GurrumulYou won't recognise the language, but a few words and the feel definitely come through.

Label: Skinnyfish Music
Time:  10 tracks / 41 minutes

Any Australian readers should be very familiar with the name Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, as the Northern Territory native’s 2008 eponymous debut release went double platinum, earning critical praise and four ARIA Award nominations (including Male Artist of the Year and Album of the Year).

His European coups since then have included an appearance on Later with Jools Holland; hitting the top of the world music charts; performing a live acoustic duet of the Police's "Every Breath You Take" with Sting on French television; and being named one of the top ten world-music releases of 2009 by the BBC.

Gurrumul, as he likes to be known, has been praised by Quincy Jones as “one of the most unusual and emotional and musical voices I’ve ever heard.”

All of this is exceptional for a self-effacing man, blind from birth, who sings almost exclusively in his tribal Gumatj dialect, which is spoken by no more than 3,000 people.

His third release The Gospel Album is inspired by Gurrumul’s mother and aunts, who raised him on the missionary spirituals of the local Methodist church on Elcho Island, north-east Arnhem Land, where he grew up, and he re-imagines them in his own style.

Such roots dictate the feel of the tunes, played simply with an acoustic guitar and backing vocals, discreetly embellished here and there by piano or lead and an occasional rhythm section.

Despite the language barriers, listeners will easily recognize the heart of these songs. The simple, melodic “Jesu” needs no translation and “Amazing Grace” is familiar from its tune, if not its words.

Gurrumul’s voice has been described as ‘angelic’ and while it would not be my adjective, it certainly gives an idea of the effect.

While its simplicity and provenance give it a slightly dated feel, this should appeal to listeners seeking a purer, simpler, more unadorned and heart-felt expression of praise.

Derek Walker

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