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Various Artists

Bollywood Steel Guitar

(Sublime Frequencies; US: 7 Jan 2008; UK: 7 Apr 2008)

The tunes on this album are “what could be called the elevator music of India,” suggest the liner notes helpfully, and they’re right. “The elevator music of India” is exactly what I’d call this. It has the qualities you’d associate with elevator music, a flattened, tamed tone, a wandering inoffensiveness, the sound of irrepressible songs being efficiently repressed, like stray dogs hustled into a pound and modestly electrocuted behind a curtain. What has happened is this: labels in India across the decades have taken popular filmi songs sung by known playback artists like Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt and reproduced them, using steel guitars in place of the musicians’ voices. This album compiles 21 of those covers in chronological order, starting in 1962 and ending in 1986. We have S. Hazarasingh mimicking Dutt, Van Shipley mimicking Bhosle, and Gautam Dasgupta cutting back and forth between his guitar and some violins, a tabla, and what sounds like a moog narrating a documentary about jellyfish, in his version of R.D. Burman’s “Duniya Maane Bura To Goli Maro”, which was originally sung by Shailendra Singh. Dasgupta is the least-bland thing on the album. You’re better off with the singers.

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