Curly Strings: Hoolima

Bluegrass on the Baltic

Listening Post 154. All societies revere music, but surely Estonia ranks first among equals when it comes to the power of song. The 1987-91 Singing Revolution, involving mass-scale performances of patriotic anthems, was a pivotal step in ending the Soviet occupation. Fast forward 27 years and the nation seems focused less on traditional music than on engaging with the wider world, but there is still something deeply Estonian about the quest to create new playlists. No surprise, then, that the country has a 100-proof bluegrass band like Curly Strings, or that the group’s second full-length album is called Hoolima (Caring). These are musicians who care deeply about doing it right—creating an Appalachian Baltic template with a down-home vibe that makes you forget that home, in this case, is a place with no mountains nearly 4,500 miles from Kentucky. The players—Eeva Talsi, lead vocals and fiddle; Villu Talsi, mandolin; Jaan Jaago, acoustic guitar; and Taavet Niller, upright bass—wrote the album’s 10 tracks, with collaboration from family and friends. They can pair a pure bluegrass sound with honeyed lyrics that carry a hint of mystery, as in Edasi Anda (I Want to Keep Close), the story of an absent love (video 1); or engineer a dazzling train-to-Tallinn gait animating the title track, linking cultures with the advice to “journey far, expand your mind” (video 2). The flip side of traveling is knowing where you come from, which Miks Sa Murrad Mind (Why Do You Break Me?) expresses in a flower metaphor (video 3). Aastapäev (Anniversary), ostensibly about a garden party, also suggests a tiny nation celebrating hard-won independence (video 4). Freedom has its challenges, but Curly Strings demonstrates, perhaps in ways that couldn’t have been imagined in 1991, that the spirit of the Singing Revolution is alive and flourishing. (Curly Strings Music/Jazzhaus Records)

 

Edasi Anda/I Want to Keep Close: “I want to keep close/
your voice/
your song

which helped me fall asleep/your deeds/your words

so simple and kind


I want to keep close
/all the goodness you had
and in a sudden gust of wind/I hope

for a message from you”

 

Hoolima/Caring: “Every now and then/you’ve got to scrub and scour
take a breath of air/allow your heart to flower!

Don’t worry yourself sick/
as clouds clear from your head,
look inside, unhurried/tie the needle and the thread.

Show respect and care/
with talent and with deed,
appreciate your worth/
and help someone in need…

Journey far, expand your mind/keep your head held high,

a breath of air does good for all, you’ll find it if you try.
Old mistakes 
should be forgiven/your mind is magic – simple livin’”

 

Miks Sa Murrad Mind/Why Do You Break Me?: “Why do you break me/

and carry me indoors/
where my blossoms shall begin to wilt

Why do you break me/
take me away from my roots

from my home where all my siblings cherish each other

Why do you break me/
and hurt me

try to face the uniqueness of my beauty

Why do you break me/
I want to grow

and bloom and smell for long with joy

Why do you break me
/and keep me to yourself

when you surely know that I have bloomed only for you”

 

Aastapäev/Anniversary: “Once again
/It is time for

The anniversary, time/Won’t stop.
And this is good.

Time to
/Get everyone to the party
On the table, waiting/What was brought.
You’re welcome to add your own/Be my guest.

In the garden
/The tiny yard,
Eager for friends to arrive/And our wish is

To rejoice/
All together!

A nice day is ahead/That’s true,
No need
/For his neighbor the night
To fear anymore.
Wait a bit more/You will have plenty of us.
A whole year has passed/A lot more to come”

 

 


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