Sheila Chandra

Sheila Chandra

Moonsung: A Real World Retrospective

Real World

Sheila Chandra is one of the most outstanding vocalists alive today. If you haven’t yet heard her music, this compilation of the best of her three albums with Real World — plus two new, unreleased tracks — is the perfect place to start.

Ever since I first heard her sing on an NPR interview in 1992, I have been enchanted by Chandra’s flawlessly beautiful voice. Not content to master many of the vocal traditions of the world, from her parents’ homeland of India to her own birthplace in England, Chandra has moved over the course of her solo albums to an ever-more innovative and isolated place, where she alone or with an accompanying drone explores what she calls “the darkness of potential,” the place deep within from which music and magic comes. The songs on Moonsung take you to that transcendent place with her.

Sometimes Chandra’s voice hits you out of nowhere, and sometimes it feels completely familiar. Like “Dhyana and Donalogue,” which begins as a fairly straightforward folk song about a woman remembering her (lost?) lover, but abruptly shifts to something quite different — a nasal, witchy, despairing, wordless cry that says more than any words ever could — then returns to the traditional style, only to spin out some of the words into an ululating plaint that would make even a stone weep.

Much of Chandra’s fantastically unique music gives you no familiar starting point at all. “Speaking in Tongues III” is composed entirely of nonsense syllables, some delivered in a staccato, percussive style, while others have an almost lounge-like smoky swing to them. And on “ABoneCroneDrone 1,” Chandra clips out parts of the underlying drone and sings them in a rising and falling tone that sounds for all the world like a voice-driven calliope.

After listening to Sheila Chandra, you will never think of the human voice in quite the same way again.

Real World, c/o Narada, 4650 N. Port Washington Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53212-1063; realwrld@narada.com

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