Biruta Ozolina,
Sirdsgriezi (Heart Solstice)
(UPE, 2002)

This is one of those albums that sneaks up on you rather than grabbing you by the throat. Biruta Ozolina's combination of vocals and keyboards begs the comparison, so one might as well start by calling her "the Latvian Enya" by way of getting a grip on her music. It's easy to put this on as background music, but Sirdsgriezi ("Heart Solstice") is more than that.

Ozolina performs traditional songs from the Latgale region of Latvia on this disc, her second. They are typical of Baltic traditional songs; they often use nature-oriented images and tell of women's joys and sorrows in concise poetic language. I was reminded of the Finnish Kanteletar compiled by Elias Lonnrot. Pain in love is a recurring theme; unhappy marriages and difficult relationships with relatives and in-laws are par for the course. Latvian lyrics are given in full in the liner notes, along with English summaries.

The instrumentation is eclectic. Traditional instruments like the kokles (a Latvian zither) rub elbows with electric keyboards and piano. Ozolina melds these different instruments into a sound that is modern while keeping the ancient lyrics up front. At its best, this approach produces results like the bittersweet "Pateik Man." The song's narrator longs for true love with "the boy with grey eyes," but she is stuck in a loveless marriage. Ozolina's clear voice and haunting piano combine to create music that is filled with regret for what might have been.

Most of Sirdsgriezi has a dreamy feeling, which encourages one to get lost in the music. Some tracks stand out, such as "Deveni Buoleleni" with its rhythmic bass line (played by Arnis Roze). "Ivena" is enlivened by Talis Gzibovskis's drums. "Bruoli Mani Tuoli Deve" begins with Ozolina singing a cappella; she is ultimately joined by piano. If the listener can put aside the temptation to dissolve into the music, there is plenty here to repay attention.

There are many groups that modernize traditional music by looking to rock for a jolt of energy. Sirdsgriezi takes a different approach and winds up closer to new age in its settings of Ozolina's voice. This music entices the listener into another realm and its enchantment is difficult to shake off.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 8 November 2003