Words by Marc Dubin
Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, Kristi Stassinopoulou absorbed influences ranging from Jefferson Airplane and the Velvet Underground to Middle Eastern radio broadcasts reaching Kalamáta, her father’s hometown. After playing Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, and representing Greece in the 1983 Eurovision competition, she shifted to underground rock. More recently, she has described herself as a “Balkan ethno-trance artist,” or a practitioner of techno-folk-psychedelia.
Despite these predilections, Stassinopoulou is no stranger to the folk idiom. Now she, and life/musical partner Stathis Kalyviotis are back with 13 often stunning takes on traditional songs from different regions of Greece, using a relatively spare palate to generate a full, textured sound, helped along by some judicious live looping. Kalyviotis’ plangent licks on the laoúto (island mandolin) encounter Indian harmonium, assorted frame drums, Stassinopoulou’s penetrating voice (sometimes filtered, but always sounding tailor-made for the material), and evocative samplings of provincial Greece such as surf, flocks of birds, the sonar-like hoot of a Scops owl, sheep-bells and cicadas. It is quite a struggle to single out a standout track but highlights include ‘Anamesa Nissirou’, ‘Kato Sta Dasia Platania’, with its dark subject matter and excellent laoúto solo, ‘Erhomai ki Esy Koimasai’, featuring Kalyviotis on backing vocals, and ‘Rodise I Anatoli’, with Stassinopoulou’s voice showcased against meaty harmonium.
Purists, as the liner notes predict, will be outraged, but this seems a respectful, even diffident, set compared to some of Stassinopoulou’s more outré past outings.