Already a star in Canada and France, the gifted singer/songwriter Lhasa sets her sights on America with this remarkable multi-cultural effort. The Living Road, the follow-up to her 1998 debut, features her smoky vocals (in French, English, and Spanish) in front with wonderfully understated support that draws upon Mexican folk styles, French chansons, Spanish ballads, and modern-sounding songwriters like Joe Henry or Jim White. The accompaniment is exceptional, but it's Lhasa's voice and lyrics that set her apart. Whereas fellow Mexican-American singer Lila Downs dives into large cultural and political issues, this modern-day torch singer sings about intensely personal experiences and inner thoughts--much of the lyrics are sung in the first person or directed toward another, as if she's writing a letter to a lover. Her sensual phrasing perfectly fits the intimate subject matter, particularly when she sings in French, while her husky timbre exudes inner strength that beyond question. Six years is a long time between albums, but The Living Road was worth the wait.--Tad Hendrickson
Lhasa de Sela's debut album, "La Llorona", appeared quietly 6 years ago.Her voice on that record came over like some ancient matriarch in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel; heartbroken songs from a long life of exodus and lost love, offering ominous warnings of the weirder, darker corners of the human heart.
Incredibly, Lhasa was only 19 at the time of its release, and now, after a long wait, its successor has arrived. It's a more ambitious record, with a very different feel. There's still the irresistible languid ache and yearning in Lhasa's voice, but the album's overall sound is more contemporary.
Her collaborators on this record, Montreal-based musicians Francois Lalonde and Jean Massicotte, have blended an impressive variety of styles to complement Lhasa's intimate, beguiling voice.Arrangements of the songs move between surging orchestral settings and electronic pulses and breaks, with sounds of the sea, the circus, and the wild west.It's music to conjure rich and magical imaginings by.
Lhasa's roots extend through Mexico, Canada and the States, and the songs on "The Living Road" reflect this.With lyrics in French, Spanish and English, as well as a very natural-sounding combination of all kinds of musical traditions, it crosses borders in various ways.There's a weariness in all the wandering though, and an undercurrent of cultural dislocation.It's as if the record is an attempt to find harmony in the bewildering chaos and pace of a modern, urban world.
Apocalyptic shadows darken Lhasa's songwriting. In the prayer-like "Soon This Space Will Be Too Small" (the album's last song), she asks to be released from the cruelties of the world. The song is performed with a passion that is Lhasa's hallmark and this passion is the reason her music will one day reach a much wider audience. --Malachy O'Neill
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