Bidaia - Duo
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Bidaia
Duo
artist release

The former quartet Bidaia is now a duo, with the two main players still in place. Mixel Ducau is a Basque alboka player, guitarist and singer, formerly of the group Errobi. Caroline Phillips is a California-born singer and hurdy-gurdy player. She has lived in the Basque Country since 1992. Both performed on Oihan, a well-received 2004 release by the larger group.

Despite this pedigree, and despite having its great moments, this CD is a bit inconsistent - it moves between new Basque traditional music and smooth, stylish world music, which the group does well, but sometimes descends into a muddy new age-pop-fusion.

Ideally, Bidaia (it means Journey in Euskara) creates a kind of Fairportized Basque sound that when it works, works well. But it's a fine balance: sometimes the arrangements just don't fit.

There are some great moments: "Basamartxa" is a great first track, combining the best of all elements, with tight harmonies by Phillips and Ducau, great Basque tambourine (panderoa) by Elisabeth Dufour, and all sorts of energy.

"Rahna Khawa" is a Basque song with Arabic elements, a great tour de force where Phillips channels Sandy Denny. This poignant song is about the problems faced by people who come to Europe from the poorer countries nearby, hoping for a better life. It's a memorable track with a catchy tune and a lyric full of meaning.

Other strong tracks are "Amaren Alabarik," a traditional Bizkaian kopla, familiar to fans of both Tapia eta Leturia and Oskorri; and the instrumental "Zortziko Ziburu," with excellent hurdy-gurdy from Phillips. Instrumentals like "Albokalifornia" and "Albokajun" do justice to the tradition of the old Basque albokaris with powerful alboka and percussion. In fact, the alboka tracks are among the most interesting, invoking the spirit of Basque legends like Txilibrin.

But, for all the good solid work in this recording, there is nearly as much that can be skipped. At times the duo wavers too far into new age or pop. "Where is the Rain" has a strong message, but the style is hackneyed. And on "Herribera," a beautiful song penned by Basque legend Benito Lertxundi, the group wanders off the trad-roots map, with an overdone vocal arrangement best left to pop singers.

Though "Ze Poza" is done in a well-worn folk style, Ducau and Phillips offer it with a lot of energy and fine harmonies.

Bidaia's Duo has variety, instrumental excellence, and is in touch with a strong tradition while open to the wider musical world. But sometimes the pair lack the discipline. A strong critical voice in the studio might have helped them avoid these pitfalls. - David Cox

The group's web site is: www.bidaia.com

CD available from cdRoots

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