DARIA KULESH – Long Lost Home (own label)

Long Lost HomeI sometimes feel that I’ve lived with this album for almost as long as Daria has. I heard all the songs as they were released in their various ways; I talked to Daria about the background to the project and some of the stories and even got a sneak preview of the cover art. After all the anticipation I began to have a niggling fear that Long Lost Home might prove to be an anti-climax. What do I know?

Daria’s first solo album, Eternal Child, was autobiographical in the personal sense: the story of a young woman travelling the world and having, shall we say, adventures. Long Lost Home is autobiographical in the historical sense. The long lost home is Ingushetia in the Caucasus, the ancestral home of Daria’s grandmother, a country whose people were displaced in 1944 on the orders of Stalin. There are some harrowing stories here as well as more reflective ones.

The first song we heard was ‘The Moon And The Pilot’ which originally appeared on a Folkstock sampler and then slipped into Kara’s live set. Now in its proper setting it has blossomed to become the keystone of the record. You probably know it by heart if you’ve read this far but if not I won’t spoil the story for you. It sits second on Long Lost Home, following ‘Tamara’, based on words by the Russian romantic painter and poet, Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov, about an immortal siren – there is an abrupt change in mood from the mythical to the painfully truthful in these two songs. Next comes ‘Safely Wed’ – arranged marriage was normal in Ingushetia but “Auntie Nina” defied the tradition – and the magnificent ‘Amanat’, another song that crept into Kara’s live set.

When I first listened to the record after every song I thought, “go on, top that” and, remarkably, Daria does just that. In the middle of the set is ‘The Panther’, the story of an NKVD officer who refused to aid the deportations and turned vigilante. Movies have been made of slenderer stuff. That’s followed by ‘Like A God’, about Daria’s grandmother’s uncle who defied Stalin in a different way and ‘Heart’s Delight’, based on a traditional Ingush song and set to a martial beat. Many of these songs are linked to Daria’s family going back three or four generations but the subject of ‘Gone’ is herself, still living in a land that is not her own but, unlike the Ingush of seventy years ago, she can return home.

The key musicians supporting Daria are multi-instrumentalists Jonny Dyer and Jason Emberton, who also produced the record and Ingush singer Timur Dzeytov who also plays the traditional dakhchan pandar, providing some of the more exotic sounds. Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer is a distinctive presence as are the nyckelharpas and smallpipes of Vicki Swan. Daria is in superb voice as befits these literate songs – the word “operatic” keeps coming to mind but that isn’t right at all. It’s about power and heart and love and melancholy and about telling important stories in a very human way.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

Long Lost Home will be launched at Cecil Sharp House on February 23rd 2017 – the anniversary of the displacement of the Ingush people.

‘The Moon And The Pilot’ – official video:

KARA – Some Other Shore (Self-Released)

Some Other ShoreFronted by the Russian-born (but quintessentially English-sounding) Daria Kulesh who also plays guitar and bodhran, alongside Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, guitarist Ben Honey and latest recruit Phil Underwood on melodeon, the Hertfordshire quartet’s latest fusion of traditional English and Russian folk also features one-off contributions from fiddle player James Delarre and Lukas Drinkwater on double bass with producer Jason Emberton providing any undefined extra bibs and bobs.

For those unfamiliar with the band, such as myself, the first thing that strikes is the crystalline purity of Kulesh’s often soaring vocals, clearly a voice born to sing traditional folk, to be followed by the heady marriage of diverse cultural stylings, characterised by the musical interplay between Rouse and Underwood. This time round, the majority of the songs and tunes are self-penned, opening with the five minute, fiddle-featured ‘Tamara’s Wedding’, Kulesh’s lyric about a woman seduced to hell by a duplicitously consoling demon after the death of the bridegroom inspired by ‘The Demon’, a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, itself drawing upon Georgian folk legend. Next up is the first of Honey’s five contributions, the far more English folk influences of ‘Seaview’ which, in talking about how certain places hold collective memories, may well be about the Edwardian resort on the Isle of Wight.

A similar wistful and whimsical quality informs his second song, ‘Adrienne’, which the notes describe as being about a song fairy, but is essentially about those magical singers who sometimes pop up at folk clubs, dazzle everyone, and are then gone. On a somewhat darker note, the melodeon-led, Drinkwater-featuring ‘Carousel Waltz’ addresses the cycle of addiction with slang references to cocaine and heroin before giving way to the frisky urgency of ‘Stormteller’ with its “pitter-patter” chorus which is all about those dark rain clouds that sometimes seem to hover over only you, although here Honey seems to suggest that such folk warrant having the soul sodden. His final number, ‘Devilry Dance’, is a clarinet-coloured jazzy folk swirl tale of Faustian pacts and metaphorical femme fatales that lead you on, promising to lift you on high only to see you fall.

Underwood makes his mark with two tracks, ‘Leigh Fishermen’, a traditional-flavoured tribute to those who risk their lives trawling the seas on which he harmonises behind Kulesh on the chorus, and the two sprightly- and, as you would expect, melodeon-led – English folk tunes ‘Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens’, the titles referencing the village in Kent and his London suburb home.

Not to be left out, Rouse (who also appears on Ange Hardy’s Esteesee album) is featured, provides harmonies and arranged the six-and-a-half minute ‘Lovers’ Tasks/Black Tea Waltz’ which pairs a gently waltzing Appalachian version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ with her self-penned coda.

Of the three remaining tracks, Kulesh is wholly responsible for the haunting ‘Goodbye and Forgive Me’, its spooked musical box intro introducing a dark murder ballad, inspired by “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District”, about a woman trapped in an imprisoning marriage who conspires with her lover to have the husband killed, only for the crime to be exposed and her lover to take up with another woman, the end echoing the novel’s finale where both women drown.

Things are no cheerier on the dulcimer-based ‘Misery and Vodka’, her translation of a lugubrious Russian drinking song, sung in both English and the original, set to a Russian Gypsy tune (known as ‘Two Guitars’) by Ivan Vasiliev, though not the ballet dancer of the same name. The final track is also a traditional Russian tune and lyric, again translated by Kulesh, the title, ‘Ataman’, being the name given to Cossack military leaders, Rouse’s dulcimer solo precluding a mournful Russian and English sung story of a group of soldiers contemplating their fate (“rain will fall upon my bones…crows will feast upon my eyes”) in the coming battle. Not, perhaps, something to send you off into the evening full of the joys of life, but a terrific conclusion to a fine album but a band that deserve much wider recognition.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.karafolkband.com

The Kara showreel video (with Gary Holbrook on accordion):