Wade Imre Morissette grew up with musical ambitions, playing piano, even penning an album's worth of pop songs in his teens. But in 1992, when his twin sister, Alanis Morissette, became a pop star, Wade picked up the guitar and yoga, studying Iyengar, Ashtanga, vinyasa, Viniyoga, and kriya yoga throughout Rishikesh, Mysore, and Chennai, India. "When Jagged Little Pill came out and Alanis exploded onto the universe, that was when I went really deep inside," Wade says. "I grew long dreadlocks, went to India, and lived in ashrams.
"As I delved deeper into yoga, past the postures," Wade says, "I came upon bhakti [devotional] yoga and the traditions of kirtan [chanting] and bhajan [songs of divine love]. I started to combine traditional chants with my own poetry. Eventually, I was playing at the end of a training or workshop, and things just evolved from there."
Strong as Diamonds (Nettwerk) finds Wade coming into his own as a musician, yoga teacher, and self-fulfilled person. Whereas his 2004 debut album, Sargam Scales of Music, is an understated work with simple acoustic guitar, tabla, and Indian percussion arrangements, Strong as Diamonds is a large-scale musical production. Electric guitars, fretless basses, and drum machines twine with sitars, tablas, and string quartets in an inviting mixture that's equal parts kirtan and pop songcraft.
"Strong as Diamonds is about empowerment," Wade says. "In the three years since recording Sargam, I've traveled the world and taught at workshops, teacher trainings, and conferences. So Strong as Diamonds is more outgoing, more celebratory. It blossoms to a bigger place." Reflecting the release's blend of Eastern and Western musical influences, Wade sings in both Sanskrit and English. Most of his songs are rooted in Sanskrit mantras, such as the Gayatri mantra and the Jai Jagadambe divine mother mantra. On each track, Morissette's English lyrics offer his response to the mantra.
"I ask myself, 'If I were to transcribe this into my life, what kind of English words would come up that this Sanskrit phrase represents for me?' " he says. "If I just sang in Sanskrit, it wouldn't speak to the complete part of me."
The mix of Sanskrit and English will make Strong as Diamonds especially appealing to listeners who might find traditional Indian devotional music a little alien. But fans of traditional kirtan will enjoy the singer's upbeat, modern take on ancient mantras. Wade has an easygoing, mellifluous voice, at times sounding a bit like James Taylor, while his phrasing and inflection are reminiscent of his multiplatinum sibling.
"One thing feeds into another for me," he says. "I might discover something in my yoga teaching that I'll apply to my music concerts. It really is all the same."
Alan di Perna lives in Arizona, where he is writing a book on spirituality in rock music. His work has appeared in Billboard and Rolling Stone.