This review was submitted by guest reviewer: Pedro Hobbs!
Songs of Mirth and Sorrow, the latest offering from the New Haven-based Dr. Caterwaul's Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps, is a satisfying blend of traditional folk from such places as Bulgaria and Serbia, along with their own modern take on the genre.
The opening track, "O Death", reminded me of an orchestra warming up. A clutter of cut-up instrumental sounds transitions to a plucked melody; a far more sonically-jarring start to the album than I was expecting. As the song becomes more vocally-driven, the music mutates into this progressive structure, weaving in and out of the vocal lines. Dark, brooding... A great introduction to an album that cannot be easily categorized.
We are then met withthe folk explosion of “Na Sopkah Manchurii”, which can be translated as "On the Hills of Manchuria". From what I gather, the song references World War II, and specifically, the Battle of Murkden. Apparently, it's a very popular Russian standard, but in contrast with other versions I heard while researching, this is a more contemporary take on this particular understanding of history. Though not exactly upbeat, this rendition has a sense of reflecting on and learning from the past more so than in the mournful, battle-torn vibe of the traditional reading of the song.
Another of the album's highlights is “Three Orphans”, an ambient drone heavy with atmosphere and tension. I found myself taking a step back and appreciating the range of moods the band has layered into their sound, until an ice-cold drum beat kicked in, and blasted me into another headspace altogether.
Next up? “Piensa En Mi”, a song that reminds me of the pop music you'd expect to hear on an old-model radio in a foreign land, both in terms of songwriting and production. Picture this: An outdoor table at a not-too-busy local eatery, trying to order a cup of coffee and a cheese sandwich... Perhaps your future love on the other side of the joint giving you the buffalo eye? This song is what's playing the moment your eyes meet. Yep. In a nutshell, what I have learned today is that you don’t have to be a fan of the aforementioned regional folk to enjoy Songs of Mirth and Sorrow -- recommended for the listener who enjoys the traditional, but doesn't shy away from artistic experimentation.