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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa


By Tom Orr
Published June 22, 2006

Foreign Letters
Rounder Records

The title song of this elegantly engaging album refers not to mail received from afar, but the sort of letters that comprise alphabets: "I love foreign letters/they are like drawings/they are like secret signs from magic places." Chava Alberstein has been a musical superstar in her native Israel for decades, Foreign Letters, equal parts original compositions and classic and contemporary poems set to music -explores the depths of human nature, aesthetic perspectives, love and complacency. The acoustic instrumental backing perfectly suits tempos ranging from beautifully pensive ("An Image") to snappy ("Liar," "Indifferent"), and the vulnerability and determination of a singer/songwriter who hails from one of the world's most troubled regions is evident throughout. Particularly timely is "Passport Control," which describes a tense encounter with an airport official upon entering another country. This is a disc that speaks eloquently to the here and now even as it seems to fervently hope for a better world in the future.