The all-star fRoots 30th Birthday Concert at the Roundhouse a few years back was a night of celebration and revelation. Even those whose music had previously failed to strike a chord with me delivered short sets that hit the spot. Chief among these were the duo of Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis, who flew in especially from Greece to perform one song. My previous encounters with Stassinopoulou and her band had left me cold. A gifted singer with an interesting take on updating Greek traditions, but delivered in a somewhat over-fussy musical setting. Hearing her with just one accompanist, I realised what a wonderful expressive voice she’s got (you can hear for yourself as the performance is up on YouTube.)
This album – like June Tabor & Oyster band’s Ragged Kingdom - was catalysed by that night, just Stassinopoulou and Kalyviotis, the former on harmonium and percussion as well as vocals, the latter on lauto (Greek lute), live looping and electronics, performing a set of tunes from the rural Greek demotika tradition. As the album’s title suggests, these are not straightforward interpretations – Greece’s branch of the Folk Police will no doubt be issuing a warrant as I write – but the delivery and arrangements are pleasingly understated and clearly made by people who love the material. Kristi’s voice quite rightly takes centre stage and it really is a thing of beauty, neither florid nor overly dramatic, she just sings these songs of love, longing and loss like she means every word. The electronics and looping don’t get ideas above their station, adding a little colour or a beat to the overall sound. I like things best when they’re slow and haunting, as on Halassia Mou and the closing Rodise i Anatolie which features just Kristi and her harmonium.
A low key gem that promises much for the duo’s planned UK tour later this year.