Bumerangs perfects craft of schlager

Agrāk un tagad

One of the hardest things to define in the Latvian music world is šlāgermūzika. It sounds as if it is rooted in Latvian folk music, but with traces of American country and a few parts pop—and with an accordion thrown in for good measure. The best I can say is that you will know it when you hear it. And hear it I do on the Bumerangs "best of" compilation called Agrāk un tagad, which includes songs from all of its 14 years together as a band.

The group is made up of Aivars Trēziņš on voice and accordion, Vents Krauklis on voice and clarinet, Juris Skrajāns on voice and guitar, and Edmunds Mednis on voice, drums and synthesizers. Mednis also wrote a few of the band’s songs as well. Bumerangs was also one of the hardest-working bands in Latvia (the liner notes mention that in 1988 they played 332 concerts in one year). I even saw it play one time in the early 1990s in Limbaži. However, the band is currently on extended hiatus, as Mednis has moved to the United States.

This album is packed. The recording is almost 80 minutes long. Also, as seems to be the trendy thing to do these days, these songs are not the originals, but re-recorded versions of the band’s hits (as Labvelīgais tips and Zeļļi have done on their "best of" collections as well). Although I’m not a fan of bands rerecording their songs (especially if I’ve gotten attached to the originals), these songs are not much different than the originals.

A novel thing that Bumerangs does is to take a standard Latvian folk song, change the melody around and sometimes add additional words. The result is a completely different song. Sometimes this works very well, sometimes the results are… a little unusual. One of my favorite songs on the album is the Bumerangs version of the Latvian folk song "Līgo laiva uz udena." The band’s version is more uptempo than the more somber song that I remember. The lyrics of the song itself are very sad, telling the story of a poor guy who says that if he doesn’t marry a particular ploughman’s daughter, he will die of sorrow. He goes on to give detailed instructions about where and how he is to be buried.

Another folk song that gets the Bumerangs treatment is the classic, "Pūt, vējiņi!" This time, except for a few verses of the original, the song would be completely unrecognizable as the band adds a lot of new words to the song and offers a much more uptempo version. Also, in a move that apparently caused some controversy at a Gaŗezers concert a while back, during the verses the band adds the Russian words "Ochen horosho!" (Very good!). I guess some of the old-school Latvians didn’t like their folk songs being tainted with Russian words. Though the original version of "Pūt, vējiņi!" is one of my favorite Latvian folk songs, I do actually like this version, too.

Bumerangs also does a song called "Klētiņa" that listeners might know as "Mīļā mazā Lulu, sapnoju par tevi vien." This is a song I used to sing in summer camp and one I originally heard on the Trīs no Pārdaugavas debut record. In an attempt to show the band’s linguistic talent, the entire song is sung in Italian! The novelty of this wears off in a hurry, as I would have preferred to hear the song in its original Latvian.

Not all of Bumerangs’ songs are joyful and happy. In fact, its version of the soldiers’ song "Baltā roze" is one of the saddest I have ever heard. The song is about a soldier leaving his loved one. It begins with the lyrics "Baltā roze nozied dārza malā / Velti lūpas tavu vārdu sauc" (A white rose wilts at the edge of the garden / In vain my lips call your name) and gets more depressing from there. It is a very beautiful song, and will move even the most hard-hearted of listeners.

Bumerangs even has some songs that are more intended for "mature" audiences. Take a listen to its version of "Meitas mani aicināja," another Latvian folk song, complete with anatomical references and double entendres.

Another favorite on the record is the band’s version of the Raimonds Pauls ditty "Varbūt," a song that the aforementioned Trīs no Pārdaugavas did on its Mīkstas mēbeles record many years ago. The vocals have a bit of a lounge feel to them (given that it is a Pauls song, that should not surprise me). Also listen to "Vilciens Rīga-Valka," a sad song about yet another poor guy who meets a girl on a train and makes plans to see her later… and wouldn’t you know, she doesn’t show up. (This is another song that Trīs no Pārdaugavs did on its No tālām robežām record.)

Other oddities on the record include "Pretī (Tavs logs pretī manējam)," in which Bumerangs attempts a reggae-influenced song. There is also "Pūš sejā," a rare, politically themed song. Also, the brief song "Bez mājas tā lieta neiet" sounds more like a commercial jingle for the mortgage department of Unibanka (one of the sponsors of the album).

A recurring complaint I have in my reviews is "Please include the lyrics!" Besides making my job easier, it also helps the listener develop a greater appreciation for the band and its songs, especially if your band has not released any compact discs prior to this one (and, as it appears, will not be releasing any more CDs in the future).

All in all, this is a good record and a good retrospective on a band that was at the forefront of šlāgermūzika throughout its extended career. If you can’t stand šlāger, this album won’t exactly make a believer out of you. If you don’t mind listening to šlāger, then you will appreciate this record, as Bumerangs has perfected its craft.


Agrāk un tagad


Platforma Records,  2000

PRCD 043

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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