"Eagerly awaited" is an overused phrase, but apt when used to describe the second album from Hertfordshire based KARA, following on from their début "Waters So Deep" released to critical acclaim in 2014.
KARA (Daria Kulesh on vocals, Phil Underwood on melodeon, Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer and Ben Honey on guitar) are mix of both nationality and style and this is illustrated perfectly by tracks 6 and 7. First comes the Phil Underwood written "Hollinghouse/Broadhurst"; two solidly English folk tunes, bringing instantly to mind village greens and men in whites waving hankies. Then we move on to "Misery and Vodka", a Russian drinking song that has nothing to do with downing pints of ale in a thatched pub.
"Drown your anguish, drink away evil grief and sorrow,
In a mist of lust and pain, like there's no tomorrow."
But to prove hard lives are not confined to the steppes of Russia KARA bring us back to the streets of home - or anywhere in the world - with the excellent Ben Honey written "Carousel Waltz". This is not a song about the joy of fun-fairs, but the misery of addiction trapping it's victims in a cycle of destruction.
It isn't all gloom, though. There's a wonderfully light and airy feel to a very good rendition of "Lover's Tasks", a version of the much better known Scarborough Fair but featuring a couple who seem to have insurmountable relationship problems. I'm sure they'll work it out.
I'm hard pressed to name another band has such an ability to transport the listener not just across space, but time, in the way KARA do. They work so well as a band because each member brings an equal share to the table.
The song writing abilities of Phil and Ben, who between them contribute half the songs on the album, have already been mentioned and they also provide the solid musical core. To that can be added the virtuoso skill of Kate Rouse,who adds her own beautiful written tune "Black Tea Waltz", on hammered dulcimer. This is an instrument which isn't heard often enough. Kate uses it superbly to bring an ethereal quality to the music, adding to the sense of being somewhere else.
Last, but by no means least, are the unique vocals of Daria Kulesh. Daria, from a very young age, wanted to be a classical singer, but the Russian system decided it was not to be. Their loss is certainly our gain. The songs are not just sung, but lived with an almost operatic intensity. On Phil Underwood's "Leigh Fishermen" the voice is delicate and soulful as the dangers facing fishermen everywhere are brought sharply in to focus. Then, with a flash of the eye and a sway of the hips, she becomes the irresistible femme fatale of "The Devilry Dance".
When your first album earns plaudits all around, and is selected by The Daily Telegraph as one of it's top folk albums of the year, any subsequent release must be a daunting prospect, but "Some Other Shore" rises superbly to the task. The mix of songs, the changes of style and mood, make every track different but the album holds together as it shows a world which is both familiar yet separate. It's beautifully produced, too, and the art work is exactly that.
I've left the final track until last as it is everything KARA do so well. It's the traditional Russian song "Ataman", the name given to a Cossack military leader. It opens with a sublime hammered dulcimer solo from Kate Rouse before Daria Kulesh hauntingly sings, first in Russian then English, the story of a group of Cossack warriors predicting their inevitable fate on the battlefield.
"To the mighty river,
Wide and winding river,
Came the Cossack cavalry, like thunder they did roll
And upon the meadow,
Lush and lovely meadow,
Cut and broken bodies in their hundreds they did fall."
Some Other Shore indeed, but one we can still see on our TV screens every day.
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