Listening to the first half of this Bosnian-born composer's U.S. debut, you would think that all he does is write party music, which isn't true. Goran Bregović (pronounced BregoVITCH) is a respected writer of movie scores - for instance, he penned the themes for Emir Kusturica's films Underground and Time of the Gypsies. A recent New Yorker piece described his work as "so powerful that it's far easier to imagine the music without the movie than the other way around."
Alkohol is like a soundtrack to Serbian drinking culture. The first half is named after the country's national drink Sljivovica, a very strong plum brandy that is sold in the US as eau de vie. It features traditional and original drinking songs, with titles like "On The Back Seat of My Car" and "Trucker's Song." That section of the disc was recorded live in the village of Guca, where there is an annual brass festival and the city of 20,000 swells to 100,000. During the competition, participants play and listen to music, drink, eat and then drink some more as the days go by.
The second half (entitled "Champagne") is structured more like a mini-concerto, featuring a brass band, a chamber orchestra and six male voices. The theme is still about beverages, but the music has more of a rock and roll feel - the genre was important for Bregović while he was growing up under Communist rule. Highlights from that section include the very melodious "Ruzica" ("Rose"), which sounds like a song for a long-lost love (unfortunately, there are no translated lyrics, so we are left guessing), and also the playful "Streets Are Drunk," whose arrangement has a cleverly worked out call-and-response between the vocals and the brass.
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"Yeremia," the opening track from Alkohol
This is music to listen to with a few drinks at hand, so get your beverage of choice, call your friends and check Alkohol out. Just don't drive while you're at it.
Incidentally, Bregović is currently on tour with his "Wedding and Funeral Band." His tour unfortunately does not include Houston, but he will be performing at Austin's Bass Concert Hall on June 17.