elusive twin holy grails of crossover appeal and credibility. While an overly sophisticated production creates a crafted if suspiciously artificial Norah Jones-style supper club jazz context, her constantly shifting axis of musical influences and vocals that alternatively evoke Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Astrud Gilberto are rich enough to hold the attention and keep you guessing.
Mostly she sings in English, her intoxicating accent underlining the compelling charm of whistle-along opening track Beautiful Tango, but the roots that lurk beneath the surface provide the album's genuine heart. She sings Imik Si Mik in her native Berber language–beautifully–and though the North African influences are discreetly suggestive rather than overt, the assortment of flavours is not only fascinating, but sounds perfectly natural. Chunky gypsy guitar rhythms of a Django Reinhardt vintage undercut several of the tracks while Zahra sashays elegantly through the bluesy side of jazz interspersed with occasional excursions into a darker terrain. This move is marked most notably by the funkier backdrop of Set Me Free, the exceptionally weighty bassline that gives Kiss & Thrills such sinister undertones, the mounting rhythmic dance frenzy of Stand Up and the explosion of guitars that almost randomly invade her highly individual assault on rock'n'roll on Music.
There's even a touch of the McGarrigles on the lilting Don't Forget and she's clearly a singer of such an instinctively chameleon style, gliding easily between genres and cultures, that you worry some of her uniqueness may have been discarded in a studio process seemingly geared to establishing the quickest path to broad appeal. This leaves a lurking suspicion that, as seductive as it mostly is, the album's pervading smoothness is contradictory and misleading. When she bares her teeth she sounds really special.
That said, it remains a hugely likeable and frequently transfixing album that shows off her considerable strengths both as a singer and songwriter. And it well exhibits myriad colourful influences, from Moroccan folk songs to New York bars, which have seemingly collided to shape her.
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