- La Rioja
This pleasingly packaged CD, with its burgundy and cream paper envelope decorated only by a strip of fabric charmingly imprinted with a simple landscape drawing, is evidence that an attempt to achieve something pure can often have a faulty result. The liner notes include a thoughtful commentary written by sound artists Alejandra and Aeron, who spent 3 years in the wine region La Rioja, in northern Spain. Over that period, they gathered recordings of local residents singing traditional Riojan music.
In their poetic description of this endeavor, Alejandra and Aeron decry the limitations of a studio documentary of folk music, insisting that rather than "pinning dead butterflies," their project "drew them loosely in mid flight." Operating under the theory that music made for and by the people is fluid rather than static, the artists recorded each song, or sometimes fragment of a song, in a natural setting rather than in a studio. Though the idea is beautiful and sincere, the result is not quite as compelling. Track number 10, "Por que no hablais de amor? Jose Sings a Sad Love Song in the Plaza in Front of the Logano Cathedral," is practically drowned out by the sound of the street. Many of the recordings are so faint that I found myself constantly fiddling with the volume control. Translations of the Spanish lyrics would also have been helpful, though the artists do provide a translation for one lovely song, "Ay, Manole (the song of the twelve months)."
But such complaints miss the point of the CD, which is not trying to be Harry Smith's anthology, nor is it aimed at satisfying sociologists who are hungry for details. Insofar as one can stand the somewhat pretentious conceit on which the album is based, it can at times be quite pleasant, evoking the sometimes festive, often mournful atmosphere of La Rioja. At its best, it succeeds as a quiet meditation on the passage of time and the erosion of an indigenous culture as it gives in to change.