Album review: Eastern Roads by ArHai
ArHai are Jovana Backovic and Adrian Lever, supported by a strong cast of vocalists and instrumentalists. Belgrade born Jovana Backovic founded ArHai back home in Serbia and when she moved to the UK for studies, started working with guitarist and tambura player Adrian Lever.
Their music features multi-layered vocals and skilled instrumental workouts that combine understated electronica with elements of traditional Irish, English and Balkan music.
Eastern Roads‘ eleven tracks are a very accessible listen for those not familiar with Balkan inflected collaborations, even though the album strays away from our standard 4/4 time rhythms in places. Strangely, perhaps, it feels to me like the music of Afro Celt Sound System with Balkan music replacing the African component. About half the tunes are traditional songs from Kosovo, Serbia or Macedonia and the remainder are their own works but it’s not obvious which is which, highlighting their ability to both make traditional tunes contemporary and write contemporary tunes that are deeply rooted in folk traditions.
The stringed instruments are played with great precision and are well recorded, capturing a beautiful clarity. Percussion is supportive rather than hard-driving. The backing vocals remind me somewhat of the Trio Bulgarka who collaborated with Kate Bush back in the late 80s. In one or two places they also remind me of Sandy Denny on Led Zeppelin’s The Battle of Evermore. Jovana Backovic’s voice is often mixed a little less up front than it might be on a pure radio pop album, becoming a part of the overall seamless blend of melody lines. If I were to compare her voice with anyone’s, I’d say it’s reminiscent of Iranian Azam Ali – and that is a compliment, believe me!
This is a finely-crafted work of great sophistication.