Various Artists

Drinking Horns and Gramophones: First Recordings

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In a perfect world, there would have been no need to make this record available now -- it would have been in print for decades. But the world is far from perfect, although it's a little closer now that these recordings, all made before 1917, are on CD. Curiously, considering this music comes from Russian Georgia, they weren't part of a project collecting folk songs, but a real commercial venture aimed at selling the resultant discs in the region. What the songs illustrate so well is how the tuning system that worked locally has altered over the years, becoming more standard -- which is both a good and bad thing, because the idiosyncrasies here are often very appealing. With six choirs, there's a big vocal sound, and the variations around the country are sometimes obvious, sometimes not. The Makvaneti Choir from Guria get the lion's share of the spotlight with seven tracks, all recorded during 1907, and they sound magnificent. Like everything on Traditional Crossroads, the remastering and sound restoration are brilliant. Recommended, and not merely for those with an interest in ethnomusicology, but for anyone who loves voice.

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