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Katalena - Babje leto CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.91 | 5 ratings

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Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars After the surprising success of the Bela krajina experiment led the musicians involved to take their show on the road and resulted in the formation of Katalena, the band returned to the studio in the spring of 2004 to record their second studio album. Reportedly completed in just three days, the band put together remakes and interpretive arrangements of eleven Slovenian folk standards. So from a purist standpoint it might be a stretch to call this progressive folk as much as it is just really well-done and enthusiastic cover tunes. But I’ve managed to locate a handful of traditional recordings of some of these classics, and it is pretty obvious the band has taken a liberal approach to the idea of “reinterpreting” them.

Except for the somber opening instrumental, these are all quite upbeat, jazz/fusion variations on what were originally mostly Slavic folk tunes with traditional dance beats and probably very little embellishment. Katalena take care to add layers of appealing percussion, horns, and electric guitar that breathe a new life into the old tunes. “Široko more i Dunaj” is a great example with its peppy clarinet and danceable pop tempo; “Bija je fantičec mlad” is similar in most respects except that here the band adds another layer for flute and mandolin and embellishes the refrains with electric piano. I can see where this would be a very entertaining band to witness live – their energy is very apparent and infectious.

There are some modern influences that stand out from time to time as well, including the very neo-prog and lumbering guitar and rhythm on “Aj, zelena je vsa gora”; and the cool jazz Kenny G-like instrumental “Bom pa ruteč orau” with its clarinet managing to establish its own tempo that complements the percussion behind it. Going back just a little further to identify probable is Kate Bush, whose new-age-meets-classical “The Sensual World” may have made an impression on a young Vesna Zornik, whose vocals here are reminiscent of Bush’s post-mommyhood works.

Not everything works well here. “Tam na laški gori’ conjures up a picture of a burlesque show with an old, grey ethnic backing band and an aging, worn-out lounge singer wearing too much pancaked makeup and a frumpy sequined dress while mixing gin and bitter tears on stage. Maybe that’s the point, who knows… I don’t speak Slovenian so have no idea what this song is about. Could be I hit the nail on the head.

And the plucky electric guitar and scale-driven synth keyboards on “Pobeleo pole z ovcama” remind me quite a bit of the eighties band Holly & the Italians. And that’s not a good thing.

But the ten minute free-form jazz movement “Dež” that closes the album with its orgy of clarinet and experimental keyboards is a solid recovery from the couple of minor filler tracks, and in the end I’m left thinking this is a more even and more mature recording than the band’s debut. A solid four star effort in my mind, despite the “Pobeleo pole z ovcama” which I conveniently ignore when playing this record. That still leaves ten tracks and that’s enough for most albums. Recommended to prog folk fans who aren’t afraid of new things. Also recommended to open-minded jazz/fusion fans for the interesting percussion and the outstanding clarinet work.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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