Here’s to good, old Latvian rock and roll

Dzimis Latvijā

With but a single album, the Liepāja duo Fomins & Kleins established themselves as one of the premiere rock groups in Latvia. Their debut album Muzikants, released in 2003, contained hit single after hit single and brought them prominence and popularity.

Could they keep up this momentum on their successive albums? On their second album, Dzimis Latvijā (Born in Latvia), they continue right where they left off, with their lyrical rock and roll, not skipping a beat.

The lineup of the group remains almost the same from their first album. Ivo Fomins (lead vocals) and Tomass Kleins (guitars, keyboards, vocals) are joined by Egils Mežs on bass, Valērijs Iņutins on drums, and new keyboardist Jānis Lūsēns Jr. Once again, Kleins wrote all the music, and lyrics were written by omnipresent Latvian wordsmith Guntars Rāčs. Since the ingredients in the formula did not change much, the resulting concoction has a welcome familiarity, like a dependable friend.

Fomins & Kleins also are notable as they are the Latvian entries in the Eurovision Song Contest this year. Nearly winning the Latvian national competition in 2003 with the song “Muzikants,” they re-entered this year with the song “Dziesma par laimi” (Song of Happiness), and won convincingly. As in 2003, this was the only entry in the Latvian competition that was performed in Latvian. The songs are somewhat similar—they are both in the same key and use the same chords. But I don’t mind really and do like both songs. Though conventional wisdom would say that a song sung in Latvian has little chance of winning Eurovision, it will be nice to have a break from the overly slick pop that seems to dominate the competition every year. All of Europe will have the chance to hear what the Latvian language sounds like. Besides, I think there are worse things that could happen to the band than not winning Eurovision, though it would be nice to have a pair of rockers in their mid-thirties triumph over the usual mundane stuff the contest offers! The song itself, as its title indicates, is a song of happiness and hope, that even when all is lost, this song will still remain.

I think the key to their success is the simplicity. “Professional” musicians might scoff at Fomins & Kleins’ simplistic songs, but great songs are rarely made great simply due to the number of chord changes and modulations. Do remember that many Latvian folk songs get by with three or four chords, and they have remained popular for hundreds of years. For example, the duo’s song “Nekas” (Nothing) is a song about a lonely girl whose only greetings come from the morning sun. The chorus, as with many of their songs, stays with you, since it is easy to remember.

Another favorite is “Aizejošas dienas” (Departing Days), a song about time flying and time lost, once again with an anthemic chorus. Also in this vein is the opening song “Otrās dienas rīts,” which starts with the line “Tici vai nē, bet šī diena ir skaista bez tevis” (Believe it or not, this day is beautiful without you).

Since the release of their first album, the Latvian rock music world was hit by the tragedy of the death of Dainis Virga (drummer for the group Līvi) in an automobile accident. There is a tribute to him on this album called “Ar Dievu bral’” (Go with God, Brother), a touching ballad with the words “Ir tikai beigas vēl vienai dziesmai, bet piedziedājums pārāk īss” (It is just the end to another song, but the chorus was too short.)

Without missing a beat, Fomins & Kleins’ second album picks up where their debut left off. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and certainly the songs of Fomins & Kleins ain’t broke! I think their songs can be appreciated by just about any listener. Even though they are simple, the songs can speak to many different kinds of listeners. Here’s to good old fashioned Latvian rock and roll triumphing over manufactured pop at Eurovision!


Dzimis Latvijā

Fomins & Kleins

MICREC,  2004

MRCD 237

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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