Atlas Not Shrugging

Natacha Atlas

Mounqaliba (In a State of Reversal) (Six Degrees Records 657036 1170 2 0, 2010)

Natacha Atlas, formerly of groundbreaking fusion band Transglobal Underground and now a solo artist of considerable note, has never sounded better than on Mounqaliba (In a State of Reversal) . As her recent work has shown, she’s at her best when she reins in the vocal eccentricities that sometimes (but not always) served her well in the past.

Mounqaliba takes its time to build to many lovely moments, and you’ll find it well worth your while to lend both ears as it does. Lush acoustic piano sets a lot of the disc in (primarily slow) motion, often leading the way to gorgeous string arrangements suggestive of Egyptian orchestral music and further instrumentation (ney, qanun, accordion) into which Atlas’ Middle Eastern tones slip like a silk stocking.

It’s all more mood music than dance music, though the livelier “Batkallim” and “Taalet” will shake a leg or two. Choosing standout tracks is difficult, but if pressed I’d single out “River Man” for its quietly surreal stun.

What may well make or break Mounqaliba for fans of Atlas is the interludes between some of the tracks. They’re either spoken or musical, and the spoken ones address things like free will and the world’s economy while the musical ones mix instrumental snatches with street sounds and Islamic chanting and such.

As to what purpose the interludes serve, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s to add food for thought to the music, and that they certainly do. Still, the music itself is so exceptionally beautiful that I found the interludes, short though they are, intrusive. Not, I hasten to add, so much so that my enjoyment of Mounqaliba significantly suffered.

Get this CD, which I heartily recommend, and you’ll likely find that nothing stands in the way of your enjoying it as well.

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