I've had the brand-new, finally released "Greek Rhapsody – Instrumental Music From Greece 1905-1956" on pre-order for so long that I actually forgot having ordered it until I received this nice email from DUST-TO-DIGITAL letting me know it had arrived in their hands, if not mine. They're also doing us 78rpm and Rembetika fans a great service by offering up some rare and lost copies of a 2005 CD called "MORTIKA - RARE VINTAGE RECORDINGS FROM A GREEK UNDERWORLD" that I've been listening to just this very week, and had it in my head to try and tell you about. Fortune has intervened to allow you to actually buy a copy of it, albeit as a twofer with the new "Greek Rhapsody" set for $50. That said, if you've got a soul, a brain and a heart, there's a good chance you'll be able to scrape together your loose change and mail off a money order.
"MORTIKA" is what we're here to talk about today. Tony Klein is the gentleman that pulled this together, on a Swedish label called Arko in 2005. There's also a double LP version. I've barely written about my adoration for "rembetika" or "rebetiko" or "greek folk music", outside of this thing I wrote on Markos Vamvakaris in 2011. Yet when I tabulate all of the world musics that I want to dig the deepest into, outside of the African 60s & 70s, it's the 78rpm wonders from Southern & Eastern Europe that move me the most, most particularly from Greece and Bulgaria. "Mortika" is a wonderful introduction and deep dive into some of the best of this music. Delicate and invested with the depth of feeling many find in delta blues or backwoods/mountain country music of the same period, the pre-WWII rembetika masters are represented extremely well on "Mortika", and one track slides beautifully to the next.
At times some of the vocals take some aural adjustments; it's clear that either my Western ears are unfamiliar with some of the grating singing of Spanhanis on "Oh Mother I Can't Stand It", for instance, or more likely, his vocals are anecdotal and a mere accompaniment to the deep strumming and plucking you'll find on his bazouki and baglamas. There are certain tracks to get lost in over and again. The opening "The Mystery" by Ionnis "Jack" Halikias is one – a beautiful, bluesy tune that must have made many Athenas, Desdamonas and Delphines weep in person. I chose one of my favorite tracks from this, by Dimitris Gongos (long may he rest) for you not because it's translated badly as "Hash Smoking Chicks"- though we are lucky that a tune with that name is so good – but because, again, it's so good. And like I said, if it's intriguing, you've only got this one opportunity now to procure a copy.