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Bridge To Vallabha
By Tina Malia
Label: Self-Released
Bridge To Vallabha tracks
1. Om Serve
2. Ima Adama
3. Sita Ram
4. Shivo Hum
5. Kol Galgal
6. Ek Ong Kar
7. Yoweino
8. Om Namo Narmadev
9. Oushadhim
10. Long Time Sun
11. Karpura Gauram
Tina Malia - Bridge to Vallabha
Tina Malia's beautiful voice is the focal point and undoubtedly the main draw on her new album of globally influenced chants, Bridge to Vallabha, but it’s not the only treat in store for her fans (whether they are novices or long-timers). Besides her wonderful vocals, she exhibits her considerable musical talents on assorted guitars, Rhodes electric piano, synths, vibraphone and percussion. All that talent in one person – whoa! And she is not alone on the disc either. Joining her are eleven other singers (some of who will be familiar to chant aficionados, e.g. Donna DeLory and Jai-Jagdeesh), and some superb guest instrumentalists such as cellist Hans Christian and pianist Peter Kater, although singling them out does not diminish the ton of talent the other players bring to the party (I was specially taken by the lap steel guitar playing of John Schreffler, Jr.). Bridge to Vallabha is a chant album that even non-chant lovers should seriously consider because the musicians are truly dialed into the overall vibe of Malia's musical vision and the melodies throughout the album are so beautiful you'll just want to sit back, relax, and let them wash over you (not to mention, once again, Malia's voice!).

While the majority of the chants are Sanskrit, the album stretches beyond that influence and incorporates other sources, e.g. Hebrew, Gurmukhi, and Native American (subtly), as well as one "English" mantra ("Long Time Sun"). The main musical motifs center round a folkish sound, with elements of world music surfacing now and then and maybe a dash of jazz, too. Production is near flawless and engineering is crystal clear. I was surprised to see that Malia did both of these tasks as well. The superb job of mastering and mixing was handled by Tim Gennert (listen on headphones and you'll know why I think it’s worth mentioning him specifically – the mix is heavenly).

"Om Sarve" opens the album in a gentle, pensive mood with a subtle air of the Andes blowing through the music thanks to Malia playing a charangon (part of the charango family, a Peruvian guitar-like instrument) on the track. She plays the notes with delicacy and grace and the mantra is patient and warm. "Ima Adama" is the Hebrew chant and is more uptempo and cheerier, with acoustic guitar and some tasty keyboard bell tone work as well as some nicely layered in synth shading. The chants (by multiple singers) and strummed guitar make this sound very folk-songish even with the synth textures and bell tones and the track slowly builds in intensity until the forward momentum is damn near irresistible, although the energy level never raises to such a point that it proves distracting. "Sita Ram" returns to chant's Sanskrit roots but when lap steel guitar and some jazzy upright bass come into the picture, to paraphrase Dorothy "I don't think we're on the banks of the Ganges any more, Toto!" By now, in my first playing of the CD, I realized that the combination of Malia's superb composing talent, blending chant with other musical influences and sources, along with the expert musicianship of her guest stars (not to mention her own considerable playing on all her instruments) was elevating this recording into the upper stratosphere of contemporary chant releases.

The album is full of delightful touches, such as the opening Fender Rhodes on "Shivo Hum" accompanying Malia's seductively beautiful voice which seems to envelop you in its gentle soulfulness. The track is like a sad-sounding folk song blended with Sanskrit mantras. The next chant, "Kol Galgal," is even more somber sounding but Malia's voice lights it up all the same, infusing it with rich, warm, humanity. Layer upon layer of other voices and instruments are added during the track's 7+ minutes of run time, including some heartrending cello by Christian. One of my favorites on the album is "Ek Ong Kar" on which subtle tribal-esque rhythms blend with birdsong and the Gurmukhi chant and, well, that's it…all the melody is derived from the acapella singing – it is exotic and friendly at the same time. The lone English "song" (it's more of a mantra of sorts), "Long Time Song," showcases Kater's piano and Schreffler's lap steel, both of them alongside Malia's voice which by song's end has her really belting it out!

There are many more delights to discover on Bridge to Vallabha but I will leave them for you to discover without any preamble of my description. While chant recordings have been popular in the new age and metaphysical retail marketplace for a number of years now, Tina Malia has released a new high water mark with this album. I recommend Bridge to Vallabha to nearly anyone who enjoys expressive vocals and excellent musicianship regardless of how they may feel about mantras, because unlike some chant recordings, the strength of the music and singing combined with the variety of influences and styles make this a delightful, accessible and rewarding listening experience. It should introduce Tina Malia to a new cadre of fans as well as cement her reputation as one of the genre's best artists to admirers of her previous works.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 7/27/2015
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