Taraf de Haïdouks make their return to the international scene with new album Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts, a record they have put together to celebrate their 25th anniversary of singing, playing and entertaining crowds, all the way from their home in Romania to all around the world. On Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts, they revisit some of the musical avenues they walked early in their careers, from Roma love stories to old ballads and dance tunes.
More than a retrospective, the set still offers a window to the past, as Taraf have always been about taking the old and the new into their sound. Incorporating past collaborators into the mix, the album contains themes which will be familiar to past listeners, all wrapped up in a feeling of late-night excess and early-morning regret. Mining what they have done to date, Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts moves things forward for the band, perhaps laying foundations for the next project.
The train’s first stop is the blasting fiddles of “Balalau from Bucharest”, which immediately transfers you to a time and a place before launching into its jazzy main theme. This is Taraf’s modern sound: taking their traditions and others which appeal to them, but taking them far from their origins. “Balalau from Bucharest” is more gypsy jazz than anything else. The swinging, arty tune shows the band on song and all working together well. It’s lively and draws you in — you can easily imagine yourself in the club where band might be playing.
The “Moldavian Shepherds’ Dance” has a rawer sound; the fiddle-led dance piece sets out more of the band’s sound, with the racing violins pinned to a slapped bassline. The album is full of imagery, with the compositions creating their own world. The older-style “Cold Snowball” takes you inside the sound, and, as on the whole set, the accompaniment is what makes the songs work, be it fiddles, whistles, or guitar. “The Fields Are Blooming” is fast, frenetic, fun and funky, switching tunes halfway through, showing what the band can do in full flight and at its energetic best.
Blending Roma and jazz styles with fiddle, cymbalon and more on a tribute to their hometown, they move on from “Clejani Love Song” with “Manele Pomak”, a sliding, involving, tune which wraps itself around you, and draws you in with its dueling clarinet lines.
Some of the delivery of the album is slightly odd and off-kilter in places. The drunk and rambling “The High Balcony In Ciolpan” comes off as dramatic, but the partied-out rasp of “No Snow, No Rain” is slightly jarring. Add to this a fiddle chopped and cut up in the intro, and the song needs the saving grace of the charm of cymbalons and accordions in its background.
“Mother, My Little Mama” follows the same slightly rambling, ambling approach, with pumping, vamping accordions arching over the vocals. But dancier numbers like “Where Do You Come From, Dear Lady?” make up for it, with its rapid fire fiddles, sawing accordions and seductive vocals all adding up to a breakneck dance tune which doesn’t take itself too seriously, but seriously wants to make you move.
The sad ending contained in “Marius’ Lament” points to some regret, but overall, Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts is joyful, optimistic and a real good time of a record.