06 October 2008

Monday's mp3: La Cherga's Near Miss

La Cherga - Fake No More
(Asphalt Tango Records)

I've got a lot of respect for Garth Cartwright -- he's a great proponent of Balkan and Gypsy music, and I highly recommend his book and CD compilation Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians. Yet... we have our points of disagreement. Such as this album.

Cartwright wrote a lyrical introduction in the album notes, evoking an alternate universe in which Lee "Scratch" Perry relocates to Tito's Yugoslavia, laying the foundations of a Balkan dub style that culminates in La Cherga's sound.

The album drew me in at once with a great Balkan energy, hot rhythms, and great horn riffs. Also enticing is the very idea of a "pan-Balkanic consciousness" that could help transcend the failed politics that have bathed much of the region in turmoil. "These musicians," Cartwright writes," all too familiar with the insanity of nationalism and the impotence of bombs and the bleak reality of refugee visas, have created a temple of tolerance, one built on diversity."La Cherga - Fake No More - on SoundRoots.org

But on subsequent listens, La Cherga sounds less fresh. The little-girl vocals of Irina Karamarkovic start to sound ordinary. She's got a nice voice, but seems to be phoning it in, a sense that isn't aided by the uninspired English-language lyrics. Maybe I'm missing the irony, but on the opening track "Cooking Dub" when she repeatedly sings "We are going nowhere," it seems to set the tone for the rest of the album. "Don't Go This Way" similarly could serve as a warning away from the song's insipid tag "Don't be braindead" and the ersatz ursari vocals.

The irony of La Cherga is that the English lyrics that should have provided a point of entry for a broader audience are what will likely be driving listeners away. And that's a shame, because the band has a promising start with its unique blend of dub and Balkan flavors. And if you can get past the bad apples, there are some gems on this CD, including "Wedding Song," "Rembetiko 22," "Muki's Pub," and "What a Wonderful Life."

Cartwright got it half right, and so did La Cherga.

[mp3] La Cherga: Rembetiko 22
from the album Fake No More

La Cherga promo video
More info from Asphalt Tango

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