Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best albums of 2011

6 Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu – Rrakala
I wrote about Gurrumul's first album back in 2009 when it was on my best of list for that year. That album was breathtaking in its simplicity and beauty. One man, his guitar and the most incredible voice. Songs sung in traditional languages of Arnhem Land, no translation necessary, with the barest of accompaniments.

This is his second album and it follows a similar template to the first. The voice is the same, but the sound is fleshed out a bit with some stately piano lines, brushed drums and understated electric guitar picking. Building slowly on the opening four songs to the catchy and surprisingly up-tempo Ya Yawirriny the album then moves into a more reflective and melancholic phase for the rest of the songs. Although the melodies are just as lovely, they are less stirring and more contemplative. The structures of the songs seem less traditional, building in blocks with repeating phrases and melodies cycling and reappearing later. The eight and a half minute Warwu being the best example of this and, for me, the centrepoint of the album.

As the esteemed Robert Foster notes every addition and overdub that Gurrumul and his producer, Michael Hohnen, resisted only makes the songs sound bigger and increases their power. Hohnen also plays the stand-up bass, almost inaudibly on some tracks, on the album and legend has it that he spent ten years persuading Gurrumul to record that first solo record. If this is true, and presumably he also helped get this one released only two years later, then I am immensely grateful to him. Almost as much as I am to Gurrumul for allowing these songs into my life.

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