Singer/songwriter and guitarist Prabhu das’ 2004 album Journey to the Heart lands squarely in the oft-dreaded New Age category, with many of its benefits but – to these ears, at least – none of its drawbacks.
Prabhu das’ full-bodied voice is in fine form throughout, accompanied beautifully by the angelic voices of Siddharta Silva, Vrndavan Gabbard and Gigi Dadivas. Singing mostly mantras in an ancient language, the voices are simply enchanting, their depth and sincerity winning our full attention.
Out of seven excellent songs, my favorite is the opener, Radha Madhava, which promptly sets the tone for the entire album with its chiming, sweet-sounding acoustic guitars and soaring vocal lines. It sounds like a celestial love song.
The songwriting is focused and solidly grounded, never subject to the floaty sort of pseudo-mysticism which has given New Age a bad name for many listeners. The arrangements, for acoustic guitar, keyboards, flute, sitar, bass and percussion, are gorgeous and lightly, almost transparently, applied. In particular, guitarist Ed Mahmoud provides a firm melodic foundation for every song, but always with a light touch, never overplaying his hand.
The instrumentation never distracts us from the music’s focus, which is the singer’s love song. The reverence in Prabhu das’ voice makes it clear that this is no mundane song about sensual desire, but the quest of a sincere seeker of the absolute.
One criticism that may be leveled at much New Age music – whether fairly or otherwise – is that it is ungrounded, all sweetness and light, with no regard for our “shadow self”, the inner darkness with which we all must wrestle. Such a criticism cannot reasonably be directed at Prabhu das, especially once you hear Teach Me How to Surrender, the album’s only English-language song. Here, he unflinchingly turns to the mirror and lays bare what he feels are his countless faults. Surrender to whom? To the Transcendent, nothing and no one less.
One should always beware poseurs who chatter on about how humble and lowdown they are – in a vain effort to win the respect of others. But Prabhu das isn’t interested in any of that; he is clearly feeling exactly what he sings about, he sincerely feels in need of shelter from someone who is actually able to give it, someone worth surrendering to. Not a popular stance in this culture of positive thinking and bogus self-sufficiency, but the singer is not after our cheap regard here. His quest is for spiritual truth only; whether on the inner or cosmic plane, it’s all the same.
In the end though, the listener has no need to dwell on any of these matters. One can simply relax and enjoy the music as it creates a spiritual haven, a delightful place of rest. That’s no small benefit in our increasingly, insanely fast-paced culture.
Journey from the Heart is available from CD Baby on CD or by download. Highly recommended!