KARA – Waters So Deep (own label)

Kara1I’m prepared to wager that very few albums begin with a lyric by Alexander Pushkin, particularly one that serves as a warning about what not to do when confronted by a naked young lady emerging from a lake. Particularly if you’re a monk. ‘Rusalka’ fulfils that very role and Kara return to a similar theme with ‘Mermaid’s Lullaby’, this by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but you knew that.

By now you may be thinking that there’s something not quite run-of-the mill about Kara and you’d be right. Although based in Hertfordshire they sound decidedly pan-European – their instrumentation of guitar, accordion and hammered dulcimer gives them a chameleon-like ability. There are two writers in the band. Guitarist Ben Honey writes what might be termed the “western” material: ‘Hunter’s Moon’ is positively bucolic in a late sixties way and ‘Union Street’ finds an urban metaphor for a relationship. Lead vocalist Daria Kulesh brings exotic ideas rooted in Russian folklore – she provides the music for Pushkin’s words – and wrote the odd but compelling ‘In Lille’. With Gary Holbrook’s accordion taking on a Gallic lilt, it’s the story of a sixteen year old girl resisting the blandishments of a middle-aged married man. It’s a disturbing but magnificent piece of writing and she even makes the word Peugeot sound sexy.

Lots of tunes decorate the songs and there are two instrumental sets. The first is a real mashup, mixing Simon Jeffes’ ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ with a tune from Irish band Kíla and Pachelbel’s ‘Canon In D’ while the second is a more English session set with tunes by Andy Cutting, the late Undine Hornby and Martin Ellison.

Kara reminds me a little of Dando Shaft, not so much for the way they sound – they are very different in that respect – but for the way they feel: that pan-European aesthetic. There is an air of mystery about both bands accentuated here by Kate Rouse’s dulcimer weaving through Daria’s vocals. I rather hope that Daria insists on conducting interviews in Russian with the aid of an interpreter but I’m sure she’s far too sensible. Shame. This is a brilliant debut album.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.karafolkband.com