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(Whaling City Sound Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/7/2014)
Contemporary music can range from the serious to the playful, from the predictable to the anarchic, from the traditional to the trendy. Most people have their preferences for where in those ranges they like to be in their listening.
Within those ranges spans of music that I enjoy a lot is something that is eclectic but not too serious. Music that explores and has a good time at doing so. And this week we have a group that pretty much epitomizes that kind of attitude. They are a French quintet called Balval and their new release is called Ten Hand Band.
Balval have been described as alternative Gypsy rock, and their name, Balval means "the wind" in the Romani language, that spoken by the Romani or Gypsy people. But the Gypsy influence is just one aspect of what they do. They are really a multicultural, multi language group who incorporate such disparate influences as Hungarian folk, alternative punk-influenced rock, a bit of Latin, plus some other Eastern European influences, occasional moments of sonic atmospherics and even some American Cajun music.
Balval formed in 2005 with lead vocalist Awena Burgess as one of the founders. Other members include violinist Rosalie Hartog, guitarist Daniel Mizrahi, bassist Benjamin Body, and drummer Patrick Gigon. All contribute to the vocals. Ten Hand Band is their third release, and the group has found audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, including in Canada. They often play at Gypsy festivals, but their music is anything but traditional. They combine a high energy level, occasionally with some of that punk-rock influence, together with a devil-may-care attitude toward mixing genres. Obviously with that kind of approach, some things work out better than others artistically, but even at its most musically conglomerated, it's still rather coherent and the parts fit together well, glued by their strong level of musicianship. Interestingly for as eclectic their sound van be, there are not a lot of unusual instruments. In fact there isn't even an accordion. But Daniel Mizrahi can crank up his electric guitar and often does.
Leading off this fairly generous 50 minute album is a Hungarian folk song they title Tell Us Beautiful Girl. It shows the somewhat harder-edged electric aspect of the band. <<>>
A tune by guitarist Mizrahi called All But Gone represents that more laid-back side of Balval. It's a kind of lost-love song that is nicely realized. <<>>
The alternative Gypsy facet of Balval is highlighted on a piece called Insomnia, which has a kind of rapid jazzy French rapped vocal, while the music throws all kind of influences into the mix. <<>>
The more atmospheric side again is heard on Out Inside which has a kind of curious Middle Eastern sound in a jazzy five-four meter. <<>>
Balval brings out their punkiness on the appropriately titled Tear It Down, written by guitarist Mizrahi, who cranks it up for the tune. <<>>
Sypsey River is a curious, but creative mix of American Appalachian folk with some hints of Gypsy. <<>>
It's back on the rock side of things for Money in the Bank which goes back and forth between French and English. <<>>
The group does another traditional folk piece Song of the Birds, this one from Catalonia, which they do with English lyrics. It does hint at a traditional European folk song, along with the band's eclectic sonic touches. <<>>
Yet another point of influence comes in on a piece called Balfa Waltz by the American Cajun musician Will Balfa of the Balfa Brothers. It's a nice mixture, since, of course, the Cajuns brought the French language to Lousiana. <<>>
Ten Hand Band by the eclectic French quintet Balval is an enjoyable album that thrives on mixing genres and bringing a kind of rock and roll attitude to it, along with a spirit of good fun. The group delivers first-rate musicianship and a fair amount of style to their musical jaunt, stomping through all kinds of musical boundaries, seemingly just because they could. Sometimes they bring in a bit more of the punk rock sound than I might like, but I'm sure that has greatly increased the band's appeal to other audiences. While Balval borrows a couple of traditional tunes, and one from a Cajun music innovator, for the most part, they create their own musically adventurous material.
Our grade for sound quality is a B plus. The mix is rather good with all the instruments and vocals in a good balance. But as is so typical in these days of deteriorating audio because of the mindless race for maximum loudness, the recording's dynamics, its ebb and flow, was lost and it often sounds flat and lifeless.
The influences that come together in Balval's music have all be heard before, and many of them in other recent world music releases. But combining them as they do with lots of energy and a clear sense of fun elevates their new third album to a memorable musical good-time.
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