Subtitled "Sounds From Shangri-la," which could erroneously scare off anybody who ever sat through the ghastly 1973 musical remake of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, Rough Guide to the Music of the Himalayas gathers together a varied assortment of music from the high altitudes and plunging valleys of Tibet, Nepal, and Ladakh. Centuries of geographical and political isolation have preserved some traditions virtually intact, while others have been exported to the West via the perceptions of well-meaning and/or culturally rapacious musical tourists. The 13 tracks range from folklore and devotional styles to the sort of new age pastiches one imagines might cling to the inner ear of a frost-bitten, oxygen-deprived Sherpa somewhere on Mount Everest. Wisconsin-born guitarist Steve Tibbetts supplies a pair of the latter. He sits in with a husky sweet-voiced singing nun named Choying Drolma, and if the resulting collaboration has its cloying, aging-hippie moments, it is also rather charming in an aggressively mellow way. On the more authentic side, a field recording of the cloistered inhabitants of a Buddhist nunnery perform a looping a cappella chorale, exhibiting unexpected overtones and a cyclical, repetitive momentum that Philip Glass would certainly recognize. A nearly seven-minute sample of a bass-grounded, gradually ascending chant by monks from the Drete Dhargon at Drepong Monastery could, in the right hands, be one of the most effective lease-breakers of all time. Many music lovers would not expect to have much fun listening to a compilation from this part of the world, but should they decide to give it chance, they would be agreeably surprised.
AllMusic Review by Christina Roden