Balval: Blizzard Boheme (2007)

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Balval: Blizzard Boheme
Back in my teen years, when my listening tastes were somewhat limited, I read an interview of Frank Zappa in one of the rock magazines. He was asked what he was listening to, what type of popular music spun around on his turntable. He dismissed the popular sounds, saying they didn't interest him at all, that he'd rather listen to Hungarian folk music. I thought he was being facetious. I thought he meant that there was nothing in the world less "cool" than Hungarian folk music. It took some years and a bunch of listening to realize that Zappa was serious; and that Hungarian folk music could, indeed, be very cool.

Which brings us to a group called Balval and Blizzard Boheme. These are sounds out of Eastern Europe, gypsy music spruced up and modernized, and sung in a bunch of tongues, including the Roma language, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Serbian.

The group consists of vocalist Awana Burgess, violinist/vocalist Rosalie Hartog, guitarist Daniel Mizrahi and bassist Benjamin Body, along with guest percussionist Bachar Khalife (on eight of the thirteen tunes) and vocalist Erika Serre on "Suda Phabaj."

These are vibrant, energetic sounds that conjure gypsy dancing around Balkan campfires. Returning to the Hungarian folk music theme, the disc opens with "Ado Chavo," a tune from that very country. It's a very high octane song, with Mizrahi's Django-esque guitar and Hartog's swirling violin burning behind Burgess' unaffected, no-hold-barred vocals—a song that begs you to get your dancing shoes on, and maybe get a little crazy.

Want to put a category on this sound? Gypsy Rock? Neo-Gypsy. Both could fit. The group does rock, sort of: Mizrahi switches back and forth from acoustic to electric guitars, and on the electric side he can have an echoing surf music feel ("Liza" and "Karen, Chavorale, Drom") mixed in with a rough-around-the-edges, crunchy Neil Young vibe.

This is fun, exuberant, sometimes dreamy, sometimes fiery stuff that bends the categories all over the place. Frank Zappa would be proud.

Track Listing: Ado Chavo; Dumbala Dumba; Ama Lelo; Tango; Sude Phabaj; Liza; Jekha Chaja; Keren, Chavorale, Drom; Corro Som; Cirikli; Smelka; Blues; An La Devla; Loli Rokla.

Personnel: Awana Burgess: voice; Rosalie Hartog: violin, voice; Daniel Mizrahi: guitar; Benjamin Body: bass; Zachar Khalife: percussion (1-4, 7, 8, 10, 13); Erika Serre: voice (5).

Record Label: Whaling City Sound

Style: Latin/World


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