At their album launch this weekend it will be interesting to see if Landscape Prayers will be able to free themselves from their neo-traditional restraint. Although they are known for their tight ensemble work in a fusion of diverse styles, one wants to say, “Come on, guys, loosen up.”
There are hints on their new album, Lontano (Sheer), that they can really cook. However, a number like By Grace slows down and dies just as it begins to swing. It’s a syndrome. One suspects that over-sensitivity is the band’s biggest enemy, but through that there’s a magnificent display of skill.
Lontano is Italian for “far away”, gesturing to the concept on which the album is made. In their travels to France, Mozambique and Ireland the band gathered together musical background that they have combined in collaboration with an Italian outfit called the Modena City Ramblers. This is a band they heard on a Celtic compilation on the Putamayo label called From Dublin to Dakar, and the visit was made possible by their sponsor, Mr Price.
The resulting hodgepodge is pleasant enough, but hovers precariously between beautiful and banal. The lowest point of the album is a rendition of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica that heads off in the same old direction as the version by the Soweto String Quartet.
The coming together of Southern African musicians with like-minded ones from Europe on one album is rare. But the pressures of cross-cultural collaboration often bring about a compromise in which artists take the middle road. Could Lontano have suffered from this?