January 4, 2011

Mandala Band’s latest Bhakti: a kirtan album review

Mandala Band is a trio composed of Scott Robinson, Paul Butler and Andi McGraw Hunt.  These accomplished musicians and singers have created an album of devotional music that is an intricate blending of sounds and styles.  They bring in Indian, Turkish, Celtic and Gregorian chant music and create a soaring beautiful collection of kirtan chants.  Andi McGraw Hunt has a voice that invites the listener to imagine lofty cathedrals and echoing choral performances.  Scott Robinson’s harmonium is as deep and epic as his vocals and Paul Butler’s reed instrument accompaniment is a perfect match to these singers.  In addition to the three main players, Bhakti boasts a large cadre of guest instrumentalists and singers to further expand its devotional stylings.

Bhakti is an album filled with kirtan songs, those that invite audience participation in a sing and call back fashion.  However,Bhakti yoga practitioners will find some significant differences in this album from the more traditional styles found in the more famous performers Jai Uttal and Krishna Das.  Many of the common Bhakti chant phrases are included such as “Om” “Shanti” and “Hari Om” are interwoven with more traditionally Christian chants such as “Halleluja.”

Bhakti is unlike any other kirtan album, which is to both its credit and to its detriment. The combination of Gregorian-style chanting with harmonium is quite breathtaking.  However, people looking for a traditional kirtan album with chants for Hindu gods like Shiva and Ganesh may find themselves disappointed with this album.  Mandala Band creates an soaring and epic blend of Eastern and Western religious songs, yet relies heavily upon their Christianity for much of the message.

All the music on this album is stunning, tightly performed and beautiful. It is an album best suited for a fan of devotional music, especially one that longs for an alternative to more mainstream Christian Gospel or traditional kirtan albums. Practitioners of “Holy Yoga” may be particularly drawn to it, and its message would be a fantastic background to any yoga class with a Christian theme.  Those Bhakti music fans who wish to hear the standard chants such as “Om Namo Shivaya” however, may be disappointed.

Bhakti by Mandala Band is for sale at CD Baby where you can also listen to exerpts of each song.

(See also Nancy’s excellent review of Dharma Gypsies from earlier this year. –Bob W.) 

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