Boris Grebenshikov,
Russian Songwriter
(Naxos World, 2002)

Boris Grebenshikov has recorded 70 or so CDs since his days as an underground rock star with his band Aquarium. He may be Russia's best-known singer, and has also achieved fame as a poet. With such a career, no one CD can completely introduce him to Western audiences.

This particular one is Grebenshikov's exploration of his roots in traditional Russian lyrical music, with 15 tracks that are chosen largely for their poetic meaning. All but four were written by Grebenshikov. In this collection, the poet places himself squarely in the tradition of the Russian singer-songwriter.

Only the first song, the nostalgic "My Little Loom," is truly traditional. But many of these songs have the same flavor, at least on the surface. "Little Swallow" begins: "Jump, little swallow, jump in the white snow ... jump right up to me." Grebenshikov's poetry gives the lyrics more depth, however. A later verse goes, "Life will sink like a stone, send ripples through the skies."

Many are love songs, with a depth rarely found in American music. "The Fastest Plane on Earth" begins with "Just sat down to have a drink -- and life is halfway gone." It ends "The fastest plane on earth couldn't get to you on time/but wherever you may land, I'll be waiting for you."

Grebenshikov's slightly husky voice works well with instrumentation that is folk-based, featuring accordion as an important component. Most of the tunes, however, have Grebenshikov's acoustic rhythm guitar as the main instrument. Woodwinds, balalaikas, strings, piano and even a type of bagpipe are also present in some songs. Many of the melodies are Eastern European-flavored, some having a two-step polka beat. He does not use electric bass, and very few drums. The only thing that sounds non-Russian is the occasional use of a pedal steel guitar, although even this complements the overall sound.

With so many songs to choose from, Grebenshikov has selected a nice mixture, some lively and some wistful. The lyrics are printed on the CD sleeve in English, Russian, French and German. This collection makes it clear why Grebenshikov has superstar status in his native country.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 2 April 2005

Buy it from