Album Review of

Written by Joe Ross
March 22, 2023 - 12:09pm EDT
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From the town of Sanok in southern Poland, the evocative songs and ballads accompanied by traditional instruments are quite radiant and soul-stirring. Fortunately, a 32-page booklet with this CD has translations of all the songs sung in Ukrainian dialects. In the trio Wernyhora, Daria Kosiek vocalizes with power and affability, expressing stories of a woman’s feelings about abandonment (“And I Am on a Hill”) or discovery of her man’s true nature as a lazy loafer (“It Was Not To Dig”). Kosiek is accompanied by Anna Oklejewicz (vielle, rebec, violin, viola da gamba, cello) and Maciej Harna (hurdy-gurdy). Sonic offerings from guests Wojciech Lubertowicz (drums, duduk) and Marcin Pospieszalski (bass) color the various tracks. Traditional songs of their region range from a sparsely arranged six-minute rendition with voice and strings of a Christmas song, “When the Mother of God Walked the World” to a more poignant plea to one’s mother in “Do Not Beat Me” for falling in love with a troublemaking slacker.   

Wernyhora’s second album resulted from the trio winning Polish Radio 2’s New Tradition Competition in 2021. The three Polish traditional song-carriers, accessed the beautiful lyrics from the collections that ethnomusicologist Oskar Kolberg compiled in the 19th century. Wernyhora’s hurdy-gurdy player also did some more recent field recording to document the melody and lyrics of “Mary the Virgin.”

The album’s title Toloka is an old word used to describe free, neighborly help in the event of an emergency. Haymaking or building a house are examples. When the work was done, a joyful party with food and music would ensue. Wernyhora presents their beautiful regional music as their “Toloka” to their neighbors to the south at war in Ukraine. Through music, their optimistic hope is for a common gathering that will facilitate peace in the area.

Closing with “Sorrow,” Kosiek sings a haunting soldier’s song that is enough to bring tears to some due to its relevance today. In a melancholy fashion, she vocalizes, “I am not afraid of frost. Tomorrow I will prove myself. I am not afraid of the campaign. I will always get out.” While courageous bravery and perseverance may ultimately bring an end to war, sad death always looms over the mothers’ shoulders.  (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)