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Various Artists
Skaistakas Dziesmas
UPE 2000 (

Skaistakas Dziesmas, focused on traditional folk tunes, is part of an eight-recording series of Latvian music. The songs are performed simply and with a haunting beauty arising from sparse guitar and harp accompaniment, a variety of vocalists, and direct, no-nonsense melodies, each one an eight-bar repeated verse, not a refrain to be found. The liner notes are a challenge to the English-bound, Latvian lyrics accompanied by brief English paraphrases, credits unclear as to instruments played and songs for vocalists. Best bet: the World Music Shuffle, in which the listener abandons the pretense of appreciating vocals as anything other than instrumentation, the most human instrument of all. On such a basis, this brief recording, thirteen songs in a bare 35 minutes, will spin pleasurably by, most likely over and over, trailing visions of fields, woods, seas, romance, and horses, horses, horses.

On "Tumsa Nakte, Zaja Zale" the calmly finger-picked guitar and minimal harp chording lend an air of reverence to a pleasant male tenor vocal and simple, ruminative melody. On "Sarkandaila Roze Auga," the guitarist finger-picks a calming rolling waltz behind a pretty female alto vocal, the intuitive, repetitive melody broken only when guitar takes the lead for a bar or two. Were they not sung in Latvian, these two opening tracks could be English folk songs. "Es Izjaju Prusu Zemi" is quite a different thing, swinging common time with accordion and strummed acoustic guitar, a riding song featuring invigorating bass-heavy male harmony singing. "Toli Dzeivoj Muna Meilo" distills this theme further, a cappella male chorus delivering energetic three-part harmonies and dramatic dynamics. A peaceful, pretty lullaby, whispered male baritone vocal distantly echoed by female voice, surprisingly appears next on "Saulit Velu Vakara."

"Skaistakas Dziesmas" does an admirable job of capturing the compelling simplicity of a folk tradition, a pleasing, if brief, vacation from a loud, fast world. - Jim Foley

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