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The further East one travels musically from Europe, the greater the Hebrew and Sumarian influence that can be heard. What emanates from these Russian melodies is an ancient character, calligraphic and not unlike the Rosetta Stone. I am not saying that this music is strictly Hebraic, but the music does express a Middle Eastern personality as magnified through an Eastern European lens. Boris Grebenshikov ranks among the cream of the traditional Russian songwriters. His melodies and lyrics are full of the rich heritage of a pastoral existence. These songs are pregnant with a kind simplicity and a gentle demeanor.
Boris Grebenshikov is considered the dean of post-cold war Russian Songwriters, and the aptly titled Russian Songwriter is his first global release. Suppressed in pre-1989 Russia, Mr. Grebenshikov and his band Akvarium (“Aquarium”) are now embraced by the Soviet leadership as a new cultural beacon, the new face of Russia. In his native country, Mr. Grebenshikov commands a popularity comparable to any American stadium act.
Mr. Grebenshikov's music on Russian Songwriter treats the listener to a wide overview of his homeland's styles. The selections range from traditional Russian music to songs by writers who influenced his generation, such as Bulat Okujava and Alexander Vertinsky. These are unapologetically songwriter-centered pieces where the composer combines words and music to create a sonic landscape that is sumptuously beautiful and unmistakably Russian. Grebenshikov’s music, lyrics and performances collectively recall Schubertian song cycles such as Winterreise. The instrumentation (performers other than Grebenshikov are not identified in the package) is spare, usually consisting of guitar, accordion, bass, piano, percussion in various combinations, giving the music an Eastern European folk flavor, full of balladic introspection and dance rhythms.
To be sure, this music is nationalistic, but much more in the way that the music of Jean Sibelius is proudly, independently, and freely nationalisticas opposed to the old-school Soviet state- sponsored music, which was patently Stalinistic. It is fortunate to hear music composed during and after the culture-crushing oppression of communism. This music breathes the full inspiration of freedom. It illuminates the romantic experience of the simple, everyday things that makes we listeners all the same, all equal. This music is as comfortable as one’s heirloom quilt, with all of the smells and memories of home.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.