The Kropotkins / David Soldier

The Kropotkins

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The Kropotkins were apparently a one-off featuring leader/violinist Soldier and a motley crew of NYC regulars and irregulars, who played music that could perhaps be labeled avant folk blues. It's raggedy and mostly right, bringing to mind the old blues, rags 'n' hollers LPs released in the '60s by Dave Ray, Tony Glover, and John Koener. There's also (for those who remember) a touch of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, or maybe Geoff & Maria Muldaur. But since this is now New York circa 1996, the music is a little bit grimier, and the lyrics a little bleaker, than most earlier approximations of rural blues by white folkies. Soldier plays violin and banjo, Mark Feldman also plays violin, Samm Bennett and Jonathan Kane are on percussion, someone using the pseudonym "Dog" is on guitar, and Lorrette Velvette handles most of the vocals. Velvette has a thin, weary-sounding voice, but it works well with the more traditional-sounding blues numbers. Only one piece, "The Nasadiya," is an out and out failure, albeit an ambitious one; it represents Soldier's attempt to put lyrics from the Rig Veda to music, and is meandering, largely unintelligible without the lyric sheet, and ultimately quite boring. But when the group sticks to country-blues forms, the music is just fine. And even if the rather surreal lyrics don't always make a lot of sense beyond communicating a general feeling of despair, death, and damnation, such subject matter, after all, is fairly traditional blues fare. Still, the best pieces on the CD are probably versions of Fred McDowell's "Shake 'Em on Down" and Bukka White's "Parchman Farm," and it's too bad that Soldier and his Kropotkins didn't favor us with a few more interpretations of classic rural blues.

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