Michell, Pfieffer & Kulesh

A trio of established artists of exotic provenance, all capable of delighting folk club audiences, are combined in a trio tailor made for the festival stages. Together they have produced an album that showcases their individual talents and their collective strengths.

Daria Kulesh hails originally from Russia and is steeped in the traditions and music of the Ingushetia region. Karen Pfeiffer needs little introduction to regional FNW readers as the German born lady in the red dress is a frequent visitor to our clubs, venturing up from her adopted Potteries home with her life and music partner Paul Walker. The trio is completed by Odette Michelle, and with a name like that, she couldn’t come from anywhere other than Yorkshire

The notable skill of the trio is that all three are involved in taking traditional and otherwise well known songs and arranging them in such a way as to make them their own, highlighting the strengths of the artists, which, in addition to multi instrumental prowess is the interplay of three distinctive voices, each with a personality of its own. The other aspect of this is the integration of lyrics in Daria and Karen’s native languages, which serves to highlight the vocals as an instrument in their own right, as well as reinforcing the universality of the themes of the selected songs. Strangely, as if to reinforce this, as the review was being edited, the album was featured on a German radio broadcast that was on in the background!

In addition to the voices, and their exquisite harmonies, all 3 members bring their own instrumental strengths to the album – adding new levels of interest. Daria contributes Shruti Box, Karen provides the Woodwind while Odette weighs in heavily with guitar, bouzouki and accordion. That is not the end of the instrumentation though – with selected tracks receiving contributions from some hefty names, including Jason Emberton, drums, bass and keyboard, Katrina Davies, violin, Johnny Dyer on guitar, Daria’s sometimes duo partner, Marina Osman offers piano and some bloke by the name of Phil Beer gives us some violin. The roll call gives another indication of the variety that lies within.

The 10 tracks offer 7 arrangements of traditional songs – all but one being multi-lingual, with Bella Ciao substituting Italian for Russian, the overarching messages are of a desire for peace and the often hidden strengths of women – including occasional murderous intent evidenced in ‘Flowers’, one of the two Michell/Kulesh originals, where an insistently lusty young man gets his come-uppance from a trio of sisters, a theme echoed in ‘May Colven’ – via Emily Smith’s credited retelling of the folk theme, probably most notably expressed in the tale of Lady and the Elf Knight. It is a wonder that with all the warnings that Folk Music offers that any fair maidens ever go wandering in the Greenwood – but there will be no plot spoilers here!

The other non-trad song is the Pete Seeger classic/standard ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ delicately delivered, the ‘When Will We Ever Learn’ line delivered with an almost pleading tone to accompany the questioning element of the lyric. As well known as the song is, the language variations underline its message.

The album leaves us with a version of ‘Those Were The Days’ - best known in its Mary Hopkin incarnation - but here it becomes a tour de force that manages to evoke the winter steppes of Russia and the drinking halls of Munich, along with nostalgia for a time well remembered but longer gone than we might like to think – the pure tones of the voices hark back strongly to a more youthful age, not least when songs that won Eurovision were ones that we can remember not just month later but decades down the line.

A great listen – file under much enjoyed and beautifully done!

Visit the Michell, Pfieffer & Kulesh website