Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Taraf de Haïdouks

  • Taraf de Haïdouks [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1999] A-
  • Band of Gypsies [Nonesuch, 2001] A-
  • The Continuing Adventures of Taraf de Haïdouks: The DVD [Crammed Discs, 2006] A-
  • Maskarada [Crammed Discs, 2007] *
  • Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts [Crammed Discs, 2015] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Taraf de Haïdouks [Elektra/Nonesuch, 1999]
Look, I got no use for Gypsy music, nor for the Balkan stuff to which it is geographically related. Gypsy's too demonstrative in its passion and longing, and as for Balkan, I've tried and failed and gone on with my life. So here's Band of Brigands, three generations of lautari from southwestern Romania it says in the notes, the elders not above improvising about the fall of Ceausescu, the young ones imbued with the old ways even if they love the music of the cities where they dream of performing--and where they now enjoy a presence, this being a best-of from three albums on a Belgian label. I love the tongue-twisting "Dumbala Dumba," the deep cellar-door creak of "Rustem" 's large cymbalum, and the heartbroke melody of "Sabarelu," which seems to be about rivers. I dunno, maybe the other guys work up that floridity for the tourist trade. Or maybe this is a special band--fast, intense, tuneful, yet always frayed around the edges. A-

Band of Gypsies [Nonesuch, 2001]
I don't know whether they're the world's only great Gypsy band (funny title, no?) or just get great production advice. Their U.S. debut cherry-picked three Belgian albums; this one cherry-picks three Bucharest concerts featuring previously unrecorded material and guest virtuosos from Bulgaria, Turkey, and Macedonia. Faster than a speeding stallion, deeper than the well they'll throw your mother down, these leathery oldsters and manly upstarts alternate testosterone-packed displays of time-tested tunes and time-testing rhythms. If you liked the first one, this is just as good and different enough. If you're exploring, buy whichever's cheaper. A-

The Continuing Adventures of Taraf de Haïdouks: The DVD [Crammed Discs, 2006]
If a CD comes with a DVD attached, assume I haven't watched it. I prefer music that doesn't glue me to my chair and have long since had enough of the dancing fingers and showoff fans of video convention. So this recommendation is for the "bonus CD," a more compelling version of a 2000 London concert than the one you can watch--more subtitles please, less Johnny Depp. But the DVD proves that the over-70s in this fabricated, fabulous Romanian Gypsy group have more dignity, soul and cojones than the under-50s. Youngish lothario Caliu's speed runs out of gas where ancient and now deceased leader Nicolae's deliberation keeps on coming. The guy with the grill's old-man singing is as commanding as any bluesman's. Best song is "Little Buds," a slow one--and a wild one. A-

Maskarada [Crammed Discs, 2007]
Thirteen-eighths of Bartók--Gypsies kiss the rings of their high-class friends before going back to where they once belonged ("De Cind Ma Aflat Multimea," "Romanian Folk Dances"). *

Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts [Crammed Discs, 2015]
A great band, I'm beginning to think, regroups for the 25th anniversary of its formalization by gadje record men in the blessed Romanian mountain village of Clejani. Where the "second generation" of their Andalusian opposite numbers the Gipsy Kings proved even more anodyne than the first, this aggregation hasn't lost a wink or a flourish even though its eldest generation has died off. I wish I could tell you who takes the first violin break on their old "Clejani Love Song," a 20-second countermelody that sums up their collective pizzazz so irresistibly that all three violinists join in when it comes around again, and again, only to change it up around the seven-minute mark, and that ain't all--the track clocks in at 11:11. Most of the 13 songs are briefer, but their immersion in tradition never reins them in. The male voices are somewhat less grizzled, but you know they'll roughen too. And then there's soprano Viorica Rudareasa, who adds a welcome female principle to this highly masculine posse. Sweet she's not--too much sob and swagger there. Anodyne she's definitely not. A-

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