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The lovely, twilight-moody Elina Duni/Rob Luft album Lost Ships is a wanderer — in spirit, lyrical reference and geo-cultural terms. Albanian-Swiss vocalist Elina Duni, empathically abetted by British guitarist Rob Luft, freely traverses cultures and languages, from her native tongue to English, Italian and French songs. Stylistically, as well, the landscape shifts from haunting folk fare from Italy, Albania and beyond to atmospheric originals, and a quick trip to the great American songbook — the Sinatra staple “I’m a Fool To Want You.” Tellingly, on an album rife with themes of exile, displacement and mercurial love, Duni also presents a wise new rendition of the traditional American folk ballad “The Wayfaring Stranger.”
Not incidentally, Duni’s aesthetic is well-suited to the diversity-minded global reach — not to mention the introspection-ready climate and pristine sonics — of the venerable ECM label, for which she has now recorded a handful of distinctive albums. And yet, despite the shifting terrains, the carefully sequenced and measured Lost Ships is unified by the centering force of Duni’s assured, understated vocal powers. She interpretively owns the songs she sings and resists temptation to oversell them. Balancing nuance and richness is her métier.
Guests do fly in, with delicate support from pianist Fred Thomas and tasteful flights by flugelhornist Matthieu Michel. But the album’s core identity is the creative alliance of Duni and Luft. The pair’s original songs stand out, particularly the bittersweet title track and the album’s highlight, the sophisticated yet compact folk-pop art song “Flying Kites.”
Duni’s exit strategy is a thing of hushed poetry, as she closes the album with a spare take of Charles Aznavour’s haunting “Hier Encore.” The song gains wistfulness via the sonic embrace of Duni’s subtle phrases and an acoustic guitar approach flecked with harmonics. And so this special song set ends on a note of repose and longing.