Various Artists

Excavated Shellac: Strings, Guitar, Oud, Tar, Violin and More from the 78 RPM Era

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Excavated Shellac: Strings presents 14 previously unreissued recordings dating from the early 1920s to the mid-'50s, focusing on string instruments. Featured are such exotic (at least to average Western listeners' ears) instruments as the vina, endingidi, shamisen, bardanger, Paraguayan harp, panduri, and tar, in addition to pieces with the more conventional violin and guitar. These rarities hail from all over the world, the musicians originating from Uganda, Bolivia, India, Armenia, Iran, Lebanon, the Congo, Norway, and other far-flung locales. Purely as an exercise in archivism, it's impressive; it's hard to believe anyone managed to find all of the 78s from which the recordings are sourced, let alone compile them into one reissue. More impressive than the rarity, however, is the quality of the performances, as well as their eclectic variety. Most of them do share a somewhat somber, melancholic feel sometimes verging on piety, in the melodies, vocals (for those pieces that feature them), and ways in which the instruments are played. It might not be the most upbeat of material, with some notable exceptions like Nzila Joseph's "Moleke Mbwa" (from the Congo), which sounds almost like an ancestor of highlife music, and Trio Tipico Paraguayo de Felix Perez Cardozo's ebullient instrumental "Pajaro Campana" (from Paraguay). But the fierce emotion and passion underlying the execution is both undeniable and moving. Despite the age of the original discs, the sound is about as good as it can be with such relatively ancient material with which to work, and the annotation thorough and accessible. It's available only on LP, but worth keeping the turntable around for.

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