Aimer et Perdre (#2)

by

Aimer et Perdre: To Love & To Lose – Songs, 1917-1934 (Tompkins Square Records)

by “Dutch” Bruton (edited, from http://savannahspacemen.blogspot.com):

 
” A Travelogue of the Human Heart”

In the introduction to the accompanying booklet, King and Archie describe the compilation thus: “If humans are by nature social animals, then what makes us unnatural is our inexplicable mulishness in seeking out relationships that we know will ultimately both enrich us and devastate us, more often at the same time: the irresistible yearning that is love. This collection of songs and tunes attempts to encompass this unique contradiction that lives within us, that is simultaneously so absurd and yet so necessary for our humanity. It is the “Sunshine and Shadows” that makes us truly, and forgivably, human and this humble selection of music contains the range of these contrasts.”

Love and heartbreak have long been familiar tropes of popular and folk music, but seldom have the complexity of these emotions been addressed with such scrutiny and depth than on this collection of pre-WW II era 78 recordings.

Presenting largely unreleased music from such diverse locales as Migroda, Poland, the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe, the swampy bayous of Louisiana Cajun country, and the forlorn backwoods of Appalachia, this wildly eclectic set may surprise listeners accustomed to producer Christopher King’s previous releases (2007’s People Take Warning, last year’s Grammy-nominated Bristol Sessions). With Aimer et Perdre (in French: “To love and to lose”), King has gone global, using music from radically different cultures and continents to examine that most powerful yet elusive state of human longing that connects us all. The result is at once ambitious in its scope yet strangely intimate in its content. In short, it is a travelogue of the human heart.

The Cajuns of South West Louisiana endured a diaspora after the French and Indian War, driven out of the Acadian country of Nova Scotia by the British and forced to return to France or settle in Louisiana. At odds with their new environment, the Cajuns used their music to reclaim an Old World culture that threatened to pass them by. The ten Cajun sides featured here all bristle with a manic energy that often belies the turbulent emotions brewing just beneath their surface. These are songs at once joyous and grim, extolling a passion that knows no bounds and always seems on the verge of flying apart. In the moving title track by Joe and Cleoma Falcon, a homesick traveller laments on the girl he left behind. “L’Abandoner” (The Forsaken) by Bartmon Montet & Joswell Dupuis, is a jubilant yet doomed account of lost love buoyed by lively accordion and guitar. “Assi Dans Les Fenetre De Ma Chambre” (Sitting in the Window of My Room) by Blind Uncle Gaspard is an achingly beautiful meditation on deep longing, while “La Valse De La Prison” (The Prison Waltz) by Douglas Bellard & Kirby Riley is a pitch-black ode to a lost soul bidding his love goodbye from the gallows chamber.

Songs from various parts of Appalachia and the American South also appear infrequently, often seeming to serve as signposts for various conditions of the heart. Highlights include the Carter Family’s morbid ode to spinsterhood and watery suicide, “I Never Will Marry” (I never will marry, or be no man’s wife/ I expect to live single all the days of my life/The shells in the ocean shall be my death bed/The fish in deep water swim over my head), the Stoneman Family’s “Too Late,” a wistful paean to missed opportunities, and a true find, little known New Orleans musician Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s poignant take on the failure of love, “Never Let the Same Bee Sting You Twice.” More familiar performers like Dock Boggs, Dennis McGee, and the tragic Creole musician Amede Ardoin also appear, but like many of King’s compilations, the joy lies in the obscure, the unsung, the forgotten troubadours who made their humble odes to the human condition and then disappeared, lost in the folds of time, their music waiting to be plucked (or “junked,” as 78 collectors would say) and preserved and shared again like old roses pressed into a scrapbook.

The predominant sounds on Aimer et Perdre come from the remote villages of the Lemkos, Poles, and Ukrainians, peasant folk who left behind their homes and traditions to seek their fortunes in America. Many of the Ukrainian sides featured here document courtship and marriage rituals, perhaps best exemplified in the comical skit recordings “Ukrainske Wesilla w Ameryci, Pts 1 & 2” (Ukrainian Wedding in America) and “Cyganske Vesilia, Pts 3 & 4” (A Lemko Wedding), in which Old World wedding festivities are recreated on record, evoking a boisterous celebration where listeners can imagine the musicians and townsfolk dancing wildly and spilling vodka on the floorboards. Tracks like “A Freilachs Von Der Chuppe” (A Happy Dance From the Wedding Ceremony) reveal the merriment (and sorrow) inherent in these age-old traditions. These records offer an all-too-brief glimpse into the ritual-laden lifestyle found in the remote Carpathian villages, a culture that sadly no longer exists.
As with other King releases, these songs are all mastered directly from original 78s with every snap, crackle, and pop intact. You hear these records exactly as they were intended, warts and all. No digital tinkering, just the unadorned crackle of old shellac.

The accompanying booklet is itself an objet d’art, featuring three original Robert Crumb drawings done expressly for this release, as well as beautiful sepia-toned stills of the original musicians and Eastern European-themed artwork. The graphic design by Susan Archie is exquisite, and the English translations of many of the songs illuminating.

A release like this is an anomaly in today’s world, a highly personalized and handpicked collection of rare music that defies easy categorization. To dismiss it as a simple collection of old love songs would be missing the mark. King has woven these disparate sounds from around the world into a colorful tapestry of human emotions both bright and dark. Aimer et Perdre is a powerful testament to the fact that no matter where the music originates, the universality of the human spirit always shines through.

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