|Russia. Cossack waltzes, balalaïka tremolos, Red Square parades. That's about all most of us know -- or think we know -- about Russia's popular music scene. Oh, I forgot - the two lesbian Rock teens and the Classics like Tchaikovsky. But you get my point. What kind of homegrown tunes are contemporary Russians listening to these days? According to Obereg, their kind. Think Carly Simon-esque songs which at times also evoke the elfish atmosphere of Sally Oldfield. Centered on Tatiana Rykova's silvery vocals, we find Denis Ivandizé on violin, guitars, accordion and gousli; Renaud Versteegen on drums; Sergueï Dementiev on guitars and both Denis and Renaud as well as Dimitri Soukhodolov and Oleg Pychnenko on backup vocals.
This group is completely unlike the ensembles Loyko and Arbat which focus on original and modern Rom repertoire to, unwittingly, play to clichéd notions of Parisian expatriates in wicked fur coats, chugging vodka while slapping their thighs to wild Gipsy Cardas entertainment. No, Obereg is modern songwriting over very sparse accompaniment. A counter point also to Boris Grebenshikov's Russian Songwriter on Naxos World, Far Away eschews overt sentimentality, high-speed finales or other traditionally exported cultural ingredients that would point at the origin of most of Obereg's members. Instead, one hears elements of former Dutch supergroup Flairck, a certain global gesture towards Folk that's too broad in scope to become specific but tangible enough to suggest - Folk from somewhere. Of course the lyrics eventually give things away, but even that is subtle enough to defeat pigeon-holing.
Far Away isn't power or lush music like Lhasa' Llorona, for example. It's dreamy, wistful, quiet like Irina Mikhailova's debut album Russian Twilight before she joined the avantgarde modern-ambient formation Lumin. At times, Far Away is evocative of wide open spaces under gloomy or cold skies like much of Jan Garbarek's ouevre. Being a vocalist's showcase, success naturally hinges on the singer's command, to draw in the audience and retain its attention throughout. The album's in excellent shape here, with Tatiana maintaining a becoming balance of lyricism and intensity, completely devoid of the kind of tear-jerky artifice we're used to seeing with Pop divas. Emphasis is on expansive story-telling, literal comprehension of which remains naturally reserved for natives who can follow the lyrics. The rest of us have to approach the music directly, made easy because of its innate poetry. Despite the title Far Away, Obereg is far closer than a European or American perspective might have suggested - unless its members referred to 'far away from preconceived notions'. In that case, the title is about as apt as one could wish for. Highly recommended if you like Carly Simon and her kind.
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