Jeszcze Raz's label debut had been long-awaited by fans. If it is far from disappointing, it still lacks some of the freshness and emotional exuberance found in the mid-'90s self-released album Pamietan. It is probably due to the fact that leader Paul Kunigis is getting older and more subdued. Then again, maybe Audiogram, Quebec's biggest record label, asked him to tone things down. In any case, Balagane is a good set of Eastern Europe songs. Kunigis sings in Polish (except for the French "J'Aimerai Te Dire"), his music is soaked in klezmer and East European folk tunes, but what sets him apart is that he doesn't sacrifice to party klezmer diktats, eschewing world flavor for the sake of it. These are songs first and foremost, with the spotlight kept on Kunigis' voice and piano. The Polish flavor comes from the occasional (but not obligatory) clarinet or accordion. More essential to his sound are drummer Rémi Leclerc and double bassist Tommy Babin. They form a very subtle rhythm section capable of enhancing the heart-on-sleeve emotions contained in the songs. "Czarna Kawa" (Black Coffee), "Yahayouni" (My Eyes), and the Dixieland-tinged "3 Pajaci" (3 Clowns) stand out, but the highlight is "Swetlana," the only song to reach a level of pathos, storytelling, and instrumental exuberance comparable to the group's earlier repertoire. The album was produced by Yves Desrosiers, who is also responsible for the critically acclaimed record of Gitano sensation Lhasa de Sela. His work here is just as commendable, if not only a little too polished (no pun intended).
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