Review - The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia

Artist: Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia
Label: World Music Network
Media: CD
Format: Album
WorkNameSort: The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia

Seeing that Russia is in a permanent state of cultural upheaval, it's somewhat difficult to get a grip on exactly what "Russian music" is at any one point in time. Yet, much like every other country in the world, American imperialism has had a profound effect on how centuries of traditional music gets updated, and this excellent 19-track collection demonstrates both that undeniable influence as well as the Russians' steadfast pride in their country's artistic history. If anything links these songs -- besides the fact that they're all sung in Russian -- it's an overwhelming sense of resigned melancholy. Whether it's the lushly arranged Fairport Convention stylings of "Dikoye Pole" by folkstress Zhanna Bichevskaya or the chest-thumping "Povorot" by pop star Mashina Veremeni, the majority of the songs sound as if they were written in a 1978 bread line. Even gypsies like Gipsy Talisman can't seem to get excited (the group's "Britchka" is a wedding song that sounds like a funeral dirge). Some songs get the blood going like strong vodka (you knew that lame analogy had to get in, didn't you?), and with musical styles that range from traditional folk to new wave to rock to even bluegrass, it's certainly not a monochromatic collection. But a few listens make it clear why sunny pop is the purview of Southern California middle-class kids and not Siberian methane farmers.