Album Review: String duo Balladeste shine with sublime ‘Beyond Breath’

Beyond Breath- Balladeste

The Breakdown

In my humble opinion, this album should have been one of the Grammy contenders for the World Music /Classical category, and I for one would like to invite the listener to celebrate this truly magical and masterful release .

Balladeste are string duo Tara Franks ( cello) and Preetha Narayanan ( violin). Their much anticipated sophomore album, ‘Beyond Breath’ was released earlier this year in October 2021 to rave reviews, and quite frankly , it’s really no surprise. A reflective collection of new compositions taking inspiration from a set of Indian devotional songs from the Sathya Sai lineage, these ‘string partners in crime’ , as they like to refer themselves as, have already created a name for themselves as classically trained artists who delve between genres ranging from experimental folk, pop- classical, world and jazz. Most notably, they’re part of award winning contemporary classical project ‘Quest Ensemble’ with pianist Filipe Sousa. Suffice to say, Narayanan’s and Franks’s collaboration is pure magic, and their album as Baladeste ‘ Beyond Breath’ is musically speaking, by far their greatest achievement to date. There is nothing remotely quite like it. Each of the songs celebrate a moment in time, inviting the listener to their own meditative world, their celebration of female hood and oneness. Their musical virtuosity is just mind blowing, but more impressive is the authenticity of sentimental intelligence that they manage to achieve in only 34 minutes. In my humble opinion, this album should have been one of the Grammy contenders for the World Music /Classical category, and I for one would like to invite the listener to celebrate this truly magical and masterful release . Their album has of course gained exceptional early reviews, with the likes of renowned Music Magazine ‘Songlines’ giving them a 4 star review citing : “Cinematographers looking for music that can radiate suspense but at the same time is warm and intimate … then look no further”  . I would argue that their music is furthermore , a master class in collaborative songwriting.

The first track , aptly named ‘One’ opens up with a nod to Narayanan’s Indian Classical influences, with Frank’s cello .providing the harmonic undertones with a beautiful, sometimes counter-melody from the second half of the track. The narrative of both instrumentalists starting off with the same line , sometimes octaves apart really set the tone for the type of musical interplay for the entire album. One would say it’s their response to the early fugues of Bach, set in today’s world . ‘ Being’ is a trip to the human soul, a kind of realisation of the beauty found amidst the chaos of human emotion. It evokes the kind of ‘breath’ in between those moments , trying to make sense of the hear and now. It opens up nicely to the ever moving and wonderfully joyful ‘Prem’. It is here that we start to get a kind of strong narrative going, perhaps even the album’s protagonist of the everyday human, longing for hope. River’ (Ishwara Nandana) encapsulates a blending of sounds and genre-fluid worlds- – Indian devotional meets English countryside folk . Much like the other tracks, when one string voice ends the other begins, culminating in the type of musical dialogue one would expect from a string quartet. This type of almost effortless fluency is without a doubt reflective of the pair’s 10 year strong friendship . The following two tracks, ‘Partiswara’ and the vocal delight ‘ Dina Dukhio’ work as a pair, harmonically. Franks displays such a vocal quality to her cello sound, whilst Narayanan answers with a string timbre that could only be described as ethereal. It serves well as a prelude to ‘Dina Dukhio’, where we are treated to a snippet of vocal ragga from both singers, something which I hope to hear more from in their next project!

Music Video for Balladeste’s ‘ Dina Dukhio’ filmed by Tamsin Elliot

‘Krishna’ celebrates the more ‘major’ sounds of Classical Indian Devotional Music, and certainly a nod to the English, and I would argue Irish -inspired pastoral setting. The protagonist, our everyday human is somehow lingering between both worlds, in the here and now by this point in the album, celebrating their duality. ‘Sai Ram’ is that declaration of our protagonist living in the moment; a kind of energetic mantra , with a frenetic energy of joy, wonder and awe all at the same time, falling nicely into the serenity of ‘Jaya Maa’. I like to think , without knowing the definition of ‘Jaya Maa’, that the protagonist is female, as it seems that the the melody encapsulates all things of the divinity of the female energy. Yanaranan shines in this track, really letting go of an otherwise composed ( but still enigmatic) way of playing, whilst Franks strums along on her cello. Just as in life, when we are swayed by our ever changing natures, ‘Drift ‘ is a kind of return to the ever fragie human spirit. Franks displays an incredible ability to provide atmospheric and ambient cello sounds, layered with her jazz-isque. guide tones and layered lines to parlay into Yanaranan’s anguish filled melodies. Indeed, the two ‘drift’ apart only to come together again, unfolding into the last track, the title track ‘Beyond Breath’. Indeed, Beyond Breath is a celebration of all things human- the change, the acceptance, the beauty, the disarray. Musically it’s almost as if the incredible duo have managed to marry all the musical colours of their friendship and background into one, continuous breath.

A celebration of life, ‘Beyond Breath’, the sophomore album from string duo Balladeste is out now ; support these incredible artists here

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