Since the release of his debut album Going Solo (2001) and follow up My Way (2004), which produced hits like Ishq Tere Ne and England, Southall-based bhangra singer Amit Rai has been out of the limelight. Having stepped away to produce other artists, he returns to the forefront six years later with Live Wire, a collection of 12 tracks aimed at impressing old fans and new listeners alike.
Gathering together an array of seasoned vocalists, such as Richa Sharma, Nirmal Sidhu, Surinder Shinda and the late Kaka Bhaniawala, Rai sets out to create an album that will appeal to those who like their Punjabi music on a traditional tip.
Leaning towards folk influences, Live Wire's rustic sound reflects the fact that much of the orchestration has been recorded in India, while the album itself has been laid down in the UK. It's impossible not to conjure up images of the golden mustard fields of Punjab when listening to tracks like Roliyan Karan Ge. Nirmal Sidhu and Sudesh Kumari's commanding vocals and the unmistakable twang of the tumbi, algoza and dhol are used to great effect.
Equally commanding is Bollywood playback artist Sharma, whose rich, earthy vocals compliment Rai in Baathan Ishq Diyan, the album's catchiest track. Rai introduces new talent Amanjot who makes an impact on Ishq Brandy, a typical drinking song no self-respecting bhangra album would be without. Just as predictable is Vadhaiyan, a congratulatory song featuring Rai and Shinda. Using generic lyrics and a repeated chorus/verse cycle, this little ditty can be used for almost any happy occasion in which various members of the family need to be congratulated. Births, engagements, weddings: you get the picture.
The universal theme of love seeps into Tere Naal Pyar, Jaano Vadh Pyariye and Tumhe Dillagi, the latter being a new version of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's classic qawwali complemented by Javed Bashir's velvety vocals. While love remains an evergreen subject, machismo has become a hackneyed characteristic of bhangra albums and is precisely why Pauna Bhangra and Mundey Tho Bach Sohniya fail to electrify. Too close in name and sound to Panjabi MC's far superior mainstream hit, Mundian To Bach Ke, the latter is a bad choice on Rai's part.
Though Live Wire may not tempt everyone, Rai should be praised for going back to his desi roots while so many of his contemporaries prefer to westernise their compositions.