Lhasa's spellbinding nuevo-mex 1997 debut La Llorona [Atlantic 83120-2] just begged for a follow-up which, with The Living Road, took just as long as renewing all the cells in one's body -- seven years -- but signals an equal sense of freshness well worth waiting for. Spending much of her upbringing between Mexico and the US, often in a converted school bus together with her 8 siblings and her parents, actress/photographer Alexandra Karam and father Alejandro Sela, Mexican professor in upstate New York, Lhasa was raised without television. This forced the need for entertainment on self-generated artistry including nightly singing, putting a new spin on the old adage that if you want something done right, you gotta do it yerself.
To this bi-cultural upbringing add emigration to Montreal in 1992 when Lhasa was 20, resulting in meeting the musician Yves Desrosier with whom she would cut La Llorona. Canada brought immersion into a third culture which saw her eventually progress to France where her sisters are circus performers. Combine these nomadic, self-sufficient, cross-cultural and adventurous elements of raw life experience. It won't come as a surprise that Lhasa's music too mixes many influences and does so in a unique way without ready precedents - a husky voice embedded in moody, very cleverly arranged settings full of dark atmospheres that, in the lyrics and mid-tempo renderings, mostly take the form of highly poetic ballads which, on the present album, occur in Spanish, English and French depending on track.
The Mexican ingredients of La Llorona undergo further sublimation on The Living Road whose title already suggests less of a destination and more a sense of spontaneous movement - a musical journey whose lyrics suggest blunt honesty ("I'm not afraid to say I cheated, I put my most pure thoughts up for sale, I want to forget this whole idea of 'truth', I'll keep as my guides only pleasure and guilt") while the delivery rides the balance between pouting girl and wise woman, grittiness and sensuality, a slow-burning fuse that never actually lights but does much in the mere suggestion. It's equal parts world-weariness and hope, the former solidly bedded on the pragmatic realism of the sung words, the latter enlivened by the underlying courage and curiosity of all vagabonds.
Singer-songwriter depth of message wrapped in Latino poetry, surrounded by deceptively simply arrangements whose actual complexity and dense atmosphere could readily double to underscore a classy black-and-white movie - the unpredictable Living Road is fresh, slightly edgy and not at all standard fare. It's one of those deep waters you keep returning to, finding more than you bargained for at first. Think Tarot cards, blacksmiths, fortune-tellers, travelers...