"Deb (Heart Broken)"


The new face of easy-listening music is younger and fresher -- and considerably more multicultural. They don't call it "easy listening" anymore, of course, and many Perry Como fans probably wouldn't get Norah Jones, let alone Franco-Algerian singer-guitarist Souad Massi. Still, there's nothing forbiddingly foreign about most of "Deb (Heart Broken)," an album of gentle tunes with a light Magreb accent. Massi, who's already a star in France, draws on Gallic chanson and Anglo-American folk pop and sings in French and English as well as Arabic.

The album does include some swirling strings and rippling Andalusian guitar, and it occasionally departs from European influences altogether. The infectious "Ech Edani" and "Yawlidi," which feature lively dance beats and chanting male vocals, are almost full-blooded Algerian rai. More typical, however, are such tracks as "Yemma" and "Passe le Temps," laments about lost love and the singer's troubled home country, whose prettiness nearly remedies the regret they express. Massi sometimes tries too hard to cross over, notably with "Moudja," an oversweetened ballad that shifts in and out of English.

Most of the time, however, "Deb" is an admirably graceful cross-cultural balancing act.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Monday at the Birchmere. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Souad Massi, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)