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Mouth Music

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This magical treat is a reminder that ”world music” means more than just African or Brazilian exotica. It’s any style that takes its soul from a particular tradition and its brains from more global sensibilities — it’s the sound of many cultures chatting to each other. The soul in this case is puirt-a-beul (literally, ”mouth music”). The ancient a cappella vocal style of Gaelic Scotland that is sung here by American born Talitha Mackenzie. The brains are the arrangements by Englishman Martin Swan that evoke everything from stately bag-pipes to moody art-rock to lively Afro-pop. While the tunes include traditional ”walking” songs, old chanteys makring coastal landmarks, and ”Chi Mi Na Morbheanna,” a sad, epic dirge that has become a tradition at funerals (including JFK’s in 1963), the sources are treated with muscle as well as respect. In Swan’s hands, the 19th-century ”Seinn O!” (”Sing!”) becomes a hip-hop reel that wouldn’t sounds out of place in a contemporary dance club. Mackenzie’s sinewy voice and the deliviously knotty Faelic lyrics are the album’s strong suits — two Swan-only instrumentals are pretty but unfortunately sound too much like New Age wallpaper. Even so, Mouth Music‘s combination of intelligence, beauty, and nerve has the power to unite both world-beatniks and mainstream rock fans in mutual exhilaration. A