Picks and Pans Review: Desert Wind

updated 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ofra Haza

Despite the religious bent of her material, Haza looked like a singer without a prayer of becoming a U.S. pop star. An Israeli, she chants songs based on Jewish hymns as her band plays such arcane instruments as the ut and the baglama, singing in a mix of English, Hebrew and ancient Aramaic.

Well, strange things happen. Haza's 1988 debut album Shaday hit it big, and now she returns with an album that promises to burst through more pop boundaries.

The melodies of Haza's new songs are more infectious than her first collection, and her fine voice covers a greater range of emotions—sometimes sweet, sometimes haunting. If that's not enough, then there's the nearly ubiquitous synthesizer beat that makes dancing mandatory.

The album doesn't always satisfy deeper needs. The lyrics skim over such topics as love, prejudice and freedom, rarely reflecting the complex emotions of the Yemenite prayers that inspired them. Haza's singing sometimes dips into similar shallowness, an emotionless drone.

Thomas Dolby, however, uses his synthesizers imaginatively on the two songs he produced, and Haza catches his creative vibes on her most emotional song to date, "Fatam Organa," about her mother's wanderings in the desert. Haza's calming musical rendition of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, should warm people's hearts, no matter what their religion. The prayer-to-pop segue is typical of this eclectic performer's capacity to surprise. (Warner Bros.)

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