The Lady and the Legend

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As the too-brief liner note explains, at the time of this release, Fairuz's career had been going for more than 50 years. Considering her popularity in the Arab world, and that this British compilation is probably aimed toward Western listeners who might not have more than a passing acquaintance with Fairuz (if that), it's inexcusable that there are no recording/release dates, and little supplementary information, for the 15 tracks included on this CD. This is not the carping of a music geek obsessed with minutiae; this kind of thing is necessary, at a minimum, for placing this extract from a five-decade career of an internationally popular vocalist in some kind of context for those who might not be too familiar with her work. It seems likely, however, that much of the material was recorded not long before the 2005 release date of this disc, which might make it a useful anthology for some purposes, but hardly makes it an ideal introduction or career overview. Taken on its own terms, this is interesting if uneven music, not only for the melismatic Middle Eastern melodies and Fairuz's gentle, somewhat reserved singing, but also for the varied accompaniment. At times, the mix is so hazy and the orchestral arrangements so loose that it almost sounds as if unrelated backing tracks are bleeding into the background; at others, there's an uninviting layer of treacly middle-of-the-road pop that never quite subsumes her Lebanese roots; and yet others seem much more grounded in more traditional Middle Eastern sounds. While the usual mood is that of somewhat sad balladry, there are incongruous, almost off-the-wall items like a cut comprised of nothing but segments of a recording session and the jaunty, accordion-based "Yes-Ed Sabahak (Good Morning)," which seems almost certain to predate the tracks on the rest of the CD by quite a ways. There's some music of merit here, but it hardly seems like the sort of coherent anthology that an artist of Fairuz's stature deserves.

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