Moiras Records – Release Round-Up

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Moiras is a Hungarian label that’s been reissuing music since the mid-2000’s. To fully understand the music they put out it helps to know that Hungarian rock bands often faced opposition from the government, especially in the 1970’s when the Communist regime cracked down on any rock music with the slightest hint of subversion, leaving the masses with nothing but saccharine pop. One of the most popular bands in Hungary during this era was literally called Middle of The Road. I originally reached out to review a copy of llles’ Goodbye, London. They didn’t have any left, but sent me five LP’s and one CD to review instead. Pretty nice, right? Here’s a little recap of each one, in chronological order. At least I think it’s in chronological order. The liner notes were in broken English, so it’s pretty hard to get the facts straight.

Atlas – Just Playin’ Rhythm and Blues

This key word in the title of this CD of live songs and demos recorded in 1965 is “just”. Yes, Atlas played rhythm and blues, but that’s all they had to offer. The track list leans too heavily on work-a-day instrumentals, and covers that the Stones did better. I’m also going to have to deduct a point for mistakenly calling Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” “What Do I Say,” and a further point for the album’s terrible sound quality.

Scampolo – Under The Rainbow

Here’s a collection of demos, live recordings and studio leftovers from Scampolo, a band that was part of Hungary’s rock scene since 1961. Under The Rainbow captures them at tail end of the ’60s, when they were mixing heavy blues with long acid rock instrumental passages. The opening cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Save Me” is symbolic of the album: lo-fi recording, indulgent solos and absurd vocal histrionics. They cover Fleetwood Mac, Richie, Havens and Ten Years After, but none of Scampolo’s versions warrant repeat listens. Despite a cool pop-art style album cover, this was my least favorite of the bunch.

Hungaria – It Would Be Cool If It Was Cool

Another set of early-’70s recordings. Hungaria were hardly geniuses, and the sound quality on some songs is pretty dodgy, but at least they had a succinct hard-driving attack, influenced by Black Sabbath, CCR, and Deep Purple. “Jo Jenne, Ha Jo Lenne” has a solid Sabbath-style groove that would work great if recorded in a proper studio. Oh, and the band looks pretty badass in the photos that are spread across the gatefold cover.

Bugocsiga – Bugocsiga

Bugocsiga (or Humming Top) were a folk pop group that featured a violin/viola player. I can’t tell if this is an album or just a collection of songs (again, the liner notes are confusing), but these guys pack a lot of material on this LP – a whopping 21 songs. Some of it’s pretty, but their performances are stiff – like a more uptight Simon and Garfunkel.

Metropol Group – Egig Erhente Az Enek

Metropol Group might have been Romanian, or maybe a Hungarian band living in Romania? I give up trying to decode these liner notes. This is their debut album from 1977, and unlike the above albums, it at least sounds like it was made in a professional studio. Slick recordings aren’t enough though. I’ll give “Nektek” a pass for its stomping glam groove, but the rest of the album sounds like a Hungarian version of yucky pseudo hard rock bands like Bad Company or Foreigner.

Josza Erika & Horvath Karoly – Kettospont

Kettospont sports a cheesy album cover (pictured above) that made me really apprehensive about listening to this folk duo. However, as Bo Diddley taught us, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and it ended up being my favorite album out of the entire bunch. The difference is that Eika and Karoly’s music has its roots in traditional Hungarian folk, even using distinctly Hungarian instruments like the citera and the gardon. Maybe it’s cultural tourism, but I’d much rather hear music with sonic indicators of location than pale Hungarian takes on popular UK/American sounds.