PARIS TO KYIV – Prairie Nights And Peacock Feathers (Olesia Productions)

Prairie Nights And Peacock FeathersParis To Kyiv’s still pertinent Prairie Nights And Peacock Feathers was released in 2000, and in their own words, fuses Ukrainian music with “Medieval Slavic chants, dance tunes inspired by Carpathian Mountain fiddlers and blind bandura players, original compositions, and (of course) ancient songs with roots in the Neolithic”. Indeed, to cite a song title from (the great!) Roy Harper, ‘The Spirit Lives’.

I was lucky enough years ago to stumble upon Prairie Nights And Peacock Feathers in, of all places, a Winnipeg (their home base) Manitoba, Canada gift shop, right next to maple syrup display! The cover art, which oozes of fantastic Italian progressive rock intrigue, made it a necessary purchase. Of course, I was wrong about the prog rock connection, but this album revealed some sort of magical sound that cut a glimpse into a sacred soul that was very different from my familiar punk-folk Slavic sounds of Wedding Present’s spin-off band The Ukrainians.

And just so you know, I also purchased in that very same tourist gift shop, oddly enough, Dick Gaughan’s Lucky For Some album and, of course, a souvenir tee-shirt that depicted several campers apparently asleep in their tents while a bear walks into the campground. The caption read, “Canadian Buffet” (More about that tee-shirt later!).

And, to get really personal, I dearly needed to pull this album from the racks, so as to remind me of the historic passion – the intense holy chant – as this blessed Ukrainian music still mourns the soul of any destroyed place of worship and confronts aggression with “Carpathian Mountain Fiddlers and blind bandura players’ resolve, in the midst of an obvious and very modern horror which plays with human pathos on daily network television. This music hovers like a sad halo with a stoic Eastern Orthodox gold-gilded icon Virgin Mother’s always ancient glance, bleeding blessed tears in eternal hope to quench the fires of evil.

The first song, ‘Oj Kraseniu lasen’, introduces Alexis Kochan’s sacred raven pure voice that’s framed with a nimble bandura (lute and zither sounds!) both of which sing with pathos of an always sad history. And, Julian Kytasty echoes the passion with his equally (sort of) classical voice, while a violin and viola slow dance and enhance the intense drama.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, said, “This music possesses the deep sorrow that only a very excellent comedian can harbour”.

Then, ‘Dance Five’ sings with instrumental stringed joy, as Richard Moody’s violin skates on melodic ice and conjures nice memories of much better, to quote Led Zeppelin, “dancing days”.

Of course, the purity of Ukrainian folk music waves its current heroic flag. ‘Bukovynska Koliadka’ injects Northumbrian pipes that dart around Alexis’s vocal, while a violin and smaller pipes carve an interval of quiet, but then the tune erupts into a frenzied violin double bass dance with (I think!) a sopilka providing a flute-like lilt. It’s just an idea, but these musical dimensions rival those of Ireland’s Chieftains, Scotland’s Ossian, Spain’s Milladoiro, Portugal’s Madredeus, Hungary’s Muzsikas, and (my personal favorite!) Slovenia’s Sedmina. Yeah, it’s a big musical universe. Perhaps, one-time King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield was correct when he wrote, “Beneath the wind turned waves…Islands join hands/’Neath heaven’s sea”.

Just so you (also) know, that lyric also included a bit about “Infinite Peace’ which had to be omitted for obvious reasons.

The seven-minute ‘The Well’ continues with more medieval beauty, but then the song shifts into a bona fide very modern folk song, ‘Comfort Of Darkness’ by Richard Moody, which sits quite comfortably beside those “Carpathian Mountain fiddlers and blind bandura players, and ancient songs with roots in the Neolithic”. Later, he gets another folk solo spot with his song, ‘Response To A Lament, which has a nice Paul Simon vibe, and is again amended to the simply chanted ‘Plach’, which is a tune that burns with liturgical votive hope. The gentle wind-blown ‘Spring Songs’ could almost pass for acid folk, a la a mild Comus sound, and it certainly touches humanity’s heart like an early and earthy  Clannad song before they followed sister Enya into new age mysticism. The melody has heavy beauty, and when played over scenes of the current savage brutality, it certainly echoes Mark Twain’s comment, as our Huckleberry confesses, while witnessing the deceit of the con men duke and king (who want to swindle orphans of their last dime!), ‘”It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race”. And, in my own words, it’s enough to follow John Prine’s sage advice and, “Blow up your TV”.

But to return to that “Canadian Buffet” souvenir tee-shirt: Just recently, and well, wearing the shirt, I was mistakenly mistook as being a Jimmy Buffett fan (!!) by a fellow Wal-Mart shopper who, apparently, didn’t know the importance an extra “t”,  but she, hopefully, understood there’s a blood red line that separates the irony found in places like ‘Cheeseburger In Paradise’ and Margaritaville, from the reality of all the once lovely cities now carved into the blasted Ukrainian soil.

That said, ‘Polyphonic Songs’, once again, brings folk music to a religious altar – but then (and oh my, this is wonderful!) Nenad Zdjelar’s double bass and Richard Moody’s violin play a weird, sacred, and very medieval jazz! Sorry to be so non-poetic, but this interlude is really kind of cool!  Of course, the counter point vocals return to canonize the tune.

More votive candles are lighted, as ‘Pavochka’ burns with male and female voices that wax with even more of that Eastern Orthodox aged folk song wisdom.

But lest the proceedings get too ecclesiastical, the way too brief, ‘Dance Four’, is yet another interlude of joyous music.  And, by the way, ‘Dance Six’, despite its bleak beginning, certainly echoes the sublime quick pulse of Horslips’ ‘Dance To Your Dandy’ from their first concertina designed (and also really kind of cool!)) very first release. Big praise, there!

Then a banjo surprisingly enters the grooves and gives an even more universal vibe with the song, ‘U Lisku’, an up-beat song with the breath of a kindred Irish soul.

Oh – in an interview singer Alexis Kochan said after recording the first album, “For the first time in my work I feel that I’ve moved beyond the Ukrainian psyche to a universal one. All songs are comments on the human experience”.

And that “universal human experience” finds its voice in the final brief acappella prayer, ‘Chumak Song’, which is a lament that levitates holy blood over criminal ashes. And (once again!) to get way too personal, I dearly needed to pull this album from the racks, so as to remind myself of the historic passion – the intense holy chant – as this music rises to remember that “Carpathian Mountain Fiddlers and blind bandura players” resolve, in the midst of an obvious and very modern horror. Prairie Nights And Peacock Feathers contains music that still, and will perhaps forever, hover with that Eastern Orthodox stoic gold-gilded icon Virgin Mother’s ancient glance – a glance that always bleeds even more blessed and melodic tears, in an ever eternal hope to quench the fires of destructive and very wicked modern evil.

Bill Golembeski

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