Thunderous Mantras

Jai Uttal - Thunder Love
Jai Uttal – Thunder Love
Jai Uttal

Thunder Love (Nutone Records, 2009)

American musician Jai Uttal released several landmark world beat albums that combined traditional Indian music with western elements. A few years ago, Jai Uttal changed direction and his music became more spiritual. Uttal’s new release, Thunder Love, continues in that direction, revealing his passion for Hindu devotional chants.

Although Jai Uttal’s  music still shows clear Indian influences, his new material ventures into American folk, Brazilian music, mantras and electronica. The Brazilian influences in Jai Uttal’s music intensified after his marriage to Brazilian-born Nubia Teixeira. "I’m constantly moved by the (Brazilian) culture," Uttal says. "I fell in love with the sounds many years ago, but it wasn’t until I met Nubia that I really became immersed in it. It’s a huge country with so much regional diversity that you’re always discovering something new."

While early Uttal albums focused heavily on instrumental passages, Thunder Love shows Uttal’s side as singer-songwriter and skilled vocalist, with his unique warm voice. The lyrics are in English and Sanskrit, combining the call-and-response devotional chanting known as kirtan with praise songs for his guru, Neem Karoli Baba (also known to followers as Maharaj-ji).

There is no doubt that this recording is of a religious nature. Although I’m not a great fan of American kirtan recordings and much prefer Indian productions, Jai Uttal has always set the bar high and his music is superior quality material. "The songs tend to have verses that describe the human condition and Sanskrit mantras as choruses. These prayers are so entwined with my inner condition, my daily life, that they have to go together with the English lyrics," Uttal explains. "The mantras are not necessarily representative of linear thoughts, but they connect us to a greater thought at times, I’ve felt they were the only thing keeping me alive."

There seems to be a market for these type of devotional recordings. Thunder Love is Jay Uttal’s first release for the newly created Nutone record label. The label’s founder, Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride,  describes Nutone’s spirit:  Nutone Records "encompasses music from the realm of devotional chant, world beat and beyond and is dedicated to the development of a new genre within today’s musical landscape."

Despite the focus on vocals, Jai Uttal is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and he performs on guitars, banjo, bass, dotar, harmonium, keyboards and harmonica, among many other instruments. The album was recorded in California, written and produced by Uttal alongside his longtime collaborator Ben Leinbach. Thunder Love features renowned world beat musician and producer Bill Laswell, who mixed the record and plays bass and percussion on two tracks.

Regarding the focus of Thunder Love, Uttal says: "I feel like this album is about opening up to love-finally. That involved letting go of a huge part of me that said ‘I don’t deserve love,’ or on really bad days, ‘love doesn’t exist.’ For me, it’s taken big catharses to change those deep internal patterns. I’ve immersed myself in a great number of spiritual practices, but truly embracing human life.. .that’s what brought me through the times of terrible darkness and addiction."

Thunder Love reveals a bold fusion of Hindu mysticism, world beat and Americana.

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