TIME OUT. May 2005.
Throat-singing - what the hell is that all about?
If you've never seen one mouth singing two or three separate simultaneous melodies, you really need to get out more. Go to Tuva, for example, a remote republic in Siberia surrounded by mountains and filled with moonshiners, miners and cows. There you will find shamanic folk songs played on unpronounceable instruments by bearded men with grizzly, guttural voices that will pimple your skin forever.
And if you're really lucky, you'll stumble across Albert Kuvezin and his band Yat-Kha. Fighting against Communist musical censorship that tried to tell him what styles he could and couldn't play, Kuvezin has forged a near-impossible international reputation for his music. And with Yat-Kha, he combines Tuva's traditional music with the Western heavy rock he loves, chugging an electric guitar as he goes "Oh yeeeeah" in his filthy double-bass vocal.
After several albums of this punk-folk mish-mash, the logical next step is a covers record; and what a beast this is. From the opening strum of Led Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks', 'Re-Covers' sets its stall as a reverent but unapologetic album. Simmering the song to its bones, Kuvezin rebuilds it as a Siberian folk masterpiece, his unnervingly deep growl spinning a magical, mesmeric tale over the delicate instrumentation.
And so they are all reworked. Kraftwerk's 'The Man Machine' becomes a haunting canvass of guitar effects and acoustic play-about, with overtone chanting roaming for carrion. These eerie high-frequency melodies knock against the rich deep-throat bass vocal. Quite how they could come out of the same larynx - simultaneously or not - is a miracle.
Captain Beefheart's 'Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles' takes on a dreamy Celtic quality; Motörhead's 'Orgasmatron' swirls with black magic; and 'Play With Fire' is a fair old walk from anything The Rolling Stones ever meant to write.
But it's not just rock stuff that gets the folk-me-up treatment. Hank Williams' 'Ramblin' Man' takes that age-old tale of a man whose heart belongs to the train tracks and gives it a darkly wistful edge, with minimal rhythm pulsing like a heartbeat. Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' falls slightly flat, its beautiful acoustic guitar lines marred by slightly off-key bear-growl vocals. And a Bob Marley track joins People's Music from Russia, Ireland and France, bobbing joyously with sweet percussion and a voice that sounds like a million cigarettes but is actually the product of one too many homemade vodkas.
This mix'n'match approach to traditional and Western styles sticks Yat-Kha miles above their contemporaries from Tuva, Mongolia and Russia, with excellent but less ambitious folk bands such as Egschiglen finding international appeal while choosing to stay loyal to their countries' sound.
Reaching as far overseas as possible may have been difficult for Albert Kuvezin and Yat-Kha, but blimey, it was worth it, and 'Re-Covers' is one of the most unique albums you will ever hear. Maybe soon, all the kids will be throat-singing and overtone chanting in the playground. In the meantime, look to Siberia. Or wait for the UK tour next month. Oh yeeeeah.
reviewed on 08 Aug 2005
TIME OUT. May 2005. 'Re-Covers' - Tuvan throat singing madmen do covers of Led Zep. Joy Division, Beefheart.Genius.