Blato Zlato, “Swamp Gold” (Independent)

Even in a city that’s renowned for combining everything with everything else, this one’s a little surprising. Blato Zilato bill themselves as a band putting a Cajun spin on Balkan music but in truth, they’re even more eclectic than that. The X factor in their music is progressive folk-rock of the Steeleye Span/Horslips variety: Though their instrumental lineup is strictly acoustic (and consists of fiddle, accordion, string bass and hand percussion) they manage to play rather aggressively, and their arrangements take some creative twists and turns. You don’t really hear much “swamp” in their mix (beyond an occasional lilt in Ian Cook’s fiddling), but you do hear a band rocking out with exotic sounds. The prog elements extend to the suite-like construction of the album, with instrumental links bridging the main tunes.

It doesn’t hurt that frontwomen Annalisa Kelly and Ruby Ross have gorgeous voices, and the Balkan style of singing—not too sweet, with shouts and dissonances allowed—suits them well. They get a few lovely unaccompanied bits, but the best moments happen when their harmonies meet with the band’s rolling thunder. The ten-minute centerpiece “Dere Geliyor Dere” begins with a mournful fiddle/vocal section, until a heavy riff takes over and gives it a mad celebratory feel (There’s no English lyrics, so use your imagination). The prog-rocker in me wants to hear what this band could do with full electric backing, but they already make plenty of noise with the acoustic lineup. You can even dance to it if you don’t mind the tricky time signatures.