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Ondar: Back Tuva Future

When, several years back, Tuva became a hot spot on the musical globe-as defined by western consumer tastes-it seemed at once remote and familiar. Yes, this idyllic pocket of a nation, nestled in mountainous terrain between Mongolia and Siberia, qualified as a relatively unadulterated native culture worth investigating. But the musical culture itself wasn’t so alienating to those accustomed to, say, cowboy culture, despite the exotic presence of throat-singing and peculiar indigenous stringed instruments.

Makes sense, on some level: Tuvans are horse people, and so are we Americans, if the frontier mythology etched into our collective unconscious is to be believed.

So, it’s only a little startling to hear the downhome Tuvan & Western concoctions of Ondar’s Back Tuva Future (Warner Bros. 47131; 72:20)-the punning title hints at the hijinx. Here, the noted Tuvan throat singer Ondar, whose western-leaning resume already includes liaisons with the Kronos Quartet, Ry Cooder, Mickey Hart, Frank Zappa, and new ager Kitaro, has gone to Nashville and been paired up with Willie Nelson, Randy Scruggs, and others.

The intention is good, the execution something else, as too-slick, too-synth-tainted tracks continually counteract the pure, raw goodness of Ondar’s limber vocal parts and other non-digital musical instincts. The spirit of Tuva, so compelling in its purer states, loses out in the bargain.

Originally Published