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Listening to: Tina Malia, The Silent Awakening

Tina Malia is a singer-songwriter from California who writes and performs beautiful songs at the nexus of folk, world music and new age. That may not sound terrifically appealing at first glance, but somehow she manages to circumvent cheesiness by a wide, safe margin. Instead, she dresses up her earnest (and sometimes touching) folk songs with incredibly skillful arrangements drawing on a variety of excellent acoustic musicians using traditional folk instrumentation augmented by instruments like djembes, didjeridoos and marimbas.

I can hear traces of Peter Gabriel’s world music production heyday in the title track, Sarah McLachlan in “Beholding,” a pan-Celtic sensibility in “All Roads,” and so on. While this is proudly derivative music in the sense that it acknowledges its roots and wears them honestly, I also think that Tina Malia’s songwriting and production skills are so highly developed that she more than stands on her own. For somebody this talented, it’s a conscious, intelligent choice to release her records on an independent label (best place to buy is either in Amazon’s MP3 store, link above, or at CD Baby). Those who still think major labels are the measure of quality should take a close listen and may realize this is better than much that’s come out of a major label in years.

On CDBaby, Tina is billed as a “tribal folk goddess,” which may be a good description, and her own website describes her background and history like this:

After studying sound engineering and classical vocal performance, she began her professional music career at age 18 as a producer, engineer and vocalist for a children’s music label out of Northern California. She then went on to produce two of her own recordings, and has just released her third “the Silent Awakening”. It features a rich, groove oriented, acoustic and electric feast […]

Some listeners may love the musical depth and beautiful singing and playing on this record but be skeptical about the ‘new age-y’ tone in the lyrics. There’s a Sanskrit chant (track 8, “In Sunlight”) and a lot of lyrics about love, freedom and nature (the CD booklet’s cover page says, “To those who serve beauty”). But there are also lyrics a-plenty that seem to allude to sensuality, sexuality and faith. I think there’s depth here that I’m sometimes willing to let in, and sometimes not. The overall effect is tasteful and I never feel like I’m being hit over the head with consciousness. I’ll admit that lyrics tend to be less important to me than music, though, so your mileage may vary. I’m recommending this for the music – it’s some of the best playing and production I’ve ever heard in an independently produced record.

Tina Malia’s website has more, and her albums are available at CDBaby.

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