Monday, March 19, 2012

Swings & Heartaches by Lilly of the West

It’s a bit strange that one has to go all the way to Bulgaria to meet up with a music band that can faithfully perform bluegrass and country music. It was in Bulgaria that we met Lilly Drumeva, the singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, music arranger, manager and record producer of the Bulgarian group Lilly of the West. "Swings & Heartaches" is the group’s recently released ninth album.

We first met Lilly at a concert staged at a studio in Sofia in November 2009 which aired on Bulgarian National Radio. The performance was recorded for the Bulgarian Golden Radio Fund and was accompanied by an announcer giving the history of bluegrass and country music. The introductions were in Bulgarian, but the songs were a highly enjoyable mixture of country, folk, bluegrass and original compositions, most of them performed in English.

The second time we saw Lilly of the West was at a matinee performance three months later at the Tea House in central Sofia, which came shortly after the release of the group's CD, "Lovin' You". Lilly and her band performed songs from the new CD, including "Pennies from Heaven" and "Tennessee Waltz". Other songs included Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" and "You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All," the country song written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz sung by Ronan Keating in the film "Notting Hill".

The new album of Lilly of the West is entitled ”Swings & Heartaches” and it includes eleven songs, half of them “swings” and half of them “heartaches.” As per Lilly’s website, the "swings" are “lively, up-tempo songs from the 40s/50s” and they include two Patsy Cline hits (“Walking After Midnight” and “Gotta Lotta Rhythm in My Soul”); a Hank Williams song (“Lovesick Blues”) and other western/swing standards.

The "heartaches", as Lilly describes them, are “beautiful ballads with strong lyrics”. One is the classic Johnny Cash/June Carter duet ("If I Were a Carpenter"); another is the Everly Brothers' hit "Crying in the Rain"). There are also two Bulgarian folk melodies in the collection.

Musicians on the album are Lilly Drumeva (lead & harmony vocals, fiddle); Yasen Vasilev (lead & harmony vocals, lead & rhythm guitars); Michail Shishkov (lead and harmony vocals, Dobro, piano); and Svoboda Bozduganova (upright bass: pizzicato and arco). Special guests on the album are Michal Barok (mandolin) and Milena Vuleva (fiddle).

Lilly of the West was formed in 1996 by Lilly Drumeva in Sofia. Shortly after releasing a debut album, the band toured successfully throughout Europe and the U.S., winning European and international bluegrass music awards.

I invited Lilly to come perform in Israel and hopefully one day she and her band will be able to take me up on this invitation. In the meantime, downloading ”Swings & Heartaches” from CDBaby is a simple task. Within minutes, one can begin enjoying the swings and the heartaches of bluegrass and country music, performed by an extremely talented Bulgarian group.

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