Album Review: Sultans of String with Anwar Khurshid – Subcontinental Drift

Sultans of String

photo by Kevin Kelly; photo courtesy of LW Communications

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Sultans of String with Anwar Khurshid: Subcontinental Drift

Subcontinental Drift is the 5th album from Sultans of String who were formed 8 years ago through the unique musical relationship between violinist Chris McKhool and guitarist Kevin Laliberte. The band’s signature sound was cemented by the joining of three additional members: bass player Drew Birston, a veteran of Chantal Kreviazuk’s band, Cuban percussionist Rosendo Chendy Leon, who’d previously played with Parachute Club, and guitarist Eddie Paton, who’d worked with flamenco star Robert Michaels.

Sultans of String - Subcontinental Drift

image courtesy of LW Communications

In their illustrious career, the band have enjoyed success in the Canadian national radio charts, received the Sirius XM Independent Music Award as well as other multiple awards and accolades including two JUNO nominations and two Canadian Folk Music Awards. They have mixed with renowned artists, including Paddy Moloney and the Chieftains and for this new album are joined by special guest, sitar master, Anwar Khurshid.

Anwar’s music has previously appeared in the Oscar winning films Life of PiKama Sutra, and Love Guru, and his contribution to this album certainly adds colours and rhythms that are both exotic and cinematic in scope.

There is a genuinely uplifting feeling about the whole thing, and at times it put me in mind of the spirit captured by Mark Knopfler in his soundtrack to Local Hero. Sure the styles are worlds apart, but they both share an inexplicable ability to transport you and release your imagination through mesmeric musical imagery.

Sultans of String

photo by Kevin Kelly; photo courtesy of LW Communications

Chris McKhool is unsurprisingly excited about the collaboration with Anwar Khurshid: “There is something magical about joining the world music rhythms we play, with pop sensibilities and blending that with the music of the East.”

He is not wrong, and I have to say how much I enjoyed the album. It seemed to pull on so many of the musical influences of my past but in a fresh, out of left field, kind of way.

Memories were stirred of early Rod Stewart, “Mandolin Wind” and “Maggie May” on the opening track “Enter The Gate,” with the folksy intertwining guitar and violin. This also led me to remember the fiddle playing on “Don’t Pass Me By” on The Beatles’ White Album. Of course when you start thinking Beatles, there is the Harrison factor when listening to the combination of sitar mixing and swirling with the rest of the band. The whole talented, textured performance drips passion and pleasure.

Sultans of String

photo by Kevin Kelly; photo courtesy of LW Communications

This is, no doubt, why the whole thing sparks a real joie de vivre for the soul. The mix of traditional folk instruments and sitar work sublimely. Inspired really.

It’s this happiness to mix things up that makes the second track “Rakes of Mallow/ Rouge River Valley” so upbeat and uplifting. A foot tapping jig with a wonderful twist.

More links to my musical favourites were highlighted by the bold cover of Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.” It’s one of those songs that maybe you don’t do, too familiar, too cliche? But I was blown away by this distinct and imaginative adaptation. I’m pretty sure Dylan, who is no stranger to taking his tunes and changing arrangements, would be really happy to hear how this reggae/bhangra/folk fusion turned out.

The only slight disappointment on the album for me was “A Place To Call Home”; with its country-style vocal, it seemed a bit out of place. It is a lovely song but somehow less exotic than the rest of the album.

It was a brief dip on what is otherwise an exceptional album, and I was soon on my magical journey again. After being swept along by the hypnotic “Snake Charmer,” I was delighted by the beautiful voice of another guest performer, Shweta Subram on “Parchan Shaal Panhwar.”

Sultans of String

photo by Kevin Kelly; photo courtesy of LW Communications

So many great songs on this album make it hard not to try and detail each one’s benefits. “Journey To Freedom” was the next track, and it slipped like silk across a musical landscape so simple that it’s gentle footsteps made all the more impact. The song, jointly written by the band and Anwar Khurshid, traces Anwar’s journey from Pakistan to his new home in Canada.

Before rounding things off, I want to also mention the lovely fat bass lines on title track “Subcontinental Drift” and then the delicate, almost Paul Simon like calmness of final track, “A Heart Does What It Does.” A beautiful end to a classy album.

I’d not listened to Sultans of String before and the strength of this new album made me go and check out their previous releases. I was not disappointed and can easily see why they enjoy the award-winning success they have had.

Inviting Anwar Khurshid to collaborate on this album was a stroke of genius and has created an album of sunshine, happiness and positivity like a meditative soundtrack for your soul.

On the Road

According to the tour calendar page on the Sultans of String’s website, the bandhas two remaining gigs in May – the first, tomorrow night, May 22nd, at Cafe Nine in New Haven, Connecticut; then April 26th at a conference at Humber College in Toronto. Beyond that, upcoming concerts include a June 3 Kerrville Folk Festival date, a June-July 2016 tour of the UK and Ireland, and dozens of dates booked across Canada and in the U.S. throughout 2016 and into 2017. Check to band’s website to see when the group will be performing near you.

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