Words by Nigel Williamson
When confronted with an impressive new album, there’s always a temptation to hail it as the artist’s ‘best work to date.’ Raman’s sixth album may not necessarily top what has gone before, if only because the quality since her 2001 debut Salt Rain has been so consistently high. But Queen Between is as big, self-assured and ambitious as anything we’ve heard from her. Produced as always by partner and guitarist Sam Mills, the Tamil influences of earlier albums have given way to qawwali and Rajasthani flavours, although there’s a dazzling diversity in the eight songs (all Raman/Mills compositions with the exception of the traditional ‘Karunei’).
‘Corn Maiden’ is English-sounding pagan psych-folk; ‘Riverside’ is a hypnotic piece of Asian-tinged left-field rock; and the lovely, acoustic troubadour presentation of ‘North Star’ recalls Natalie Merchant. But it’s the addition of the ecstatic voices of Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali group and a band of Rajasthani folk musicians led by Kutle Khan that provides the most thrilling and ambitious moments. On the throbbing Gypsy party opener ‘Sharabi’ and the epic 12-minute closer ‘Taboo,’ the sound is given further rich texture by the resonant cello playing of Vincent Segal. More than a dozen years on from her debut, Raman continues not only to sound unique but like an artist whose creative vision is still growing.
Track to Try: ‘Sharabi’