File Under "L"

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The American music industry (and consumers, too) seems to love putting music into nice little categories. At times, this isn't too difficult a task, but what do you do with an artist like Lhasa? Her music sounds a lot like her atypical upbringing. Lhasa's father is Mexican and her mother is American. She grew up in upstate New York and was homeschooled as she traveled the Americas in the back of a school bus. Five years ago, she dropped out of college and moved to Montreal to pursue a singing career. It was there that Lhasa met guitarist Yves Desrosiers. The two shared an eclectic taste in music, as fans of Central European gypsy folk songs, Tom Waits, Randy Newman and Billy Holiday. For the next three years, they scraped by with occasional gigs supplemented by odd jobs.

Then, they were signed by a small record label in Quebec called Audiogram. It was their first recording. Lhasa wrote the lyrics, Yves the arrangements. The sound reflected their record collections -- Mexican folk tunes, with a touch of Tom Waits, a gypsy flair and a stunning voice. Lhasa possesses that rare gift -- Cesaria Evora comes to mind -- to be able to communicate with those who don't know a word of her language, in this case Spanish. This music is universal; the raw emotions transcend all barriers.

The duo's album, La Llorona, was partially recorded in Lhasa's Montreal kitchen. This little record would be different than most independent first efforts. It never received much radio airplay, but everyone who heard it immediately told another 10 people about "the young woman with the magical voice." Earlier this year, La Llorona went gold in Canada and is now being released internationally. Atlantic records is faced with that same problem, "where to file Lhasa?" The music on La Llorona is in Spanish, but it isn't your typical Latin record. The album is a passionate, emotionally spine-tingling ride, but it is also unlike any other album in any particular genre.

It's totally acoustic, but isn't traditional folk music either. Lhasa would like to see her music filed under "L," but you'll probably find it in the "Latin" or "World" section of your local record stores. And if you track it down, tell your friends where you found it.

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