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Ľudova Hudba Stana Baláža
Jak Śe Mace?

Review by Andrew Cronshaw

The sound of this album evokes memories of the LPs from the Slovak folklore ensembles of the vinyl era: strong, full throated male and female vocals, brilliant fiddle scampering or passionately soaring, with hot skittering cimbalom, nimble-fingered accordion and driving or slow-bowing double bass.

And indeed the songs and tunes that violinist Stanislav Baláž and his ensemble from eastern Slovakia have chosen are their celebration of, and tribute to, the music and musicians of their region, drawn from archives, old discs and veteran singers and musicians. But the five male player-singers and three female singers (the trio Krasotky) are a very fine, skillful ensemble of the present generation, with much experience playing dances and concerts around eastern Slovakia for the last thirteen years, and these are their own arrangements, in a beautifully played, modern-recorded album. None of that period vinyl crackle that some find evocative.

The material, whose sources and significance are described (in Slovak) in Baláž's booklet notes, reflects the mix of cultures in their Upper Šariš region of north-east Slovakia, particularly music found in the village of Raslavice. From the traffic sounds and whistling intro and memorable melody of the opening massed-chorus title track "Jak Śe Mace?" ("How Are You?"), it moves through local variants of the Hungarian high-energy čardáš, songs and tunes from local Roma virtuosi and bands, to a cover of a Yiddish song that became famous from a 1965 Czechoslovak film and a tongue-twister Russian-style polka that arrived in Raslavice via the Ruthenian culture of nearby villages.

Particularly poignant is the slow, sad solo female vocal of "A Ket Me Moja Mac" ("And When My Mother Gave Me Away") which is a tribute, a song from her repertoire, to Raslavice singer Mária Dankovičová, who died just before the recording of the album.

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