I Asfaltos Pou Trehi
Compact Disc: Minos-EMI 7243 533065 2 6
By Srajan Ebaen
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Genre: Elafrolaika, popular male Greek vocals
Dalaras is possibly the most celebrated of all contemporary male Greek singers, a highly prolific artist both in the studio and on stage who employs the country's best songwriters and composers, fills concerts with the kinds of crowds usually reserved only for major rock stars, and invites opening acts or guest singers who routinely turn into eventual sensations themselves. Dalaras is endowed with a rare gift of wrapping his often-political observations into very memorable, sophisticated and inspiring melodies, and always in polished and immaculately executed arrangements. Think Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Sting. Fittingly, the latter makes an appearance on this double album's opener, a rousing rendition of his "Mad about you".
Unlike earlier efforts in Dalaras' canon, I Asfaltos Pou Trehi, on the first fourteen of its twenty-eight tracks, doesn't so much rely on the timbral colors and modal quartertone undulations of traditional Greek ensemble members --
buzuq, clarinet, accordion, Oriental violin and hand percussion -- but rather injects these elements into hip cosmopolitan street threads, the kind you'd find in any upscale pop arrangement: acoustic and electric guitars, piano, bass,
synths, complete drum kit and high production values
It's testament to Dalaras' finely honed artistic sensibilities that this excursion into Western pop doesn't dilute his elevated signature style but simply takes it, fully intact, down a different and unexpected venue that maintains balance and beauty and allows interesting twists, like the appearance of orchestral strings and woodwinds in a bridge followed by Hip Hop beats and a distortion-saturated e-guitar.
With a honey-smooth baritone usually employed in a comfortably soft range but very capable of exploding into occasional forceful bursts that can crest a symphony orchestra, and known to be willing to continuously explore and embrace various stylistic genres, some of
Dalaras' tunes here possess a Loreena McKennitt type feel, while others bow respectfully towards a Peruvian waltz, Argentine tango or Cuban salsa - as for example a tribute to Che Guevara, with Al DiMeola on lead guitar and high-pressure brass and timbales as backup. The general tenor remains lyrical in nature, however, with slower tempi, the occasional odd-metered but gracefully floating rhythm, and compositional structures that develop along longer arcs than the typical compacted pop formula.
On the second half of this very generously packed double album, Dalaras drapes himself into more traditional instrumental colors and melodic lines which, to those listeners only familiar with third-rate tourist fare of questionable Greek port bars, should come as welcome ear- and heart-opening surprise that, at times, goes very deeply under the skin.
Some prospective listeners might instinctively assume that the inability of us non-Greeks to follow the lyrics might hamper the enjoyment one could possibly derive from purchasing I Asfaltos Pou
Trehi. While 'different strokes for different folks' remains as true a recipe for variety as it's always been, I'd counter that perhaps rather to the contrary, it can allow an even deeper participatory submersion into those parts of music that bypass the mind and speak directly to our hearts. And Giorgos Dalaras is as perfect a vocal tour guide into those realms as the most expensive Knopf Guide --printed on
silver'd, perfectly laid-out pages - is to the arm chair traveler dreaming of remote locales. Warmly recommended!