Hovada Bozí/Animantes Dei

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This is an unusual opus for Jablkon: a Christmas album. As with the group's previous studio album, Hovada Bozi (aka Animantes Dei in its Latin title and God's Beasts in its unofficial English one) features a plethora of guest musicians and singers to dress up what is mostly a weak musical proposition. The cuteness factor is through the roof throughout the album, but these simple songs remain a far cry from the complex folk-prog tunes that comprised Jablkon's early repertoire, holiday season or not. That being said, approached as a Christmas album instead of a Jablkon one, Hovada Bozi does have something meaningful to offer. The songs are immediately likable (and have a Vladimír Veit quality to them) with mostly acoustic arrangements that are pretty and rich -- and they feature anything from mandolin to clarinet, children singers, and choirs. The "Tydnu" (Weeks) suite provides the album's backbone; the very short verse is reiterated a dozen times, each new appearance featuring a different arrangement (imagine something like "99 Bottles of Beer" popping in for a verse between every song). Except for the bluesy "Balada O Bramborovem," the songs stick to a folk form with children's music overtones. Despite several slow tempi, the album adopts a quick pace, as the four-minute barrier is never crossed and settings vary greatly from one song to another. A lot of money obviously went into the album and it pays off -- the production is nearly flawless and the whole project is a listener-friendly crowd-pleaser (incidentally, the album has won an award at the Czech equivalent of the Grammys). But Hovada Bozi leaves only a faint mark once the holiday season is over and raises another question as to whether or not Michal Nemec Jablkon and company are still capable of writing genre-pushing songs.

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