Various Artists: Love Peace and Poetry: Turkish Psychedelic Music
Turkish folk meshes with American rock and out comes offbeat, psychedelic pop.
With their second box of '60s pop "nuggets" in 2001, Rhino Records cracked open a genre that had been the purview of hard-core, fat-wallet collectors: international psychedelic rock. Alongside expected selections from Britain, here, too, was stuff from Japan, Holland, Norway, and South America; some of it approximating the sounds of Yankee rock and some of it amusingly unique. (Sing along: "But I don't care of them, cause I'm just a Mops!")
Anyone who enjoyed those songs has a shimmering Christmas gift in Turkish Psychedelic Music, the latest volume in Normal Records' "Love, Peace & Poetry" compilations of offbeat psychedelic pop. It's the German label's ninth entry in a series that started with forgotten American bands and has become exponentially more obscure, collecting bands from Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and now the Eurasian home of 70 million Muslims.
It looks like a stretch, but this compilation makes a lot of sense. Turkey has always rushed to assimilate American culture, from abolishing Arabic letters in their alphabet in the '20s to producing knockoff versions of "The Exorcist" in the '70s. As compilers Cagdas Uyar and Stan Denski note, young Turkish musicians of the '60s approached rock music the same way stars like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones had; taking traditional folk music and updating it with electric guitars, fuzz boxes and Hammond organs.
The first song here, Selda's 1976 track "Bundan Sonra", is a folk number written by a poet. It opens with 40 seconds of a very-Muslim melody played on a traditional Turkish instrument. Then the sound drops and a guitar and bass thump in, playing a rock version of that melody with some heavy phasing, giving the guitar a psychedelic sound. Selda sings the lyrics in the familiar, pitch-shifting Muslim way. There are no choruses, just instrumental solos after each of the verses.
The later songs are more American in their structures � what we'd usually call "commercial", if Turks hadn't actually made hits out of all these records. We can actually hear the change in style via two versions of the same song, the traditional folk ditty "Kirpiklerin Ok Ok Eyle". A 1967 version by singer-songwriter Alpay handles the song in the expected way, grafting fuzzy guitars onto the basic melody. But by 1971, when we get Baris Manco's version, the game has changed. The song now starts with a King Crimson flute solo that fades into chunky guitar riffing. At the chorus, Manco breaks out the very psychedelic trick of dropping all the instruments (except for a snare drum) as the singers harmonize.
Most of the songs here play on the same turf as Manco, with most of their traditional-or-pop choices occurring in how they handle the vocals. Mazhar ve Fuat's "Sur Efem Atini" actually rocks hard (there's even a cowbell!) until the singer approaches the mic � his wild pitch-changing sounds like a Muslim daily call to prayer. But Bulent Ortacgil, who provides the extremely catchy, Grass Roots-ish "Sen Varsin", sings almost in a whisper. It sounds like he's tempted to belt out the octaves but promised his producer he wouldn't. On the smooth track "Tatli Dillim", Cem Karaca finds a middle ground and sings with steadier pitch than Fuat, but with more volume then Ortacgil. He actually sounds like a cast member from "Hair", if there's a way to say that without sounding cruel.
Over one hour and 16 songs, this music can wear thin. Some of these artists are legends, while some (like Hardal, whose prog-length "Bir Yagmur Masali" gums up the middle of the album) are included because their members later became famous for doing something else. But it's surprising � and promising � that traditional Turkish singing and folk songs mesh so well with American rock. How much more amplified, international psychedelia is out there for the compiling?