Azam Ali

Portals of Grace

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    8
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Every once in a while, a piece of unexpected beauty comes along. This album by the singer from Vas is just such a thing, mixing Sephardic and Arabic songs with medieval songs from France, Galicia, and beyond. While the idea might sound pretentious, the end product is delicate, heartfelt, and enduring. It could easily have fallen into the new age trap (and the atmospheric keyboard that opens "La Serena" seems to flirt briefly with it), but the playing and singing here are too real and emotional. Nor does it come close to Loreena McKennitt's fake Celtic; this is very carefully researched and thought-out. Ali has a gorgeous voice, the justifiable centerpiece of the record, but partner Greg Ellis offers strong, subtle support and the oud playing of Naser Musa is an eloquent joy throughout. Made for love -- no one is going to call this material wildly commercial -- it's a disc to return to time and again. A joy that manages to be both spiritual and earthy at the same time.

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