April 01, 2007
Laimas muzykanti began as a group of musicians to accompany the Daugavpils folk dance group Laima. Its long-standing director, Artūrs Uškāns, has guided the group through its 10-plus-year evolution to what is now essentially two groups in one: the “small” group that plays traditional instruments and performs at folklore festivals and for folk dance groups, and the “large” group that plugs itself in and plays ethno-rock. Laimas muzykanti’s new compact disc, Orkla bolss, offers some of both, although the lasting impression is of the heavier side.
Orkla bolss, which translates as “the voice of the plow,” begins with a catchy and mildly Cajun-inspired beer song, “Oi dīveņi.” The next song, “Jauna meita,” is heavier and even includes a guitar solo. “Laiviņīka mosa” begins quietly, but eventually picks up the pace, while the following song is a stunningly simple, yet beautiful, a capella rendition of a mythological text. By the fifth track the musicians are back to ethno-rock, this time with the well-known tune “Auga, auga rūžeņa.” Even though the song’s melodramatic ending borders on overdone, the lively chord changes and transitions are very fun. The songs seem to keep getting better and better!
Orkla bolss loses its originality and edge, though, with “Sieļejis daņcs,” a beer-swilling, Pippi-Longstocking-braids-and-freckles caricature of folklore. The three tracks that follow are somewhat better, but all continue with the same oom-pa-pa beat. Have a listen for yourself, though, to decide whether the criticism is justified.
By track nine (“Ceiruļs”), and definitely by track 10 (”Čigons”), the musicians are thankfully back to ethno-rock. The CD ends with the quiet, but very well done, “Pīzacieļu reitā agri.”
Laimas muzykanti has all of the standard rock instrumentation—drums, electric guitar and bass—and knows how to use it. But the accordion, kokle and flutes lend a definite ethnic sound, as does, of course, the fact that they sing traditional texts in Latgalian. Most of the melodies sound traditional as well. Laimas muzykanti brings to mind a Latvian version of the Oyster Band or Steeleye Span, folk-rock bands from England.
Despite the couple of songs in the middle of the CD, Orkla bolss is a fresh sound among recent Latvian recordings. (At the very least, it’s a pleasure to listen to the young women’s voices.) May Laimas muzykanti continue what it is doing!
(Editor’s note: A version of this review appeared in Jauno Laiks, a bimonthly supplement to the Latvian-American newspaper Laiks.)
Amanda Jātniece is a Latvian-American currently living in Latvia. She has been a member of the Latvian folk music ensembles Lini un Teiksma, both based in Minneapolis, Minn., and now sings with the Savieši folk ensemble in Riga. She has a strong interest in music and folklore, a degree in linguistics, and does freelance translation and writing along with raising her school-age children.
The article may be found online at http://latviansonline.com/reviews/article/2736/
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