Albert Kuvezin and Yat-Kha
Imagine that a prehistoric Mongol demon commandeered Tom Waits's notorious throat and a fistful of Martian instruments for a possessed joy ride through a weird western canon ("In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," "Love Will Tear Us Apart," "Ramblin' Man"). Kuvezin and Yat-Kha (who took their name from a long, kotolike zither) hail from the dead-center of Asia, in a remote province of Tartar Mongolia called Tannu-Tuva. They yield a sound that must be heard to be believed. Avoid cawing at the strangeness and ostensible absurdity of Kuvezin's rocky pronunciations (even the liner notes are written in broken English). It's funny, yeah. But Re-Covers tickles the spine, waters the eyes, and fucks the mind.
Soviet oppression and "re-education" nearly wiped Kuvezin's croaking, subterranean brand of throat-singing off the face of the Earth. At seven years old, Kuvezin watched the Russians flood the gorges of the Sayani Mountains, where his mother grew up, with the largest hydro-electric dam in the world. As a kid, he was thrown out of choir and told never to sing again. Thank God he didn't listen. His voice is sui generis, wrestling an ancient and impossibly deep style of tonal modulation into beautiful rumbles, terrifying dives, and notes that seem to stretch for an eternity.
On two earlier albums, Yat-Kha and Kuvezin infuse traditional sound with subtle Western influence. While Putumayo-brand world music plies audiences with temperate, often saccharine dilutions of alien sounds, Yat-Kha kicks music that's about as polite and marketable as a thunderclap. Alien mouth harps, mad zither riffs, and funky bass lines gel miraculously over booming, galley-rattling war drums.
Re-Covers takes that sound in many different directions. A cover of Captain Beefheart's "Her Eyes Are a Million Blue Miles" seems to riff on like a psychedelic sounding board and ends up spiraling into echoes of Kuvezin's deeper-than-deep vocal vibrations layered two or three times over each other. The effect is wonderfully bewildering. "The Wild Mountain Thyme," a Belfast ballad rendered in clarion a cappella, drips with a black melancholy that's more distinctly Celtic than any trinket in an Irish tourist shop. From the first note, it's evident it has not been covered in vain. In the age of the spurious remix, Re-Covers reminds that singing someone else's song need not be a frivolous enterprise but some seriously difficult and thoughtful work.
The album was originally slated to feature Kuvezin originals, but after being deported from Hungary, robbed of his passport, shaken down by the Slavic mob, and badly crumpled in a car wreck, Yat-Kha's fearless leader spent six months re-visiting his favorite records in a Tuvan hospital bed. A hint of cagey insanity runs throughout the project (check out "Orgasmotron"), but isn't that the case with all things awesome?
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