DARIA KULESH – the Earthly Delights launch – June 1st 2019

Daria Kulesh
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Hosted by Dunton Folk, the church of St Mary Magdalene welcomed a gathering of friends old and new for the official launch of Daria Kulesh’s third solo album, Earthly Delights. Daria’s gigs are like that – there’s always someone good to talk to. This was the big band – the first time I’d seen the line-up – with regular collaborators Kate Rouse, Marina Osman, Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan on nyckelharpa and bagpipes. With them were Katrina Davies on fiddle, Heather Sirrel, whose 5-string bass is almost as tall as she is and Edwin Beasant on drums and percussion.

We weren’t expecting too many surprises. Daria sang the album in order but embellished the stories behind the songs and sometimes got quite impassioned about the iniquities of rulers, raising an ironic laugh when she talked about coming to democratic Britain after living in Russia and carrying with her the history of the Ingush people. She confessed in her introduction to ‘Earthly Delights’ that one of her delights was turnips – that got a real laugh – but someone reminded me that she is Russian, after all!

Players came and went but everyone was back on stage for the first half closer, ‘Vasilisa’. The mix and the arrangements were tight but this was Daria’s event and the job of the musicians was to project her which, of course, they did admirably. This wasn’t a night for extravagant soloing but even so I do wish that Jonny had been a bit higher in the mix – it may just have been where I was sitting, of course.

In the second half, before ‘Cap & Bells’, Daria introduced the composer, Joseph Sobol. He was sitting just behind us so, of course, my wife had already engaged him in conversation during the interval – I said that there was always someone good to talk to.  I should say that, at the time, I was chatting to someone I hadn’t spoken to in nearly twenty years – that’s the sort of evening it was! ‘Greedy King’ is perfect for a big finish with everyone back on stage.

For the first encore, Daria soloed a song called ‘The Highlanders’ and let us into a secret. This is a hidden track on Earthly Delights – more of an Easter egg actually because it’s track zero. Daria assures me it’s there but I haven’t managed to access it yet. Finally the band came back for ‘Heart’s Delight’ from Long Lost Home – a perfect ending for a evening of songs that are, on the one hand, about human weaknesses but also about human happiness. Of course there were still people to talk to before we wended our way into the night.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Golden Apples’ – official video:

DARIA KULESH – Earthly Delights (own label)

Earthly DelightsDaria Kulesh is a very highly-rated performer in the hallowed virtual halls of Folking.com, so I count myself as rather lucky to have got a review copy of her forthcoming CD Earthly Delights, due for release on May 31st 2019. Once again, she is supported by an impressive selection of musicians. As well as many names already familiar from her previous CDs and/or live performances (all reputable musos in their own right, of course), three tracks also feature characteristically fine fiddle from the Phil Beer (tracks 4 and 9) and Tom Kitching (track 1). Most of the production is expertly handled by Jason Emberton, who also contributes much of the accompaniment.

As you’d expect, there are several songs here that derive from Daria’s Russian and Ingush heritage and her knowledge of Slavic folklore, but this time she’s cast her nets a little wider, without compromising her ability to tell a story in song.

Here’s the track listing.

  1. Daria’s lyrics to ‘Golden Apples’, with music by Igor Devlikamov, are based on a Russian folk tale concerning the Firebird, though not the story that forms the basis of Stravinsky’s ballet. An exhilarating start to the album.
  2. ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ is Richard Farina’s lyric to the tune better known as ‘My Lagan Love’, a glorious melody collected by Herbert Hughes in Donegal in the early 20th A sensitive reading with restrained instrumental and vocal accompaniment, rather than the full-on harmonies of Sandy Denny’s version. Closer, perhaps, to the gentle orchestration of the version recorded by Mimi Farina after Richard’s death, though Daria’s vocals are more animated and accurate in pitch. (I still love Mimi’s version, though.)
  3. ‘Shame Or Glory’ is by Daria, and makes the very valid point that a McGonagall or Florence Foster Jenkins has the same drive to create and succeed that characterize more “successful” creators, and we should respect that. The arrangement has a sort of Kurt Weill/cabaret feel that I find very appealing. I like the interplay between Jonny Dyer’s guitar and Marina Osman’s piano, too.
  4. ‘Earthly Delights’ is another of Daria’s own songs. One of the ‘delights’ of Daria’s songs for me is the way that a line will sometimes spark an unexpected association, like the echo of ‘The Two Magicians’ in ‘The Panther’, from her last CD. In this case, it’s the line “Strange fruit in the garden of earthly delights“. The subject matter is far removed from Meeropol’s protest against lynchings, being more about the message that “If seeking pleasure and following your heart doesn’t hurt, subjugate or break others…then perhaps it’s a natural way to be…?” Yet there’s something very apposite about the last verse here: “Oppressed and oppressor…One person’s wrongs are another one’s rights.” An accomplished performance of a delightful folky tune with stunning fiddle from Phil Beer.
  5. There are many Slavic folk tales about rusalki (water spirits), often translated into literature and music – Dvořák’s opera is a particular favourite of mine. Daria’s ‘Rusalka’, however, is based on a short poem of 1819 by Pushkin, as translated by John Farndon and adapted and shortened by Daria, who has set it to music. Its presentation in this slightly condensed form does it no harm at all.
  6. Daria’s ‘Vasilisa’, previously released as a single, draws its theme from a Russian fairy tale in which the heroine encounters the supernatural Baba Yaga. While the story to some extent resembles the Cinderella story, Vasilisa seems morally more ambiguous. Oddly enough, the modality of the melody makes it a highly suitable companion piece to ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, though the instrumentation has a decidedly Asian feel.
  7. ‘Morozko’ is another of Daria’s retellings in music of a Russian folk tale, with accompaniment that stresses its Eastern European origins.
  8. ‘Cap And Bells’ is an effective setting by Joseph Sobol of a poem of W.B. Yeats, from Sobol’s theatrical cycle In The Deep Heart’s Core: A Mystic Cabaret, with most of the accompaniment carried by Marina Osman’s piano.
  9. An unexpected inclusion is Percy French’s ‘Pride Of Petravore’. I have to admit that Daria makes the best of its tortuous Irishisms, though.
  10. Daria’s ‘Made Of Light’ is, in more than one sense, a lighter song, almost a ballad, augmented by Jonny Dyer’s expressive trumpet. Lovely.
  11. ‘Greedy King’ sets Daria’s lyric to a tune by the multi-talented Jonny Dyer, and melds a Soviet joke and the story of the Wise Men of Gotham into a telling commentary on the sad state of today’s world (not to mention yesterday’s!). The lyric may sound like a counsel of despair, but musically it offers a suitably upbeat finale.

Where Long Lost Home can be seen as a very personal journey into Daria’s own family history and heritage, Earthly Delights draws on a wider range of source material that still comes over as essentially Daria: some beautiful melodies, fascinating lyrics, all exquisitely sung and adventurously arranged. If you’re not familiar with her work, this is a good place to start.

The CD will be launched at Dunton Folk on 1st June 2019.

David Harley

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

‘Golden Apples’ – official video:

Daria Kulesh’s Earthly Delights available for pre-order

Daria Kulesh

Daria Kulesh’s upcoming third album Earthly Delights is a grateful and playful exploration of human nature: of love, desire, curiosity, ambition and other urges that drive us, both physical and spiritual. It retells and twists fairy tales, episodes from history, urban legends – rich old stories that are timeless, ever relevant and relatable. “Great battles of love and life” (Mike Harding) that we all live through, every day.

Let Daria transport you to an enchanting fairytale world full of colour and flair, light and shade, passion and intrigue, where stories come to life and “songs aren’t just sung, but lived” (FATEA Magazine).

Order from: http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/earthly-delights/

‘Vasilisa’ – official video:

DARIA KULESH and JONNY DYER live at Cecil Sharp House

Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer
Photographs by Dai Jeffries

This wasn’t a launch event, more a pre-launch preview event for Daria’s forthcoming album, Earthly Delights, and a unique opportunity for fans to pre-order the record for delivery before Christmas. The rest of the world will just have to contain its impatience. Performing as a duo these weren’t the album arrangements but I asked Jonny what the full version of one particularly powerful song would be like. His answer: “like that only bigger and louder”.

Before the main event they started with five songs from Daria’s seasonal EPs beginning with Loreena McKennitt’s ‘The Mummers’ Dance’ from Spring Delights before moving into summer with ‘Like An Old-Fashioned Waltz’. Autumn was represented by an impassioned ‘No Man’s Land’ and Daria was really on fire but she calmed things down with ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’. Most performers use its English translation but Daria sang Yves Montand’s original French version before polishing off the hors d’oeuvres with ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’.

Daria KuleshIf the title Earthly Delights conjures up visions of Hieronymus Bosch, you’re not too far off. After the painful journey that led to Long Lost Home Daria says that this album will be playful and a celebration of human needs and desires but there is an inescapable sensuality about her performances and the title track is as much earthy as Earthly. “Sing a song of your soul” is the line that sticks in the memory while Jonny’s bouzouki powered through. ‘Shame Or Glory’ is about ambition but with a twist as William Topaz McGonagall and Florence Foster Jenkins are Daria’s role models here. The first set closed with ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ in complete contrast.

The second half contained the real meat of the evening and was more exotic and more Russian, with elements of myth and fairy tale. I don’t want to give too much away now because Daria and Jonny played the whole album although, as Daria was at pains to point out, not necessarily in the right order. There were some songs we’ve heard before including ‘Rusalka’ and ‘Maid Of Light’ reworked from Kara’s first album together with ‘Pride Of Petravore’ which was just an instrumental back then. ‘Vasilisa’ was a single and is one of Daria’s big folklore ballads and finally they encored with Daria’s tri-lingual ‘Those Were The Days’ with the audience joining in with whatever language they could.

Jonny DyerIt has to be said that Jonny Dyer is the accompanist who is most simpatico as far as Daria is concerned and always brings out the best in her and I say that having heard them together three times now. This was a super show and I’m looking forward to the album and the band that has been assembled to perform it.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Vasilisa’ – official video: