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Review: DeVotchKa

After listening to DeVotchKa’s new album, A Mad And Faithful Telling, for a second time, I realized that my first impressions had faded easily. At first, I was a little thrown off by the sort of grown-up arrangements that populated the album. A Mad and Faithful Telling is imbued with Old and New World flavor, thanks to plenty of classic Latin, French, Spanish and Eastern European influences (the kind that you’re likely to encounter in many a coffeehouse or bookstore). DeVotchKa is all grown up, to be sure, so the skill with which they’ve woven so many instruments together is easy on the musically discerning ear. The album is a collection of rich arrangements, blending the sounds of violin, accordion, piano, waltz-style percussion, hand-percussion (with hints of Bossa Nova and other Latin styles), trumpet, guitar, sousaphone and the cult favorite – the Theremin.

There is likable maturity here – with lyrics like “You better be what you say, why don’t you say what you mean, I never get anywhere, I get the space in between. Beautifully mutilated, instantly antiquated, I will admit I almost always underestimate it.” Even better, this chorus is sung in a deliciously David Byrne/David Bowie style-howl. Indeed, Nick Urata, DeVotchKa’s singer, is a big draw when it comes to this album. Just as crucial, though, are the lively Latin drumbeats, a smooth wave of accordion presence throughout (which gives the music a quirky flair) and the complexity with which the guitar and other traditional instruments are carefully executed. If you have a propensity for being the sort of listener who gets caught up in the more passionate styles of music (e.g. Spanish, Cuban, any/all South American music, to name a few) then this album is at the very least going to grab you a few times and burn you up the way the best traditional music will. “Transliterator” and “A New World” both stand out as reason enough to give this album a listen. An added bonus are the very tragic and somewhat cynical/heartbroken lyrics and good, old-fashioned, down-to-earth sense of melancholy you get when Urata sings you a story, without ever giving the specifics behind his sadness. You won’t need them. The music delivers the emotion effortlessly.

-Amanda Carnes