Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Song of Santa Monica - In Russian

For me, Santa Monica in California will always be associated with Russian Bluegrass Music. Not an association that everybody makes I'm sure but it was on my only visit to the famous pier on 1992 that I first heard and then purchased this colourfull addition to my collection.

Combining Russian Folk with Bluegrass is an interesting idea that must have seemed strange in the pre-Gorbachev soviet union when the group started. According to the liner notes (about the limit of the research I do) Kukuruza had to exist as an oddity or almost a carnival act, adding humor to their routines rather than play as a straight homage to the music of the U.S. Hence the costumes on the cover.

That image plus the cover of Johnny B. Good (on banjo with a Russian Accent) would normally be enough for me to buy the CD anyway, but as it was being played in the store at the time I was taken by the way the group had managed to fit the two musical traditions together. Track 1 - Poruska-Paranya was enough to get the CD a trip home with me.

The playing and arrangements are both well done but it is the Vocals by Irina Surina that make this recording exceptional. I spoke no Russian in 1992 and have not improved since then but the depth of emotion in the songs is unmistakable. I still have no idea what the lyrics of Track 4 - Steppe are about, but to me it conveys the spirit of a people who have survived hundreds of years of hardship and oppression. Enough to make you cry into your vodka. In fact it is on the couple of tracks in English that the whole things does not work so well for me.

There are other albums by this group still available (and I have them all). Somehow I always return to this one, it has a freshness and clarity that is not fully present in the later recordings.

It is good to see that this is now available as second hand on Amazon as even the record company (Sugar Hill Records) does not list any other source.

Of the 17 tracks I list 9 as being 4 or 5 star with track 4 and 14 just shading the others.


Kukuruza at Amazon.com - Listen to the samples

The Santa Monica Pier


  1. Julie,

    Welcome, Feel free to make any comment or ask any questions about any of the posts.