Last year saw the release of the latest compact disc of Čikāgas Piecīši re-releases, which takes us into the 1980s. The album Par mani, draudziņ, nebēdā was originally issued in 1982, while Made in Latvia was released in 1988. Both are collected now on CD.
Already in the 1980s the Piecīši were in their third decade of performing and recording, and as they are getting older, their songs have begun to develop a more sentimental (not to mention patriotic) bent to them. The distinctive tounge-in-cheek humor is still there, but it is enhanced with songs that show a group that has become older and wiser through the years.
It is not clear from the liner notes what the lineup is on the Par mani record, though I can be fairly certain that at least Alberts Legzdiņš, Armands Birkens and Janīna Ankipāne are there. “Made in Latvia” lists Legzdiņš, Birkens, Uldis Streips and Lorija Vuda as singers; musicians are Birkens on guitar and R. Daughtry on guitar and bass guitar.
Patriotism is a strong theme in these two recordings. One of the highlights is the song “Par mani, draudziņ, nebēdā,” the Piecīši tribute to the Freedom Monument in Rīga. The song is sung from the monument’s perspective, telling everyone “not to worry about me”—a song of optimism where no matter how bad things go, they will turn out fine in the end. And they did, so it was a prophetic song in a way.
Also in patriotic style is the song “Made in Latvia.” It is about how, even though everything in his house is imported in some way (Japanese shaver, South Korean alarm clock, Danish table), at the very least, his beloved is 100 percent Latvian. She is so Latvian that even when the neighbors ask her to play bridge, she can’t, as she is making pīrāgi.
Though the leader of the Piecīši will always be Legzdiņš, who provides almost all of the words and music, the real star of this release is the achingly sincere tenor voice of Armands Birkens. Just hearing his voice will make the listener weepy. Even if he sang the phone book, most listeners would break into tears! This is best displayed on the song “Lai visa pasaule to redz” (a duet with Lorija Vuda), a song about two lovers, one in Rīga, one in Chicago, who want the whole world to see how great their love is, regardless of the distance between them. This song is one of my favorites on this release.
Sentiment is also heavy on the song “Mūsu mīlestība,” a song about someday meeting again, because their love will never end. This song again features the voice of Birkens.
Now that the Piecīši have grown older, and have had had children, it was inevitable that there would be songs about the trials and tribulations of getting these children to Latvian school on Saturday mornings. The similarly titled “Piektdienas vakars, sestdienas rīts” and “Sestdienas rītā” are about the occasional panic attacks on Friday nights, and the massive process of getting everyone ready Saturday morning. Reminds me of the many occasions in my family when on Friday evening I realized that I had a domraksts to get done by the next morning!
On certain songs, the Piecīši display their growing country music influence, complete with twangy guitars, baying vocals and songs where a pickup truck is a major plot device—see “Šoferdziesma”. This song is actually a bit too country for me, featuring Birkens howling in the background. I usually skip over it.
Though heavy on sentiment, the distinctive Piecīši humor is still present. The opening track is “Kurpniekzeļļi,” a song about shoemaker apprentices who spend more time staring at women’s legs than doing their job. This song’s “sequel” is “Skroderzeļļi,” this time about the great life a tailor’s apprentice enjoys, which is apparently much better than a shoemaker’s apprentice’s life.
Also in the humorous vein is “Trīs vecenītes,” which is about three old ladies sitting around and bragging about what they have managed to keep “real,” even in their old age. Legzdiņš encourages the audience to spit along with the chorus.
My main complaint about this release is the same complaint I have had about the other Piecīši re-releases: the packaging. I think I have already whined about this enough in my previous reviews, so go read those, because I don’t think I have anything different or more insightful to say this time.
Though they may have gotten older, and their songs have gotten (perhaps a bit too) heavy on the sentiment and patriotism, these Piecīši re-releases still occupy a very important space in the Latvian music world. They give voice to the many Latvians in the United States (and elsewhere outside of Latvia) who were also growing older, and at the same time facing similar problems such as raising Latvian kids and trying to keep their Latvian identity. Though they have gotten advanced in age, these records still sound fresh and relevant today. They reinforce once again the importance of the songs of the Čikāgas Piecīši, both in the 1980s as well as today.
Par mani, draudziņ, nebēdā & Made in Latvia
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