(Unstable Ape Records)
Since her arrival in Australia in 1991, Zulya Kamalova has been awing, bewitching, educating and captivating audiences with her Westernised interpretations of Tartar and Russian folk music and this may well be her finest hour.
Dispensing with the Children of the Underground moniker, though keeping the members and adding hosts of other instruments, Tales of Subliming is a monumental achievement, likely to bring her another ARIA for World Music Album of the Year. Expanding from the more traditional folk flavours of earlier releases, this is a free-flowing and inspiring album with production and instrumentation reaching new heights; Kusturica soundtracks and early-80s Tom Waits are the most commonly mentioned touchstones but they barely scratch the surface of what lies here.
Julian Marshall’s work both as percussionist and producer is utterly glorious, giving the songs and their hugely varied sounds the space to shine and building Zulya’s voice – that ever-evolving lustrous thing of wonder – a throne from which to rule. Surely there can be few more evocative and understated singers in this country, regardless of whether she sings in English (as she does here on seven songs) or Russian. The Mermaid’s Tale and Ocean Lullaby reveal a never-bettered torch song sentiment that thrills Europhiles as much as jazz aficionados or anyone longing for something definitely different.
Songs linger on individual freedom (Little Sky), race through fables and folk tales (Baba Yaga’s Dream) and haunt the back alleys of Mediterranean ports (He Fell So Deep) all the while tugging gently at your hand. Songs are pushed along with lulled strings, junkyard percussion, insistent double bass, creaking nautical horns while the coursing backdrops highlight the plight of the protagonist, often caught in a fairytale of their own creation.
Anyone can sing about marriage as a prison (The Ropemaker’s Daughter), lost souls (The Water Woman and the Orphaned Girl) love and death (A Tale of Love and Death) and transcending mortality to become a cloud (The Subliming of the Snow Maiden). It’s a rare songwriter who can tap into folklore centuries old, see it from the perspective of an eternal outsider, tie those feelings into a voice so powerful and with musicianship so accomplished to deliver it without a hint of pretence or affectation. If you crave the authentic and the pure amidst a world of artifice and posturing, you can do little better than to listen to Tales of Subliming.