A clever conceit turns into a dazzling record.
Brooklyn-based Galeet Dardashti's collection of songs, Naming, takes as its inspiration various women from the Bible, the Talmud, and the Midrash (the Jewish tradition of extra-scriptural stories about Biblical figures). The seven songs are named after, and inspired by, the stories of Sarah, Sheba, Dinah and so on.
This would be clever conceit and nothing more, except that Dardashti can sing very well indeed. This becomes apparent roughly eight seconds into lead track "Michal," as Dardashti's husky, fluid voice rumbles across the lower registers before ascending into a hiccupping, anguished wail. Do you need to know that Michal was the childless wife of King David, founder of Jerusalem, in order to enjoy the track? No, but it adds a layer of interest.
So, too, does the instrumentation, which relies heavily on keyboard sounds, violin and cello, and various synthesized beats. Occasional variation, such as a hammered dulcimer or santur, keeps things fresh. Studio effects are in effect too, with reverb enough to drown in at times. The star of this show, however, is Dardashti's voice, yowling and keening, bouncing along the cadences of Middle Eastern melodies and Persian poetry; urgent in "Hagar/Sarah", pleading in "Dinah", defiant in "Vashti" and mournful with the weight of history throughout the entire record.