Ages and ages ago, I promised, for Noga, a review of Oi Va Voi's eponymous* second album (or third, depending whether you count their brilliant self-released debut Digital Folklore). In short, the second album was a disappointment. Without Sophie Solomon's brilliant, heart-wrenching violin interjections, without some of the best guest vocalists (most obviously K.T. Tunstall, who they helped launch to fame, but also Sevara Nazarkhan and Earl Zinger) - it just didn't do it for me. A few tracks were a bit stronger ("Spirit of Bulgaria" being my favourite); some were particularly week (the dodgy rock of "Further Deeper" and "Look Down").
A month or so ago, they have released their third album. I have heard some of it, and I am quite impressed. You can listen to "Waiting" and "Magic Carpet" (a cinematic oriental/klezmer fantasy that evokes the first album) here, "S'Brent" here, "Every Time" here and "Photograph" here. "Photograph" features Dick Rivers, France's Johnny Cash, which is pretty cool. The radio edit of "Every Time" (this seems to be their bid for pop success, but is probably the worst of all the songs I've heard), "I Know What You Are" and "Photograph" are also on their MySpace. Charlie Gillett made it album of the month in May, and reviews it here.
"S'Brent" (a stand out track amongst those I've heard) is, I think, the only song in Yiddish. It's by Mordechai Gebirtig, who died in 1942 in the Kracow Ghetto. "S'Brent" tells the story of the burning of a shtetl, Przytyk, in 1936; rather than being simply a cry of agony, it is a call to action ("Di hilf iz nor in aykh aleyn gevendt" - help is in your hands alone) , and it was adopted as the anthem of the Kracow underground resistance during Nazi occupation. (Gebertig, incidentally, was a socialist, a member of Henryk Grossman's Jewish Social Democratic Party, which became part of the Bund.) You can listen to several other versions here (my recommendation is probably the one by Argentinian/Mexican cantor Leibele Jinich). Oi Va Voi's version features the gorgeous voice of Agi Szaloki, a young Hungarian folk and jazz singer who specialises in Gypsy traditions. You can listen to some clips of her music at her website.
Many of the songs feature Ghanaian/Bristolian Bridgette Amofah, who comes close to filling Tunstall's shoes. Her own music doesn't appeal to me, studenty indie soul, but she has a very nice voice. Charlie Gillett's frontpage (reached via Edie's relocated blog), features a YouTube of their "Yesterday's Mistakes" which he says she is singing on. I haven't got my Laughter Through Tears with me, but it sounds to me very like KT Tunstall's version there, so not sure about that, but it's great.
Oi Va Voi are one of the best live bands I've seen. There's a lot of live Oi Va Voi on YouTube, with their changing cast of females vocalists. Unfortunately, in most cases the sound quality is not great, but you can sort of glimpse why they are so good live in some of them. I've embedded here a version of my favourite Oi Va Voi song, "Refugee", from Amsterdam in 2007. They're playing all over Europe in the next couple of months - see here - so you could get yourself a chance to see them.
*"Eponymous" - a word I always used to read in pretentious music critic articles when I was a teenager. First time I've had occasion to write it. Can't imagine saying it.