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Release Date: 04/05/2015

Edition: Album
Genre: Folk
Sub-Genre: Folk-Rock
Label: Real World Records
Number of Discs: 1
Duration: 45.48 minutes

Songs of the grasslands from one of China's most innovative and influential artists. Lyrical, troubador folk - infused with an alt-country sensibility. Mamer is one of China’s most innovative and influential artists, drawing inspiration from the songs and poetry of the grasslands where he grew up. Eagle features a repertoire of grassland songs--normally sung solo and accompanied by the simple two-stringed dombra--adapted and updated for the 21st century, whilst at the same time preserving their unaffected lyricism.

Mamer was born in Qitai County in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, some 2000 miles from Beijing, near China’s border with Russia and Kazakhstan. One of 10 children, he learnt the songs and instruments of the grasslands from his father and grandfather. His 5-piece band ‘IZ’ was credited with single-handedly kick-starting China’s alt-country scene, and Eagle is his debut solo album.

With a warmer and more intimate sound than his recordings with IZ, Eagle finds Mamer in an introspective mood, and features a collection of songs that deal with universal grassland themes; the nature of man, the delicate balance of man and nature, and the temptations of modernity. Produced by Robin Haller and Matteo Scumaci and featuring a grassland dueling-banjos style duet with multiple-Grammy award winner Bela Fleck plus bonus mix by the late French producer (and Mamer admirer) Hector Zazou.

Chinagrass' is the name this intriguing musician from Xinjiang province in Northwest China gives his highly original and accessible music. Mamer grew up 'on horseback', absorbing the Kazakh folk music of the grasslands. Having virtually founded China's equivalent of an alt. country scene with his band IZ, he has adapted traditional songs for this atmospheric solo debut, which has a vivid sense of place.

The production team of Robin Haller and Matteo Scumaci were also behind the recent accomplished debut by Mongolian/Chinese band Hanggai. This time

they've woven their programming, percussion, bass and guitars into Mamer's music in a way that sounds more organic.

Mamer's bass voice is often multi-tracked and at times is deep enough to suggest the kargyraa 'throat-singing' style popularised by Albert Kuvezin of Tuvan band Yat-Kha, and he does rope in Ilchi of Hanggai for a bit of 'proper' throat singing on Proverbs.

Mamer plunks and strums on a variety of guitars, bazouki, Jew's harp and the two-stringed dombra lute, occasionally joined by other traditional instruments such as the sinuous-sounding ghijek fiddle on Man and the startlingly breathy, end-blown flute (sybyzghy) on, err, Flute Song.

There are also a couple of engaging instrumentals, which depart more from traditional formats. Celebration features Bela Fleck duelling on his banjo with Mamer, and Where Are You Going? is a mesmerising strum.

Rhythm isn't something commonly associated with music from this part of the world, and the percussion throughout is subtly atmospheric; only on the late

Hector Zazou's remix of Mountain do digital beats really come to the fore.

The absence of any lyric translations in the sleeve notes is a little vexing, but also underlines how brilliantly evocative these songs are. For instance, what's Mamer singing about on the lovely, yearning Ilgai? The press release says it concerns annual nomadic migrations, and other pieces suggest the gait of a horse or at least have that 'going somewhere' vibe common to a lot central Asian music.

That's a small quibble. This is a lovely, deceptively simple album, which reveals ever more of its layered charms with each listen. --Jon Lusk

Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window.

Track Listing:
1-1 Eagle
1-2 Iligai
1-3 Proverbs
1-4 Celebration
1-5 Man
1-6 Kargashai
1-7 Flute Song
1-8 Mountain Wind
1-9 Blackbird
1-10 Where Are You Going?
1-11 Mountain Wind (Hector Zazou Mix)