The Unseen Guest,
Out There
(High on Chai, 2004)

What do you get when you blend guitars and tablas? Piano and mridangam? Irish and Indian musicians?

If you do it right, you get a unique and exotic blend of music. You get the Unseen Guest, and a very interesting mix it is.

The group came about when Declan Murray met Amith Narayan while he was traveling in South India in 2002. The two became friends, teaming up later to jam, busk and sing in Mumbai, where Amith was based.

As the bio on their web page explains: "Later in the year, while Declan was still on the road, Amith sent him an email, suggesting recording an album mixing Indian music with Western. Declan, busy working at the bottom rung of the Australian job ladder, was only too happy to accept. The following year they met up again in Amith's hometown of Calicut in Kerala, assembled a rotating cast of local musicians, and set to work on recording their debut album."

Though you'll hear hints of the familiar, the music they make is unusual, primarily because of the blending of traditional Indian instruments with Western structure. It's exotic and pleasant, music you'll want to come back to time after time. Melodic vocal harmonies in the lyrics by Declan are easy to listen to in tracks like "Let Me In," "Listen My Son" and "Out There." And purely instrumental bits like "Mangala Express" are richly hypnotic.

This debut album features Murray on lead vocals, guitar, bass guitar, slide, piano and bongos. Narayan adds harmony vocals, guitar, veena, mandolin and bass guitar. Backup is provided by a number of Indian musicians playing traditional instruments such as the tabla, dholak and mridangam (all percussion instruments) as well as the more familiar mandolin, violin, harmonica and even -- would you believe? -- a harmonium.

Though the music is structurally Western, the blend of instruments makes it totally different than anything to which you may be accustomed. Some tracks remind me of R.E.M., others of Ravi Shankar. Artists are sometimes offended by such random comparisons, and rightly so. All artists want to be recognized for their own quality and uniqueness. And this disc offers both quality and uniqueness.

For my part, I hope this is the first of many albums.

- Rambles
written by John R. Lindermuth
published 7 May 2005

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