Otava Yo’s Loud and Clear

cover, Loud and ClearThe Russian folk rock band Otava Yo is dealing with the turbulence facing their part of the world by doing what they do best — making music. And what music! Their latest album Loud and Clear is full of stirring and uplifting music — Slavic folk tunes and songs played on a mix of traditional and modern instruments in a style that’s appealing to modern audiences, and full of exciting vocal harmonies.

“In turbulent times, when the usual course of things ceases to exist and everything that we know literally crumbles in front of our eyes, it is necessary to feel at least some kind of ground under our feet,” says Alexey Belkin, founder of Otava Yo (Отава Ё). “Under these circumstances, our music has become such a support for the musicians of our group. We ask our listeners to share with us the unique experience of touching the rich cultural heritage of our ancestors. We hope that there will be people for whom, from listening to our music, it will become a little easier to live in this changing and imperfect world. We believe that the right music, like any act of sincere art, can remind people of universal human values.”

Belkin has a Ukrainian mother, Russian father, and a Latvian wife, a situation that seems not uncommon among musicians from this part of the world. Belkin plays wind instruments and the ancient gusli, a zither that looks rather like a small hammered dulcimer. He’s joined by Dmitry Shihardin, Yulia Usova and Lina Kolesnik on fiddles, Aleksey Skoss on acoustic and electric guitars, Vasiliy Telegin on electric bass, and Peter Sergeev on bass drum plus drummer Denis Nikiforov on the rock arrangements. The band plays other instruments including fife, glockenspiel, and a recently recreated Russian bagpipe (volynka), and on some tracks are joined by their long-time collaborators, the folk group Vasilisa.

You can get a good sense of how this all plays out on this splendid video for their song “Don’t Cry, Nightingale,” which addition to the Otava Yo musicians includes the Vasilisa singers, and dancers Ulyana Karlova and Anton Bezlutsky.

There’s lots of variety, too. The opener “Good Evening” is an anthemic rocker featuring that bagpipe and lots of passionate vocals; “He’s Coming My Sweetheart” starts out more sparse, with acoustic guitar and gusli, some simple bass and drums playing a ska-adjacent rhythm behind the three-part men’s harmonies (joined by a larger ensemble and eventually electric guitar as the song goes along). On the two instrumentals, the pretty tune “A Gusli Tune” highlights that instrument in a lovely arrangement that includes nice fiddle parts and glockenspiel, and the sweet pastoral tune “Farewell, Farewell” gives a little more weight to the fiddles. The vocal performances are superb throughout, perhaps nowhere better than on “Tongue Twister.” And I’m utterly charmed by the vocal duet on the folk pop arrangement of the song “It’s The Last Day.”

A blend of rocking folk songs and traditional tunes, hijinks and straight-faced love songs, acoustic and electric instruments, and spot-on harmony singing make Loud and Clear a solid world music recording worthy of widespread attention.

(ARC Music, 2024)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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