How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Steeped in the spirituals and gospel of her native North Carolina, vocalist Imani Uzuri traveled the world on a fascinating journey, absorbing local culture and music to produce The Gypsy Diaries. The record stands as musical documentation of the distance an artist will go seeking mystical connections with other genres, all the while maintaining a firm grasp on her individual roots.
With The Gypsy Diaries, Uzuri has gone about as far away as possible from the rock opera setting of Her Holy Water, though that 2008 self-produced album did have flashes and hints of things to come.
As might be expected from the title, Uzuri utilized the native instruments and sounds of Russia, India, Morocco, Japan, and especially Hungary (with its strong Romany population) in her compositions and formation. The accompanying musicians are an international cast, presenting each selection with the touch of the genuine. But it is Uzuri's voice which commands attention with an inspiring soulful presence, always taking the music back home.
Uzuri literally covers a lot of territory in her songs, all of which are originals. She looks at love from romance found to lost in "Beautiful," "Meet Me at the Station," "Raga for My Lovers," "Lament," and the rhythmic "You Know You Love Me." But she absolutely shines when conjuring up religious experiences and affirmations of personal freedom, happiness, and positive messages on "Whisperings (We Are Whole)," "O' Woman," "I Sing the Blues," "Dream Child," and the poignant dedication to her inspirational grandmother, "Soul Still Sings."
From the introductory strains of the sitar on the first cut, it is exciting to hear how Uzuri's voice blends with Old World acoustic instruments and arrangements, materializing into an innovative variety of sounds. The Gypsy Diaries succeeds as a distinctive performance, reflecting a woman on a mission of transformation, ideally recognized for effort and achievement as well.
Track Listing: Beautiful; Whisperings (We Are Whole); Winter Song; O' Woman; I Sing the Blues; Lament; Gathering; Meet Me at the Station; Raga for My Lovers; You Know You Love Me; Soul Still Sings; Dream Child; I'm Ready/She Came Traveling.
Personnel: Imani Uzuri: vocals; Marika Hughes: cello; Neel Murgai: sitar, daf, kanjira; Christian Ver Halen: acoustic guitars, thunder drum (7);
Kaoru Watanabe: Japanese Shinobue flutes, flute; Tarrah Reynolds: violin; Todd Isler: hadgini, frame drum (8), kanjira (5), uduboo (8); Fred Cash: electric bass (7); Marvin Sewell: acoustic guitar (6).