Album: Cutting Loose
Artiste: Jaimin Rajani
Rating: 2.5 stars
Simple, plainspoken ditties that scream ‘relatable’ for a range of generations and which are sung in English in India without the American or British accent (for the most part at least), are hard to come by at this point in the Indian musical landscape where virtuosity and finesse — in voice and orchestration — are considered the mark of ingenuity. Acuity isn’t usually caught in a conundrum, but most musicians won’t let go of the accent as it has often led to them being plunked down in an ‘exotic’ box or made them feel less in comparison to their foreign counterparts.
So when Mumbai-born, Kolkata-raised singer-songwriter Jaimin Rajani’s 14-track debut, Cutting Loose, promises to deliver unpretentious, unaccented crisp melodies in folk ballad style, the hope is that it will sound inventive. The melodies are to speak of “heartache, disappointment and departure” and have appreciation by noted artistes, including violinist Scarlet Rivera, on the album cover. Rivera is best-known for her work on Bob Dylan’s Desire (1976). The album has me keyed up. Not because one hasn’t heard this kind of music from India before but because not many musicians have managed to pull it off with aplomb. The album with sometimes skilful and sometimes passable writing from Jaimin has fabulous orchestration from a range of musicians, notably Subharaj Ghosh (lead guitars), Protyay Chakraborty (violin), Abhay Sharma (saxophone) and Arjun Chakraborty (drums). It also features a range of senior musicians, including Ralph Pais of The Savages, Rahul Ram of Indian Ocean, Rohan Ganguli of Supersonics, classical guitarist Deepak Castelino and sitar player Kalyan Majumdar. The mid-tempo pieces have a gentle poetic touch and very Dylan-inspired storytelling and songwriting. So much so that in the song Something here to say, a charming piece about creativity that will outlive its creators, Jaimin croons, Failing, a memory that fails your mind; but the answer is in the wind you’ll find… One of the more beautiful tracks on the album, it comes with colourfully varied instrumentation: a sitar piece blending into a piano and then into a rich tapestry woven by Sharma’s saxophone.
But from the time the album opens with Home, a short melody after a long guitar riff, and gets into the airy She’s running late or dives into lyrically slightly awkward (the lyrics don’t seem to sit well in the meter) Bucket of pain, the album veers into spaces where one has the scope of going deeper. I wish Jaimin did try to delve more into his ideas. And that’s where the irenic stream gushing through the entire album begins to feel monotonous. The genre he is targeting — folk, bluesy ballads with wised-up thought and the kind that are transformative — have always brought in the crowds. The message has got to be on point.
While it’s a good effort, with simple words that manage to pounce on the issues of those in their 20s and 30s, Cutting Loose ends up just brushing past the genre it wants to be steeped in. It’s missing the old-school wistfulness and certain intrepidity in the voice, which needs more work. Not in terms of its sheen, just strength of notes. The sing-song ease can only work if it sounds effortless. The moment it falls in low notes and in the corners or slinks behind the orchestration, the cracks show.
There is a lot to like — I thoroughly enjoyed Let me find a way out, This one’s for you and Never mind. The latter, about an ailing relationship, features the true troubadour, Sushmit Bose, and is worth a listen. Another piece, the eight-minute She, begins wonderfully and falls in place mostly because of the hook that Jaimin builds and the rich tapestry woven by the violin. Jaimin didn’t want to shorten it. He should have. Not to make it approachable, but because after a while, the piece drags.
Jaimin’s musical ideas have underpinnings of success and flashes of understated brilliance marked beautifully by very intelligent orchestration and compositional sophistication. But it’s still a work in progress with thematically conventional ideas. There is a possibility of being formidable. Hopefully, we’ll see glimpses of that in the next one.