Susheela Raman,
Music for Crocodiles
(Narada, 2006)

If your jaded tastes are in need of something different, this album may be the answer.

Born in England of South Indian parents, Susheela Raman grew up in Australia but was immersed from a very young age in Tamil culture. She began giving recitals in South Indian music at an early age. In her teens, she became interested in more blues-based music, which demanded different voice techniques.

After studying in India, she returned to England where she started working with Sam Mills, who had previously recorded with a Bengali singer and a West African group. After considerable experimentation they were able to find a means of blending South Indian and western influences into a cohesive and enthralling musical adventure.

Music for Crocodiles is the third result of their collaboration. It's a deft blend, offering lyrics in both Tamil and English, featuring classical Indian instruments along with the more familiar guitar, mandolin, violin, cello and organ and skillfully weaving the Carnatic influence into a finger-snapping pop beat.

But, it's her sultry vocals that really bind it all together. Whether she's singing in English, French or Tamil, her smooth voice is entrancing. There are more songs in English on this album than on the previous two, Salt Rain and Love Trap, and the lyrics seem more geared toward a western audience. The title track and several following it are, in essence, pure rock. Yet, there is still room for the unexpected, and tracks like "Idi Samayan" and "Sharavana" offer enough of the exotic to retain the mood of the earlier recordings.

In addition to Mills on guitar, back up includes Hilaire Penda, bass; Djanuno Dabo, percussion; Aref Durvesh, tabla; Cheick Tidiane Seck, organ; and a host of talented Carnatic musicians.

by John R. Lindermuth
27 January 2007

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