Saturday, March 28, 2009

KAL - Radio Romanista (Asphalt Tango)

They call it Rock and Roma - a frenetic gypsy-rock that recreates the energy of Kal's popular live performances in their native Serbia.
The eponymous 2006 debut by the band was a sprawling, organic affair, recorded in band leader Dragan Ristic's home studio with a shifting array of guest artists and taking in elements from Balkan gypsy to German cabaret music. The turbo-charged follow-up is built from the same template of violins, wild swooning clarinet, brass and accordion, but the band is tighter - in numbers (although there are numerous guest vocalists), style and approach. Tough rock-star vocals and relentlessly rocking squared-off beats lend an urban, strident edge to what is a less subtle collection of songs, betraying the agit-prop influence of the Clash and the manic, uptempo side of Manu Chao. The French/Spanish troubadour's influence is all over the part-English I'm Gypsy, an in your face defiant fight for Roma recognition. Romozon rocks out too, as does the title track, which contains a vibrant klezmer thread throughout, and the hard-nosed rhythmic attack becomes almost oppressive on tracks such as Pour Enfants et Personnes Sensibles and Oh Ma Cherie. There are softer moments though - Laj Laj rides a nice bumping beat with mournful textures provided by tuba and violin; Madame Boucxereaux is a French cabaret style diversion; and Luna closes the album with raunchy female vocal, accordion and acoustic guitar.

Radio Romanista is tight, taut and hard-edged. It rocks more than its predecessor, and thus if it's to break the world music market outside Eastern Europe, it will probably be as a slightly folkier Gogol Bordello. If you like Manu when he's plugged in and revved up, and Gogol when they let their roots show, this could be for you.

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