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Unblocked, The Music of Eastern Europe
(Ellipsis Arts)

This is an ambitious 3 CD set of "Music of Eastern Europe" (albeit, just folk music), a region they define as stretching from the Baltic to the Balkans, a huge area for any single exploration, but it is handled with both expansive vision and an eye for detail. The project is approached with a lot of personal enthusiasm, and it shows in virtually every single track. There are the expected inclusions like Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen and the Bulgarian Angelite choir. But the bulk of the work is going to be new to almost every listener; Latvian folk zither maestro Vadis Muktupavels; the fiddle and bagpipe sound of Tolovaj Mataj from Slovenia; solo singers and zitherists; huge string and brass ensembles. Unblocked is full of both revelation and wonder, and a good starting point to move beyond the mysterious voices and into the real center of the music. - CF

Music from the Edge of Europe

Despite its title, Music from the Edge of Europe is not at all a collection of edgy music. It is a compilation of darkly hued music from Portugal, which seems to carry the wellspring of sadness that marbles the music of its former colonies, such as Cape Verde, Angola and even usually exuberant Brazil. The disc starts out with a haunting tune from the up-and-coming group Madredeus, which sounds like a chamber music quartet wrapping itself in the high drama of Portuguese fado.

Fado -- which has been accurately described as a cross between opera and the blues -- seems to be a touchstone of the music collected here. The disc, in fact, has two cuts by the undisputed queen of fado, Amalia Rodrigues, who -- accompanied only by a jangly guitar -- stuns as she erupts with incredibly powerful yet tightly controlled emotion.

Even the contemporary artists on the collection, though, seem to channel a kind of sorrow that feels ancient. Several of the stark, modern cuts have a jazz-influenced sophistication similar to the brooding tangos of Astor Piazzolla. With its nicely annotated liner notes, this collection is a great introduction to a little-mined vein of exquisitely sad and passionate music. - Marty Lipp

The Edge Of The Forest
Music of the World (

A fine set of music from Roumania's Transylvanian musicians. You may have heard hints of this in some of the music of Marta Sebestyen, but here's the real thing as it is still played by traditional musicians in their own towns and villages. There are irresistible dance tunes for fiddles, whistles and gordon, a double bass that is played in a uniquely percussive style. But the real revelation here are some solo songs that display how unique the melodies of this region really are. They are sung in open voice, with unusual slides, subtle vibrato and glottal ornaments. A few tracks feature singers with ensembles that pull both aspects together. As is the norm with Music of the World, these are not only fine performances but are excellently recorded, in homes and makeshift studios in the towns and villages of the artists. - CF

If you have had enough of overwrought pop rock music that is way too full of its own importance you might do better to go Czeching In (Skoda, PO 1389, Wilmington, DE 19899-1389 202.547.8006) on some what's happening (and has happened) in the Czech Republic and Slovakia since the Plastic People retired. Latin rock? Sum svistu is your band, self described as your "happy little dance band." The very eastern women of Zuby nehty (Tooth and Nail) do a dark yet poppy rock with no guitars, just heavy drums, piano and flute for lead. One of my all time favorite Czech bands (and the only group I recognized here), Dunaj appear with their quirky, mean sound rife with pseudo balalaika-guitars and surly vocals. The set closes with a mediocre pop-blues rag by Duty, who are referred to in the notes as "the most popular band in the Czech Republic... we don't know why." Me either, but in all cultural explorations the good, the bad and the ugly all have to have their two minutes, and this set offers them all, from post-punk opera to strange reggae.

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