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(artist release)
Review by Andrew Cronshaw

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As the title suggests, Slovak band Hrdza (the name means ‘Rust’) have been in existence for 22 years. To celebrate that, for their sixth album they’ve recorded new versions of their most-played songs.

Their sound is impressively big and powerful, with male and female vocals, fiddles, accordion, guitar and other frets, percussion, bass and drums, with guests adding cimbalom and other traditional instruments such as fujara and augmenting the vocals.

Among those guests it’s Mykhaylo Zakhariya’s cimbalom that features most, appearing on eight of the thirteen tracks, and in effect he’s a key member here with his instrument’s tight percussive skitter. It opens the first track, the anthemic “Slovensko Moje, Otčina Moja – Slovakia of Mine, Fatherland of Mine,” together with the fine voice of Lucia Gibarti, before the arrangement swells with fiddles, bowed bass and massed vocals.

Into exuberant high-energy for “Pod Božími Oknami – Under God’s Windows” with founder-member, arranger and multi-instrumentalist Slavomir Gibarti, in one of the several songs of his own composition, taking the lead voice in Slovak and Polish, alternating with Susanna Jara’s soaring vocals and joined, as for most tracks, by more big massed vocals.

Fiddler Dominik Maniak’s dazzling fiddling is a strong component, and takes solo lead breaks on tracks such as the Rusyn traditional song “Štefan.” Guest Štefan Štec, one of Slovakia’s greatest and increasingly celebrated young traditional singers, isn’t on that track but he shares vocals with Lucia Gibarti on “Mám Ja Orech – I Have A Walnut Tree” and “Ponižej Keľemeša – Below Keľemeš.”

The brooding fiddle of the band’s other fiddler, Ľubo Šamo, opens “Dumy – Thoughts,” and the high-energy pauses for the plaintive “Chodia Kone – Horses Are Walking,” translated from the Russian of dissident poet and composer Yuliy Chersanovich Kim, before it bursts back in with a short percussion-led instrumental coda. “Stískaj, Bozkaj, Miluj Ma – Hold Me, Kiss Me, Love Me” is an adaptation of a Ukrainian traditional song. The closer, “Veru Mi Je Dobre – I’m Truly All Right” has overtone whistles and voice lines crossing one another in the characteristically Slovak, and very appealing, echoing mountain-soundscape way.

Giving traditional and roots-based original songs a big sound treatment, there isn’t a Slovak band that sounds like Hrdza. This album is a big strong statement, rousing indeed, but very skilful too.

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