Imagine a Lata Mangeshkar towards the end of the sixties, her voice slightly thicker than from the previous two decades, but still pleasingly fluid and her singing now enriched by a greater command of Hindi and Urdu diction. Add in Hridayanath Mangeshkar, a fantastic musician in his own right, and her brother, probably one of the few people that isn't in complete awe of her stardom. Now add in the words of Ghalib, many of whose poems I find difficult to understand, but I gather the bloke's pretty famous. What you get in Lata Mangeshkar Sings Ghalib is the combination of all these elements and the end result as may be expected is simply incredible.
No thanks to the efforts of Jagjit Singh (the song that makes me want to murder people) and his ilk, ghazal singing to most people has become synonymous with a low-pitched somnolent drone that can unobtrusively play in the background while they go about getting drunk or doing their social "thang". Hariharan is one of the few people I have heard who on a consistent basis tried to put some flamboyance and virtuoso element into the composition and singing style in at least a couple of songs in each his ghazal albums (sad to say the last 4-5 albums have been bereft of this, and even he is pandering to the lounge crowd). But this album is a great example of how a ghazal album can have energetic and technically demanding musical compositions and reward people for actually "listening" to it. Those that have only heard Lata as the aged crone she has been from the 90's onwards will be floored at her fluid vibrato (here not the effect of her voice quavering) and masterful navigation of the hairpin turns of the tunes. And Hridayanath seems to have intended his compositions as a stringent test of her abilities - You can almost hear him gleefully rubbing his hands saying, "So you got through that one, eh? Let's see you handle THIS" as he throws the next treacherous musical curveball at her.
Most songs are in the 4-5 min range and they are all remarkable in how much ground they cover in that while. On the other hand the brevity means that the poetry is slightly short-changed, given less importance than the music. Still I would rather have this than long stretches of lazy self-important noodling. Also, Hridayanath certainly likes to reprise his own tunes: a short verse "Naqsh Fariyadi Hai Kis Ki Shoki E Tahreer Ka" is a precursor of the heart-aching "Mere Sarhane Jalao Sapne" from Maya Memsaab and "Rone Se Aur Ishq Mein" is, words apart, an alternate take for "Sunio Ji Araj Mhari" from Lekin.
So yes, if you have any interest in ghazal music that's not the sonic equivalent of wallpaper, you need to get this album. If you can get hold of some super-duper vinyl edition, great. Otherwise you can get this one at Flipkart on CD or, where I first chanced upon it, in Flipkart's mp3 download store.