Shankar/Harrison set succeeded on crossover appeal

Anyone wishing to explore the Eastern music that George Harrison so loved might consider picking up this handsome package.
Publish date:

Ravi Shankar/George Harrison
Rhino (R2-525469)
Rating: *****

By Gillian G. Gaar

Anyone wishing to explore the Eastern music that George Harrison so loved might consider picking up this handsome package (issued in honor of Ravi Shankar’s 90th birthday), which includes both of the albums Ravi Shankar recorded for Harrison’s Dark Horse label, making their debut on CD.

“Shankar Family & Friends” (released in 1974, which Harrison produced) was designed to have crossover appeal, bringing together Eastern and Western musicians (including Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Billy Preston). The opening track, “I Am Missing You,” is even sung in English, while the bulk of the album features music for a “thematic ballet,” taking place over the course of a night (from “Dream” to “Nightmare” to “Dawn”), and featuring a variety of musical colors along the way (the overture even has hints of Caribbean flavor).

In 1974, Harrison hosted “The Ravi Shankar Music Festival From India,” a live concert held at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and this set includes both a DVD of the concert, and the studio album of the same name (produced by Harrison) released in 1976. Some of the footage of the concert has been lost; the DVD presents all known footage, along with an audio track that features the entire concert. Both CD and DVD are mesmerizing, the female vocals having an uncanny ability to imitate the sitar (or vice versa). The CD/DVD also feature the most traditional Indian music of this set, as well as the most powerful performances.

In 1997, Harrison produced Shankar’s “Chants of India” album, with Shankar setting Sanskrit chants to his own music. This album again utilizes Western instruments, classical this time, creating a sound that’s akin to “Within You, Without You” on “Sgt. Pepper.” Because of the nature of the material — prayers to God — the emphasis is on the vocals, not the instrumentation, which makes this album especially soothing and relaxing.

The limited-edition set comes packaged in a box that also features a 56-page book (not seen by Goldmine), with interviews and photographs.

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