Various Artists

One Voice: Vocal Music from Around the World

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One of the earliest offerings from the World Music Network, this album runs from continent to continent finding (usually) unaccompanied vocal music, much along the lines of some of the early Putumayo releases, tied by the method of delivery rather than locale. What this album then loses by way of its schizophrenic tendencies, though, is made up for by becoming an excellent sampler of music from at least three continents. The album opens at its southernmost point with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and some excellent mbube, followed immediately by another of the more distinctive styles: Bulgarian polyphonic singing, courtesy of three former members of the masterful Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares ensemble. A bit of Billy Bragg precedes a trio of British folksingers. In "Ever Widening Circles of Remorse," one gets to hear an interesting combination of acappella with a cowboy singer of sorts fronting a group of Motown harmonizers. Italian, Finnish, and French singers burst through with varying levels of excitement, followed by a drum-accompanied piece of morning work music from pearl divers in Bahrain as they search their oysters for pearls. For a four-song stretch, the focus turns to the U.K. again with Joe Heaney, the Silly Sisters, Eliza Carthy (daughter of Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy), and the great Gaelic singer Talitha MacKenzie. After this seeming lull in energy, the mood shifts gears back up with a piece from South Africa courtesy of Black Umfolosi and a Tahitian youth group that has some decent punch in their harmonies. Tuvan throat singing luckily makes an appearance as one of the most distinctive singing styles there is to be heard. The monks of the Schechen Tennyid Dhargyeling Monastery add another form of overtone singing to the album. Turning the corner slyly back to Europe with a segue, another group of monks take over with Gregorian chant. Finally, the album closes with the gospel group Sweet Honey in the Rock. The album overall doesn't exactly make sense musically, except that it showcases the human voice in many elements and contexts as the primary instrument. As such, it does a service to the voice in showcasing its versatility and beauty, but also has trouble setting a consistent atmosphere for the album. Pick it up as a sampler of sorts, but perhaps not as a stand-alone compilation.

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