Thursday, August 08, 2013

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: Born With Singing Heart

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Aug. 9, 2013

“Borders are scars on the face of the planet,” Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz sings in his thick Eastern European accent on “We Rise Again,” the opening song on the band’s new album, Pura Vida Conspiracy.

And where better to make such a proclamation than a real live border town. Maybe that’s why Gogol, a New York-based multinational group, decided to record the album in El Paso late last year.

Actually, I’m not really sure why Hütz and Gogol chose El Paso, which has never been known as a major recording Mecca, to put down tracks for all but one of the songs on Pura Vida Conspiracy. (“We Shall Sail” was recorded in Río de Janeiro.)

But one thing that’s noticeable is that the Latin influence on the band’s international smorgasbord of sound — which first became apparent on their previous album, Trans-Continental Hustle, recorded after the Ukraine-born Hütz’s move to Brazil — is even more audible on the new album.

This influence perhaps is most pronounced on “Malandrino,” a lovely melody you can almost imagine Vicente Fernádez singing. “My birth I hardly can remember/But I remember from the start/My midwives looking at each other. … This boy is born with singing heart.” Of course, it’s a little harder to imagine Fernádez performing this song after the point in the chorus, when it breaks into Gogol’s trademark breakneck rhythm. Either way, the mariachi trumpets at the end of the song are a tasty touch.

Throughout the album you can hear a smattering of Spanish lyrics and flourishes of flamenco and samba, along with Gogol’s regular arsenal of Gypsy violin (Russia-born fiddler Sergey Rjabtzev is, next to Hütz, the band’s most valuable player) and accordion, plus occasional reggae rhythms and Celtic melodies. Part of the melody of “The Other Side of Rainbow,” according to the album’s liner notes, is based on a traditional Ecuadorian song. And then there’s the bossanova-like “I Just Realized,” an uncharacteristically mellow tune for this band renowned for its sweaty, exhilarating attack.

And perhaps the ghost of Marty Robbins — or wicked Felina — haunting modern-day El Paso persuaded Gogol to “go country” on “We Shall Sail.” It’s an acoustic number with only a guitar and Hütz’s vocals that has a melody that sounds like some long-forgotten cowboy lament.

In case you’re not familiar with this band — and I don’t want to hear your sniveling excuses — here’s some history. The band was formed not long after Hütz landed in New York City in the early ’90s and, naturally fell in with like-minded musicians, many of them immigrants as well. (According to Gogol-lore, the Hütz family fled Ukraine after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.) They created a sound Hütz himself labeled “Gypsy Punk.”
Gogol in NewYork, 2010

Several songs here could have appeared on virtually any of Gogol Bordello’s previous five studio albums. “We Rise Again” is one of those rousing anthems — such as “Start Wearing Purple,” “Not a Crime,” and “Dogs Were Barking” — the band does so well. “With a fist full of heart/And relics of future/Mama we rise again,” Hütz and other Gogols sing.

Then there’s a rowdy ode to wandering called “My Gypsy Auto Pilot,” in which Hütz sings, “I’ve been watching trains swiftly rolling by/I’ve been jumping them without long goodbyes/To uncover rules of life and how to break them well.”

Another instant Gogol Bordello classic is the fierce but moving “Lost Innocent World,” in which the narrator yearns to find a place that has long passed, the place where “my father showed me my first guitar chord” and “where my friends are still alive.”

Though Pura Vida Conspiracy on the whole is not as immediately satisfying as the band’s masterpieces Super Taranta! and Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, it’s an impressive and ultimately crazy whirlwind global tour. I hope Hütz keeps jumping those trains and telling his tales.

Also recommended:

* Faÿt by Cankisou. This group’s most recent album, released in late 2011, is another testament to the power and the glory of a band that has a following in its native (the Czech Republic) and parts of Europe but has yet to catch on in these United States.

Cankisou has its own strange mythology. The website bio reveals: “Cankisou music is based on an old legend about one-legged Canki people, and the band also learnt their language which is understandable all over the world.” No, I don’t understand the words. But the musical language is very clear.

Like Gogol Bordello and the British band 3 Mustaphas 3 before them, the seven-member group Cankisou takes musical influences from several cultures and blends them into an exciting, seamless style of rock ’n’ roll. There are melodies and horn riffs that sound Mideastern; saxophones that sound like a jazz band that made a wrong turn in Bucharest; very subtle touches of electronica; and joyously overpowering drums and percussion (two members are drummers).

Faÿt begins with a short, slow invocation called “Absintro,” which sounds a little like Delta blues — except for the Tuvan throat singer and the otherworldly rumblings from a didgeridoo. This slips into the album’s title song, a lively, celebratory rocker.

The song “Khreyyy” has overtones of metal, while “Vardusa Saza” starts off with a throbbing bass and wah-wah guitar that made me think it was going to be a Canki version of a Blaxploitation theme. It’s not. In fact, the song later features a group of women singing in a style reminiscent of Bulgarian choral music.

The album ends with “Kambines,” which begins with a flute solo and then goes into a lilting melody that might remind you of South African music.

Cankisou has yet to release anything on an American label. But that doesn’t mean that much anymore. You can download Faÿt at the usual places at the regular prices, and if you like bands like Gogol Bordello, I suggest you do.

Some videos. First a couple from Gogol Bordello

Here's Cankisou performing the song "Faÿt" live in Borneo last year

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