Various Artists 'The Rough Guide To The Music Of Hungary' – album review

Various – The Rough Guide To The Music Of Hungary (World Music Network)
CD/DL
Out Now

Our latest Rough Guide review is an album of Hungarian music. Paul Scott-Bates is in the reviewers chair get his preconceptions of Hungarian music blown sky high by a varied & invariably great album.

If your knowledge of Hungarian music is limited to your knowledge of classical composer Franz Liszt and you thought Hungarian music was all folk and violins, you’d be like me. You’d also be in for a bit of a surprise if you then heard up this album.

If you plan to listen to this album whilst relaxing with a Horlicks before bed, then with a few notable exceptions, you may as well have 5 double Expresso’s and a bar of Green & Blacks 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate, because the Hungarians clearly knows how to have a good time!

Opener, Erdelyes by Robert Lakatos, is for four minutes a beautiful fiddle and (I’m guessing) cimbalom affair. Perfect in every respect, played stunningly. Shortly after the four minutes, the track explodes and it’s Party Time! I’ve discovered that trying to tap your foot whilst playing this in your car isn’t a wise thing to attempt.

After all that excitement follows a gorgeous haunting, vocal only piece. Beata Palya has a voice that could melt hearts and the track Agrol-Agra is breathtaking. Fortunately really, as I reached work just as it ended and was suitably calmed to walk into the building without performing the Urgos (otherwise known as the ”Ëœjumping dance’)!

The very upbeat Csango Boogie by Kerekes Band brings to the fore bass, drums and an improvised zurna (a type of wind instrument). A jazzy little instrumental. A slow down after a couple of minutes with the wind instrument takes over before going full steam ahead again.

The introduction to Keseredes Kave (Bittersweet Coffee) is played on a cimbalom, a metal string box that can be plucked or struck. Picture East-End pub sat around the piano, before turning into a Charlie Chaplin heartbreak scene where our hero pines his lost love. After a couple of minutes, the bass enters and the soundtrack could now be for the Keystone Cops chasing criminals down the city streets!

Sondorgo & Ferus Mustafov begin their instrumental offering at quite some speed. Mainly the instruments that remain prevalent throughout the album but played with expertise on Kisacko Kolo. Imagine the equivalent of a buzzing bluebottle in the background before shouting voices towards the end of the track with participants clearly having a great time!

The majority of tracks on the album do seem to be instrumental but it’s testament to the musicianship that they remain interesting and engaging without the need for a voice.

The wonderfully titled track 6, Puter Mama (Mother Open), starts with a lone female voice, very enduring and enchanting, almost an all-voice affair from Bela Lakatos & The Gypsy Youth Project.
Baj Van Medley could almost be a Kosack dance, I can’t help imagining Di Naye Kapelye & The Tecsoi Banda playing in a bar, fit for bursting, with people shouting and singing as if it were their last beer! Multiple voices begin track 8 with a female vocal soon emerging from the sound of acoustic guitars. The folk feel remains a common denominator throughout the majority of the album. Suss Fel Nap (Come Out Sun) by Csurrento is one of those tracks that, despite being in a foreign language, I find myself humming the melody to long after it’s finished. A distinct influence of Irish folk music (or, was Irish music influenced by Hungarian folk? ”“ Discuss).

A very pleasant, skiffle-like Elmentem A Piacra by Agi Szaloki preceeds the wonderfully named Hungarian Hurdy-Gurdy Orchestra. Even if Mikor Kend Es Pista Batyam isn’t an enjoyable song, they win the award for Best Name For A Group 2012. Fortunately, it’s another pleasing track with what I can only describe as a kazoo sounding instrument featured throughout!

The Fiddle In His Hand, translated from Hegedut A Kezibe, starts at a lightening pace. If Szalonna is the chap mentioned in the title, then I would suggest he was born with said instrument as he plays with superb skill. Agnes Herckzu provides the vocals on a track which is perfect for driving extremely speedily to – I would of course again not condone this type of behaviour.

For me, the stand-out track from this album is A Szeretet Probaja (A Test Of True Love) by Szilvia Bognar. A beautiful voice, played over a background of delightful instrumentation. This one actually could be a track to play before retiring to bed at night with a nice mug of Horlicks. A quite stunning track.

There’s a trumpet-sounding sound on the next track. The bluebottle bouncing off a window trying to escape to the outside returns once more. Don’t let that put you off, there’s another uplifting track in Parno Graszt’s Ravagok A Zongorara (Hit The Piano). Kurucz Mahala performed by Buda Fold Band again re-enforces the skilled, intricate musicianship of Hungarian folk.

Next, I’m blasted back to 1982 when Csillag Vagy Fecske (Star Or Swallow) reminds me of Dexys‘ Too Rye Aye period. That loose, relaxed, Gypsy sound from Csik Band & Andras Lovasi. A lone saxophone sound dominates the penultimate track, Megy A Nap Lefele (Now The Sun Starts To Sink). Primas Parade tantalisingly keep this track lovely and calm, threatening to burst into some mad, folk tune at any point, but somehow, resisting the temptation.

The final track is bizarre. A female, sounding like she has recently inhaled a tank of helium backed by an instrument that I really don’t recognise. Possibly a synthesizer somewhere in the background over an Asian sounding soundtrack.

I took a bit of a gamble reviewing this album as I really didn’t know what to expect. I have to admit, that I’ve found it a very enjoyable album, which is also a great amount of fun. New sounds and techniques that I haven’t encountered before. Intricate songs, superb musicianship, and, as with the rest of the Rough Guide series, there’s a bonus cd ”“ this time, an album by Tarkany-Muvek.

All this and I’ve found out that a Duda sounds like a bagpipe!

You can find out more information about the album &, indeed, buy it from WMN here.

All words Paul Scott-Bates. Paul’s website (where this first appeared) is Heaven Is A Place On Pendle. Paul has been working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, easily one of the best radio shows on the BBC. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow his personal twitter, @hiapop.

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