Various Artists

Best of Folk Music from Latvia

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Taking on one of the largest codified repertoires is a mighty task for a single album, but this compilation from ARC does a pretty good job. Latvian folk music is known to have some 1.2 million songs set in the repertoire, covering every aspect of life and reality. As such, folk groups tend to focus on one genre of the songs alone, leaving other genres to other groups. Here, various folk groups work their way across the styles. The album opens with a women's song and a haunting chorus somewhat reminiscent of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. An almost Celtic song marks the first appearance of the mythological subset, and a nostalgic piece of contemporary fusion shows off the newer genre known in Latvia as post-folklore. Ilga Reizniece, the originator of that very genre, makes an appearance with a gravelly delivery over lilting strings (worth the price of the album itself), and Patina mix an ancient song with a bit of sparse jazz. A fire ritual song serves as an introduction to a series of war and ritual songs to come, followed up a few songs later with a war song by Vilkaci (not all that far from a standard drinking song). Normally known for their metal, Skyforger contribute a light piece centered on a flute before the sound turns back to the ritual songs. The bulk of the remainder of the album is filled with more academic folk ensembles, each re-creating one song from its chosen genre, with one treat in the moribund Liv language. Latvian music is widely varied, and as such will prove hit-and-miss with listeners depending on their own tastes and the specific genres in play. This album does a decent job of collecting enough variety to please everyone with at least a couple of tracks. Excellent for the curious newcomer.

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