Ensemble Karot
Traditional Songs of Armenia, Vol. II
(Face, 2001)

Reviewing a the second volume of music without hearing Volume I may be the devil's task, but fools rush in....

In Vol. II, Face Music of Switzerland tells the eager listener that there are, broadly speaking, nine distinct categories of traditional Armenian songs, including ceremonial, dance, emigrant, epic/heroic, historic, humor, love/lyrical, lullaby and work tunes. Our musical hosts for this journey, the extended Harutyunyan family, take us through all of these styles with great zeal and a minimum of instrumental accompaniment (afforded sparingly by the dhol/drum, duduk/oboe, kanun/zither and sring/shepherd's pipe.)

The 27 selections offered here run the gamut of the aforementioned themes, and recurring lyrical settings focus on the agrarian life, both directly and as metaphor for humans alive in the world, as well as the omnipresent Armenian mountain country, the joy and sadness of love, and the challenge of living life to the fullest.

The program opens with the strong a cappella voice of Hasmik Harutyunyan in "Jan Oy," a love song. She follows this with the whimsically titled "My Flour is Sifted from Grains," which is a finely realized love song tied closely to the rhythms of life on the farm. A youthful duet, "Measure and a Half," follows, and the metaphor extends to a humorous encounter between a sparrow and wheat. The lyrical "Moon Defended From the Mountain" introduces both the strong male vocals of Aleksan Harutyunyan and the first instrumental accompaniment from the native Armenian drum, the dhol.

After a set of dance tunes and the emigrant song "My Nightengale," we are treated to Aleksan singing "The Spring Plow," fraught with double entendre, and then the ceremonial song "Morning Light," which features an a cappella trio of children ably led by the strong voice of young Aram Harutyunyan. Five wedding songs, a cappella entreaties of a bride to her mother and of what will follow in life, follow. The best of these is the extended female vocal with kanun/zither accompaniment, "Approach of The sole lullaby on the disc, "Tigranakert" is sweetly rendered by Ms. H, and the work song "Plough of Spring" features Aleksan's vocal, bolstered by the figurings of a duduk/oboe and the haunting shepherd's sring.

The disc closes with a set of two ceremonial tunes and a love song. The first of the ceremonials, "To the Goddess Nar," features the children's trio accompanied by the dhol, while the second, "Gorani From Khoot," weaves Hasmik's clear voice into a plaintive counterpoint offered by sring and duduk. "The Sun Touched the Mountain," a lyrical love song, is the perfect end to the set, offering the connectedness the Armenian people feel to the land that they call home.

Those who understand Armenian should find this an enjoyable listening experience, but even if you have no command of the language, the structure of the melodies and rhythms to be found in Traditional Songs of Armenia, Volume II speaks to the heart of folk and roots music lovers everywhere. Though spare in production, it is rendered with both heart and considerable musical talent, and as such, I recommend this disc highly to those ready for a new musical experience.

- Rambles
written by Gilbert Head
published 19 February 2005