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Nguyên Lê: Songs of Freedom

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In his liner notes to Songs of Freedom, Parisian guitar marvel Nguyên Lê explains how the album is his love letter to the ’60s icons who established “pop culture in the ’70s with their mythic songs … so mythic that they can now be said to belong to everybody on the planet, and so global that they have truly become World Music, i.e., music the world listens to.” Lê had a similar objective with 2002’s Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix. This time he’s come up with an even more profound statement that transcends the guitar itself.

From the ground up, Lê conceptually reshapes tunes by the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Come Together”), Stevie Wonder (a Bollywood version of “I Wish”), Led Zeppelin (“Black Dog,” with Qawwali vocals), Bob Marley (“Redemption Song”), Janis Joplin (“Mercedes Benz,” “Move Over”) and Cream (“Sunshine of Your Love”). There are radical reharmonizations and brilliant counterpoint lines underscoring these familiar themes, and Lê smartly utilizes a grip of different ethnic elements: Indian Carnatic rhythms and vocalizing, Balinese gamelan music, Sufi singing, West African Wolof rhythms, Algerian raï, Moroccan Gnawan music and bits of his own Vietnamese background. Into that heady, creative brew, he unleashes some of the most staggeringly original electric guitar playing since Allan Holdsworth.

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