Souls of Fire is a British group who take their influences from the klezmer recordings of the Twenties and Thirties, among other related sources. Although they add a more modern twist to their music, this disc sounds rather like any early traditional recording compilation that you’ll come across. And that’s a compliment.
Largely instrumental, this disc features twelve tracks (plus a remix) of competently played, if not too inspired, klezmer music. That remixed song, “Tzatziki” (two versions included) is a wonderful interpretation of an old Greek melody with reggae and late Eighties Brit-pop influences (!). The slow and downright spooky take of the traditional Yiddish song “Mitzva Tants” juxtaposes the simple melody over an almost Eno-esque track before falling into deep-pocket reggae. There’s a lot of really neat weaving together of musical styles on this CD, all of which actually work, which is no mean feat.
The mixing of violin, clarinet (there’s an instrument that seems to be popping up more nowadays) and brass works particularly well on tracks like “Odessa Bulgar,” with snaky neo-surf/spy music guitar work throughout. The traditional Ladino track “Avrix Mi Galanica” suffers slightly from non-spirited vocals (a gripe that holds true for most of the vocal tracks), but has a relentless beat with a real Romany feel. “Di Zilbern Khasene,” which switches from fast klezmer to reggae and back again, shows off the arranging skills of Souls of Fire very nicely.
There seems to be a lack of focus here, though. Although I really like this disc, the band sounds stilted, almost a little too conscious of the fact they’re recording. Hopefully, this is simple a case of studio nerves, and not a regular aspect of the band’s show. The recording itself is serviceable; it’s hard to mix such a divergent group of instruments, but some (particularly the guitar) are far too quiet for their role in the arrangements. The disc is a tad trebly at times too.
I can easily picture myself at some folk fest, dancing like the crazy buffoon that I am, to Souls of Fire. This is a fun band, a band that not only works musically, but that helps keep alive Eastern European music traditions in an exciting way. I just hope they get around to recording something else soon.
(Melting Pot Records, 1998)