A Greek street bar in 1930.
Brendan Perry has long been a fan of all things Greek. Its culture, history, musical tones and thoughts run through his music and via his Dead Can Dance band with Lisa Gerrard like veins. For his new solo album, Brendan focuses in on a form of Greek music called Rebetiko. It is a form of Greek street music, often played in bars and parlours. The Greek Blues if you will. As the music is always in its mother tongue, Perry has created some translations of songs created in the 1920s and 1930s, during perhaps the genres golden age.
The stars of the album are the Bouzouki, Santouri and the rhythmic cycles each song plays with. The mixture of the lute, dulcimer and percussion is so evocative, you are transported instantly to another world and time. The melodies on the album are often quite luxurious and flowing and that is exactly how these instruments all shine best. Perry knows this well and uses each arrangement to showcase these three elements of the music to absolute perfection.
What perhaps doesn’t translate quite as well are the lyrics. Across the ten tracks, the lyrics are mostly about smoking hookahs, eating, drinking wine, dancing girls and generally enjoying the comforts men wanted at that time. I suspect for an English first speaker, I’d likely find the lyrics more evocative in another language but I appreciate the literal translations. Clearly, everyone was off their nut!
As an album, Brendan Perry has crafted and recorded lots of ancient instruments with amazing clarity. It is an education to hear the difference between a Bouzouki, a Tsouras, a Baglamadaki and a Saz. Often each track has several of these layered together which gives the album and duality and a drive. You really do feel like you are having a curious party. Add in a Bandoneon and you’ve got a Greek sailor dream.
Specific tracks will call out to you with different feelings but overall the mood is upbeat and celebratory. The Bandoneon transforms ‘Tonight In your Neighbourhood’ and ‘Bring Me A Cup of Wine’ into jaunty dances. ‘Gypsy Girl’ reminds me of early Dead Can Dance era track ‘Ocean’ but instead of guitars, its lutes. The intricate spiral party of notes and string plucks are saved for the stunning ‘The Hash Den Owner’, ‘O Memetis’ and ‘In The City’s Hammam’. This trio is the central axis of the album that builds up an almighty storm. The album moves towards a more gypsy/drunk hangover feel for the closing tracks of ‘You Were Barefoot’ and especially ‘The Pickpockets’. The way all the instruments and voice rise and fall like a comedic clown is fantastic. The album closes with the mystical ‘Christos, Play The Bouzouki’ that fades into the night like a mirage of lutes, harpsichords and bass.
Fans of Brendan Perry’s previous work and Dead Can Dance will absolutely love this new release. You can hear parallels to previous work – in particular, ‘The Serpents Egg’ for me – which is only a good thing. However, there isn’t anything quite like this in Perry not DCD’s catalogue to date and this has been a fantastic journey into the world of Rebetiko and Greek music. For those buying the album, Brendan explains about Rebetiko in the liner notes along with a glossary of terms for the lyrics too.
Recommended track: The Hash-Den Owner
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